A peek backstage at Wikipedia: Irwin DeVries

Irwin DeVries is an online learning and technology instructor in a Masters program at Royal Roads University. He specializes in open education, instructional design, curriculum development, and learning technologies, along with associated research and publication. His experience working with wikis goes back several years, when he participated in the open design and development of an online course while he collaborated with the international OERu network which is based in New Zealand. DeVries received an invitation from the Global OER Graduate Network to participate in Wiki Education’s OER Wiki Scholars course, in which scholars researching open educational resources (OER) would work together to improve related content on Wikipedia. DeVries wanted to use this chance to connect with colleagues as well as find ways his graduate classes can utilize Wikipedia as part of a digital pedagogy.

Before joining the group, DeVries thought Wikipedia and its structure hadn’t changed much since his earlier involvement with the wiki. But as he got hands-on experience creating an article about the history of the Open Learning Institute of British Columbia, where he felt there was an important gap in the historical record of open education, he began noticing each distinct element of Wikipedia and the efforts that go into the content there.

“It’s a bit like buying a new car; you suddenly notice all the same models out there when you’re driving, which you’d never seen before,” says DeVries. “When I go to Wikipedia – and I’m now surprised how often I do – I see the structure, referencing, graphics, and other elements that I took for granted before. It’s like you’ve had a peek backstage. I also want to fix things when I see them, and at the same time appreciate the tremendous work and collaboration that go into creating them.”

Now that DeVries has become a contributor to OER information on Wikipedia, he has reflected on the opportunities Wikipedia offers to invite new and diverse knowledge production.

“When we’re contributing we’re either filling in a gap in an existing set of categories, or opening up a new category that then invites others to broaden it out. It’s infinite,” says DeVries.

In fact, the contributions of DeVries and his colleagues in the OER Wiki Scholars course increased the recognition of OER and its benefits. Thanks to Wikipedia’s accessibility, the public can learn about the wide range of topics related to OER, even helping instructors join the movement by utilizing OER in their own classrooms or helping researchers see the value of publishing open materials.

“It promotes a larger and highly visible OER. However, it also makes visible that OER and their supporting communities still mirror social inequities and require intentional work to address representational and voice imbalances from a social justice perspective,” says DeVries.

DeVries is fascinated by the quick changes anyone can make on Wikipedia and how these changes are made sure they are accurate.

“It was particularly gratifying both to link to related articles, and to edit other articles and link them back to the one I developed as part of the process,” says DeVries. “It’s quite amazing to step into an encyclopedia and fix things in the larger ecosystem without going through a bureaucracy. Obviously there’s a lot of trust that contributors will operate in good faith, but also where there is irresponsible behaviour there is a community that deals with it.”

DeVries encourages instructors to transform their students from consumers of information to actively edit articles with Wikipedia assignments, which they can do by joining Wiki Education’s Wikipedia Student Program. This way students can practice their research skills in an engaging learning environment while also publishing information that can leave a global impact.

“This changes the learners’ role from only consuming information written by others to also creating, revising, collaborating and sharing it in some meaningful way in a communal setting,” says DeVries. “In the process they learn more about the idea of a commons, content licensing, and more profoundly the contested nature and ongoing development of knowledge.”

When considering how Wikipedia can continue to strive toward accurate and inclusive representation of knowledge, DeVries noted that there should be improvement toward recognition of contributions by and about women and the BIPOC community. In his classroom, he plans on emphasizing the importance of representation when incorporating Wikipedia assignments, using the knowledge he gained from the Wiki Scholars course.

To take a course similar to Irwin’s, please visit learn.wikiedu.org. Image credit: Worldneedpeace, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.