On January 14 we celebrated the last week of the semester at the Tel-Aviv University, and specifically the end of the “Wiki-Med” course — the first academic course in Israel dedicated wholly to editing Wikipedia to offer full academic credit to students. The 14-week course, which began on October 15 at the Sackler School of Medicine at TAU, was named “Wiki-Med: The Wondrous World of Wiki and Free Medical Content on Hebrew Wikipedia”, or simply “Wiki-Med”. Sixty-two students participated in this first-of-its-kind course, going on a journey that ended up with them writing together a mass of almost 130 medical-related articles on Hebrew Wikipedia. But why is this course so important? And how did it all begin? This is the story of the Wiki-med course — the first full wiki course in Israel.

Wiki-Med Students, Class of 2013-2014, at the Sackler School of Medicine Yard at the Tel-Aviv University, Israel.

Planting a Seed

Let’s begin at the beginning — my name is Shani Evenstein. I am a 36 year-old Israeli woman, and I work at the Curriculum Development Office at the Sackler School of Medicine at the Tel-Aviv University. I am also a Wikipedian and Wikimedian, though relatively new to the Wiki movement. I joined in August 2011, right after Wikimania Haifa, which a good friend suggested I attend. I was so inspired by what I heard about GLAM and education outreach projects that were happening around the world, that I felt I had to contribute and become part of it. I learned to edit Wikipedia quite quickly (sounds a bit trivial, but I had a lot of help at the beginning — seriously, a lot!), and I soon became an active volunteer, focusing my time, energy, and experience mostly on cultivating collaborations with various GLAMs and educational institutions in Israel.

As part of my wiki-efforts, lecturing about Wikipedia and Wikimedia, as well as leading editing workshops became something I do almost on a weekly basis. So last August, when the head of The Academic Affairs Committee at Sackler came into our office, saying they were desperately looking for new elective courses for the Israeli Med students, I did not even hesitate before interrupting the conversation, saying: “Why don’t you have a Wikipedia course here at Sackler? Let the students become active contributors to the community by writing medical-related content in Wikipedia as part of their studies. It will benefit both them and the general public.”

It was one of those things that one throws into the air, thinking it will be like planting a seed, an idea that may (or may not) blossom to actions sometime the far future, something often done when talking to GLAMs, educational institutions, and governmental bodies. I did not expect them to take me up on my word; but to my surprise, they really liked the idea and asked me to act upon it, sooner rather than later.

Creating a Syllabus and other Preparations

I was asked to quickly submit a full syllabus, so the Academic Committee could deliberate and decide if this is something that the Sackler School of Medicine would like to pursue. Sure, we already had some experience teaching how to edit Wikipedia and various ongoing collaborations with academic and educational institutions, usually in the shape of writing a Wikipedia article as an academic chore. But nowhere was there an academic course completely devoted to editing Wikipedia that gives students academic credit. Simply put, it was treading into uncharted territory. The pressure was on, not to mention that given such an opportunity, there was a feeling of responsibility to create a syllabus that could be easily adapted to other faculties, in case it all went well. So, after doing some research, a lot of thinking, getting some help from good friends and colleagues and relying on my experience in curriculum development, teaching, and studying methods, I finalized a syllabus for teaching Wikipedia to Med students for a full semester.

The syllabus included a brief on the course, its learning objectives, grade breakdown and an outline of the 14 sessions. In general, the course was divided into three main parts: three introductory sessions, eight core sessions (each dedicated to a different aspect of editing), and three final sessions dedicated to peer review and presentations. The idea was that most of the work should be done during the semester, so by the time the semester ended the students would have already completed most of their tasks. Not only would the student editors not have to deal with writing articles during exam period, but it also gave us enough time to check their work and grade it before the next semester began.

Two more principles guided me when thinking about the course; one based on my professional experience in medical education and the other on my experience teaching the wiki language to others. The first was that in a world where the classroom has been declared “dead”, the learning experience cannot be a passive one. We strove for interactive sessions and created online exercises to accompany most of the core sessions. These exercises, which were done on Moodle and in small groups (not individually), aimed to help students actively practice what they were just taught during the session in a “safe” environment, before they go on to edit a real, actual article on Wikipedia (which was daunting to most, even though they were Med students, so naturally very intelligent). Working in small groups assured that the students got used to the importance of working together, learning not only how to work with their peers, but also how to give feedback to each other.

The second guiding principle came from my experiences in editing workshops for beginners. Usually, we have very little time to really teach people everything there is to know about the wondrous world that is Wikipedia. It’s a vast universe, with its own language, culture, and rules, and it’s almost impossible to expose newbies to various aspects of it, let alone the complex way the community runs. Personally, I believe that this complexity is one of the main reasons why most people who attend workshops do not end up continuing to edit, despite the fact that they fully understand both the general guidelines and are familiar with wiki-syntax. One or two sessions are simply not enough. And so, I decided it would be interesting to check what happens to students who not only learn about different aspects of the wiki-world, but also personally meet various key Wikipedians from the community. I wanted my students to get a sense of the community, and be in contact with as many Wikipedians as possible, personally exposing them to diversity. So, I invited as many people from the community as possible to take part in the course — either by guest-lecturing in their areas of expertise, helping to build the online exercise on Moodle, helping during group work, or simply helping the old-fashioned-way — online via talk pages.

In terms of technical support, I relied on two things — one was our course on the TAU Moodle system to communicate with students (syllabus, instructions, filmed lectures, exercises, and online resources); the other was a course page I opened via the Education Program MediaWiki Extension, which helped me and everyone else involved from the community and the faculty keep track of what was happening with each of the students. Finally, after all the thinking and preparing, a week before the academic year began, I got word that the course had been approved by the Academic Committee and off we went on the real adventure!

