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For some, Wikipedia is used as a research tool and source of information to supplement their education. However, for many, rising tuition costs and a decrease in financial aid make it impossible to get a college degree. In these situations, the online encyclopedia and its sister projects give users the opportunity to engage in higher education when a classroom setting proves beyond reach.
For South African Wikimedian Dumisani Ndubane, pursuing a traditional education in electrical engineering was a significant challenge. Ndubane is from a family with modest means in a small town east of Johannesburg. The government grant that afforded him the opportunity to attend school his first year didn’t cover enough expenses beyond that. By his second year, he could only afford tuition and books, but not accommodation.
“Coming from a poor family, that was a big decider,” he said. “It’s all good and well to pay for someone to go to school but if they are hungry, there’s not anything much they will learn when they get there. That became a very big problem for me going into my second year.”
Dumisani was compelled to drop out of school. Fortunately for him, however, the growth of online college programs and the electrical engineering courses available on Wikiversity made it possible for him to continue his studies remotely.
Ndubane first encountered Wikiversity in 2006 — the first year for the free online university project. After being discouraged by the lack of electrical engineering courses available on it, he decided to contribute the material he learned through his classes to Wikiversity.
“I was doing circuit analysis and I thought, ‘Why not put this stuff online that I’m learning, and see who else is doing the same thing,’” said Ndubane. “So that’s what I started doing. I started transcribing my notes that I was taking for my studies and putting those online to create a circuit analysis page at Wikiversity.”
Through adding material to Wikiversity, the 29 year old engineer also learned about the importance of collaboration in the Wikimedia universe. After uploading class notes, lessons and quizzes, Ndubane found that users with an interest in circuit analysis began offering their help to the course as well, while others fixed formatting issues specific to Wikiversity.
“It started growing,” said Ndubane. “We had about eight lessons in a space of six months fully developed, with questions corrected and so on. That was the fastest I’ve ever done anything like that.”
In addition to creating courses for Wikiversity, Ndubane utilized the project as a study companion for the accredited online courses he eventually took through the University of South Africa (UNISA). Happily, Ndubane finally obtained his degree in 2012.
His hope is that, like him, users that are able to use Wikiversity as a source of information will be motivated to create and add their own courses to the growing project.
“Maybe there’s someone else who just dropped out of a mainstream university or institution of higher learning like I did who isn’t getting the chance to go back there,” he said. “But maybe they will get into Wikiversity, they will want to get more information on the subject matter.”
He added, “If I change it with one course, maybe they will get motivated and add another course, and so on and so forth. It can be a domino effect, if you want to think of it where people get to contribute on courses that mean something to them, like electrical engineering means to me.”
Profile by Jawad Qadir, Communications Intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller