Looking back as we move forward

The Spring 2018 term was significant as much for what happened as for what didn’t happen.

What happened

During the Spring 2018 term we supported 400 courses! This was our largest number of courses to date, and more than we anticipated. More importantly, over half of those courses were taught by returning instructors (220 to be exact). This was the first term in which our returning instructors outnumbered courses being taught by first time participants in our program.

What does that mean for the Classroom Program? Returning instructors generally require less support from Wiki Education, and their students tend to contribute larger amounts of high quality work to Wikipedia. This means that we can devote more staff time to those first time instructors so they too can gain the expertise of their returning peers. Over the past several terms, we’ve also come to recognize that some courses have more success with the Wikipedia assignment than others. As a result, we made a focused effort this term to both identify and retain those instructors whose students previously contributed high quality work to Wikipedia.

Translated into concrete numbers, these efforts resulted in over 8,000 students contributing more than 6.5 million words to Wikipedia. Students tackled subjects ranging from Global Poverty to Bioarchaeology of Climate Change. One of our students reflected on what it meant for the article she worked on to have achieved Good Article status during Spring 2018. In order to receive this coveted title on Wikipedia, the article goes through a rigorous vetting process, and we’re incredibly proud that this student (and six others in her class, as well!) followed through.

As part of our ongoing efforts to support Wikipedia’s coverage of the physical and social sciences, which we began in 2016 with our Year of Science initiative, we created a handout to specifically help students tackle science communication on Wikipedia. We also developed two additional subject-specific handouts to guide students contributing to articles in the fields of cultural anthropology and LGBT+ studies.

What didn’t happen

While working to identify which classes have had success with the Wikipedia assignment, we also began to gain a greater understanding of factors that make a course poorly suited for a Wikipedia project. With several terms of data behind us, we’ve observed that large multi-section classes, managed by multiple TAs and other college or university staff, tend to encounter issues on Wikipedia. The vast majority of students in these courses do good work, but with so many cooks in the kitchen, it’s easy for miscommunications to arise.

This term, we decided to cease supporting these types of classes, and despite supporting more classes than ever, we ran into no significant incidents. We also attribute this to our ongoing efforts to improve our training materials, especially in the area of plagiarism.

What we learned

As we prepare for the Fall 2018 term, we hope to continue the successes of Spring 2018. This means that we will continue to improve our tools and resources as well as aim to support courses that work well with the Wikipedia assignment. We know that we can handle growth and hope that many of our Spring 2018 instructors who taught with us for the first time become returning instructors in the coming terms. All of this amounts to a sustainable model for the Classroom Program, so that our students can continue to improve Wikipedia while obtaining critical digital literacy skills.

For more information about teaching with Wikipedia in your classroom, visit teach.wikiedu.org or reach out to contact@wikiedu.org.


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