So, How Did It Go?? Or in Other Words – Results!

Students

  • Signed in for the course: 65. Completed the course: 62.
  • Class included: 37 Med students, 22 dentistry students, 1 PhD Life Sciences student, 1 academic staff, 1 administrative staff.
  • Mother tongues: Hebrew – 30, Arabic – 29, Russian – 3.
  • Women: 25, Men: 37.

Formal results: Number of Wiki Articles

  • Stubs expanded (most with less than a paragraph written at the beginning) – 64
  • New articles written – 64
  • Total – 128 articles in the field of medicine, many of them on very basic and common medical conditions, that were simply missing or too short.

Unexpected results

  • A wide acceptance of the course and agreement of its contribution from the Hebrew Wikipedia community
  • 7 newspapers reported about the course in collaboration with the Tel-Aviv University Public Relations office, 5 in Hebrew[1][2][3][4][5] and 2 in English[6][7].
  • 2 radio interviews about the course were held.
  • A new collaboration with the TAU Foreign Affairs office, working on a wider collaboration between Hebrew Wikipedia community and the University.
  • An administrative staff from the Foreign Affairs office joined the course and working on articles related to the university.
  • An academic staff from Dentistry School, who became an avid Wikipedian after struggling greatly at the beginning of the course.
  • A PhD student from Life Sciences Faculty, who asked to join the course and ended up contributing important articles in the field of her expertise: cancer research.
  • Israeli-Arab students who reported editing Arabic Wikipedia as well.
  • Israeli-Arab students who decided to have an editing workshop in Arabic for high school students in their home towns.
  • Contributions to Wikimedia Commons of material unrelated to the course.
  • Israeli students who wish to ensure the continuity of the course and offered to help make changes for next year’s course.
  • Academic staff supported the course and helped giving feedback articles.
  • Apparently, there is an illness that makes people blue[8]! (#ThingsYouDidn’tKnowAndLearnedViaYourWikiMedCourse)

Course Evaluation

Students were asked to rank various aspects of the course between 1 (being the lowest evaluation) to 5 (being the top one).
89% of them (56 students) filled out the form and evaluated the course as follows:

  • 91% attended almost 100% of sessions
  • Course structure (logical order, correlation, integration) – 4.2
  • Interesting & organized – 4.1
  • Learning outcomes – 4.4
  • General assessment of quality – 4.1
  • Recommendation to other students – 4.1
  • Best guest-lecture – Dr. Yael Dreznic

So, in terms of numbers, especially considering it is the first time the course ran, I was quite pleased with these numbers. But numbers aside, I found the free-text comments to be the most interesting and helpful in terms of learning how students really felt. Here is a sample of their comments:

  • “It’s a shame this course is only an elective. All students should take it, as they are missing out on something very important and fascinating.”
  • “It was a really great course. The course coordinator is an excellent lecturer, kind and charming. The guest-lectures were also very interesting. What an adventure!”
  • “A very significant course that should become a main course at the Faculty. It encourages the doctors of the future to be able to explain complex medical issues in simple and understandable language… Though the course suffered some labor pains… I’ll be happy to be in a group of students that help perfect it for the future.”
  • “I believe the main idea of the course is great, and it’s really important that the lecturer is committed and enthusiastic, but there are a few things that could be done differently, like the group work and making some of the lectures more interesting.”
  • “What a wonderful course!! Truly innovative and unique. Opened up new worlds for me that I wasn’t aware of. I definitely hope to continue editing. It seems to me that it is only proper to make it a mandatory course, not an elective.”
  • “The course has very good potential. Some lectures were a bit too technical… but all in all I really enjoyed it! Thank you!”
  • “I would definitely recommend the course to other students. It’s different and you learn different things in it. It really helped me learn how to find good resources and evaluate their quality.”
  • “I think the course coordinator did an absolutely wonderful job!! She deserves all the thanks we can give her. It was one of the most helpful courses this semester and really allowed us to give back to the community. Although I would change a few small things, I think the course should continue because its contribution is simply tremendous. Also, the vibe in class was absolutely wonderful, and it’s something that’s important to mention. “

Practice Makes Perfect

No doubt, despite its labor pains, the course was a success and achieved its main goals of having a positive impact on He-Wiki and giving students the tools to become contributors beyond the course. However, like every course that runs for the first time, there is always room for improvement. After personally evaluating sessions throughout the course, reading the evaluations and talking to many students, these are the main things I would strive to perfect for next year:

  • Limiting the number of students to no more than 40.
  • Moving the course to the second semester, so that these 1st year students have more experience and knowledge.
  • Perfecting the online exercise on Moodle.
  • Creating at least three “workshop” sessions to practice what was learned, instead of practicing at the end of every core session.
  • Giving clearer instruction of what is expected from students while working in small groups.
  • Harnessing more faculty members to actively participate in the course and give feedback.
  • Engaging students from this class while working on next year’s course, including a tutoring program, so that there is sustainability and students from this class continue to be involved after the course ends.

What’s Next..?

There are two milestones ahead: first, in mid-February, I’ll be presenting the results to the Academic Committee at Sackler. They will deliberate whether the course has met the academic standards and if it is a course Sackler would like to continue in the coming years. So, keep your fingers crossed for us! The second milestone will be in July 2014, when it will be 6 months after the end of the course. It will be interesting to check what the retention rate is and how many students actually continue to be involved. Hopefully, we will all meet in August, at the upcoming Wikimania in London, and I’ll be able to share some more insights and final results.

For further information, please feel free to contact me via this e-address: shani at wikimedia.org.il.

Shani Evenstein

Notes