WikiSkills is a part of the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme, and its purpose is to teach teachers how to use collaborative tools like wikis for teaching. Wikimedia Sverige, the official Wikimedia chapter in Sweden, is one of eight partners involved in WikiSkills, and though the project will end in December, we would like to present the experiences of five teachers in the WikiSkills courses that we arranged in Sweden. As a representative of Wikimedia Sverige, I felt it was natural to make Wikipedia part of the education.
Wikimedia Sverige has operated three courses during the spring, each two days long. Course events have been localized to both small and big cities, from north to south in Sweden, specifically at Skellefteå, Stockholm and Helsingborg. The courses have been about wikis in general and Wikipedia in particular.
In total, 23 excited participants have invested their time: particularly vocational teachers and secondary school teachers, teacher educators, project leaders from folk high schools and UR, mentors from SeniorNet, an entrepreneur and a communicator of an environmental organization. We course leaders have really been trying to bring about a dialogue between all participants and instructors. Participants are supposed to contribute actively before, during and hopefully after training days.
We started with preparative tasks on and about Wikipedia because Wikipedia is a concrete example that illustrates how a wiki engine and a wiki project can work. The tasks were sent out one week before each face-to-face meeting in order to let participants get up to speed. During the first day, the participants together with the instructors went through the basics of wikis and Wikipedia. Participants presented their preparative tasks in a way that they themselves thought was appropriate; instructors lectured partly by presenting facts and partly by trying to guide discussions among participants to important topics and by using the participant’s thoughts and findings as a basis for facts about wikis and Wikipedia.
Furthermore, we tried to weave in different elements where participants edited a wiki in order to present themselves and their expectations. The second day we engaged a lot in how to use wikis and Wikipedia in education or with a teacher’s own target group. Participants worked in groups to create and present potential lessons to approach their own target group. During the course, they edited both Wikipedia (user pages, and sometimes other articles) and the course wiki (user pages, lessons, scenarios, discussion pages, etc.).
“Wikipedia has meant a lot to me over the past 10 years. I took the course WikiSkills and became inspired. As a result of the course and a wiki coffee, I am now a member of Wikimedia Sverige, and have participated in the annual meeting,” says one course participant, Sten Sundin, who earlier received feedback on his course structure.
Some lessons are very complete, while in others, participants spent more time searching for answers to the wiki questions that where important to them. After each course, we invited them back for further contact and offered more guidance. Prior to the face-to-face meeting, participants had to indicate their expectations and, after the course, they answered evaluative questions. Overall, participants had almost never edited anything in a wiki project, neither in a Wikimedia project nor in any other wiki. After the course, participants generally reported that they are going to edit the Wikimedia projects, and that they are going to use a wiki or the Wikimedia projects in their teaching. This sounds promising, even though I believe it should be understood with a grain of salt.
What then have the participants learned? In this blog post and more following it, we’ll find out from interviews with several of the teachers who participated.
“The course has had a motivational and inspirational influence and made it more likely for me to write on Wikipedia,” Sten says. “Things I did not know were the active discussions on Wikipedia. Attitude in the discussions that I’ve seen is not so competitive. People try to help each other. It is more fun to do voluntary work if I both learn something and can do something together with others. ”
Sten thinks that Wikipedia has gained greater acceptance among teachers and the latest five years people realize the value of Wikipedia. A good motto: Wikipedia is not perfect but fantastic. He has deepened his knowledge about Wikipedia and he mastered “skills both on how to write articles practically and technically, and also what to think about in terms of quality and what are the appropriate topics that one can write about – what is relevant…. I look positively upon using Wikipedia as a research tool. It is of course important to have a critical approach and evaluate sources. There are constantly discussions about if you can use Wikipedia as a reference. I urge students that Wikipedia is a starting point and that you can not be satisfied to stay there.”
Sten has also gotten better at markup language in MediaWiki. “It’s easier to write a letter to the editor in the newspaper or update your status on Facebook than writing in MediaWiki,” he says. “We had plans [in Dalarna University] on MediaWiki but chose to retain MindTouch wiki because we considered that some computer-inexperienced students in the nursing program would have problems with MediaWiki,” Sten writes. “I’m trying to streamline the task so that students can focus on the important things, for example, to do a literature study.”
Sten is however tempted to allow the students to use MediaWiki because it would make it easier for them to participate in Wikipedia or other Wikimedia projects. (The Wikimedia Foundation has worked actively to develop a new visual editor with WYSIWYG editing because the markup language has been identified as an obstacle for new writers on Wikipedia and now they have achieved quite a bit.)
Sten’s students are using a wiki to perform and present their tasks because a wiki provides good opportunities for collegial learning, or “peer learning.” Also, since much of Sten’s teaching is done remotely, he notes, “it’s valuable to have established contact with the students in a virtual community before you meet each other for the first lesson. One challenge is to adjust the wiki task that I let my students do today so that it comes closer to Wikipedia. But if I add an element of Wikipedia in my teaching, would I then have to remove something else?”
Because teaching with Wikipedia integration is more comprehensive … Sten weighs arguments … “Perhaps it would yet be worth the integration. Students should be able to respond to arguments in a discussion on Wikipedia. With my background (as a teacher in sound and music production), I could bring something to the media section to Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia. Visualizing, sound recording in order to illustrate concepts, articles. We teachers let students report in writing and orally. I am open to allow students to a greater extent report on a wiki and maybe let them report with sounds and images.”
What are the obstacles to use wikis in education? “Some of my teaching colleagues are not so positive towards using wikis in their teaching. They want to teach in the simplest way and do as they are accustomed. They feel that it’s a small threshold that requires more preparation. We have no infrastructure support for our wiki like we have for our learning platform. In the learning platform, there are others who ensure that all participants are included. On a wiki, I have to create a number of pages where students get their tasks, build a framework for the tasks and archive files from last year. In my teaching this means dozens of pages. It is about both formatting the text on the pages and managing links,” he says.
He also notes that managing links is not trivial. Almost half of the students have not succeeded in creating a link back to their own article, despite instructions that Sten has tried. He really has endeavored to make instructions easily available, searchable, and easy to find and understand when instructions are needed.
Anna Bauer, Wikimedia Sverige
Project leader, WikiSkills