Reflections on Spring 2023

Spring 2023 is the first term that I helped oversee from start to finish as a Wikipedia Expert. It is fitting that it be the first term that I summarize for the Wiki Education blog! Usually, I am focused on reviewing thousands of student contributions, but it is always a mind boggling experience when I take a step back, and look at the total numbers of our term. When I say thousands, it’s not just a casual hyperbole but rather a reference to the 5,980 students and the 7,430 articles that were edited as a part of the Spring 2023 term. To think that the 351 courses we supported, collectively added around 5 million words is a truly impressive feat. Aside from these numerical accomplishments, the real achievements are in the skill building and learnings that instructors and students experience throughout the Wikipedia project.

A collaborative, team-learning spirit (everyone’s a learner)

As a first time editor, editing Wikipedia can feel like a very solitary activity, especially when the onus falls on the editor to seek out the Wikipedia community either through the Teahouse or a Wikiproject that catches their attention. The students that participate in the Student Program are in a unique position, since they are learning the ropes alongside their peers and instructors. One instructor shared, “The Wikipedia assignment helped to create a collaborative, team-learning spirit: I hope that students emerge more aware of how we are all learners, professors included!” Another instructor commented, “Often we were teaching each other, sharing tips, and edits–it really enlivens the classroom because everyone is so invested in the outcome.” Invested not only in the outcome of their individual assignments, but in the success of all their fellow peers collaborating to contribute quality information to the largest knowledge repository in the world.

The kind of collaboration fostered among students and instructors through this project is a refreshing change to the typical, top to bottom structure of most college courses. The majority of our instructors have very little to no experience as Wikipedia editors. Our most successful instructors take a vulnerable step forward alongside students to learn the processes, and inevitably to make mistakes as a new editor does. As one instructor put it, “This helped me challenge the traditional classroom hierarchy of the instructor and student, as I was viewed as a fellow Wikipedia editor!” Fostering that sense of collaboration across traditional power dynamics helps establish a trust and curiosity among instructors and students that encourages an excitement to learn and complete the project.

Establishing instructor & student relationships

Another facet of the Wikipedia assignment that results from its collaborative nature, is the opportunity for instructors and students to get to know each other as people. They’re able to share their interests within the course or outside of it, connect over the difficulties of learning new material and reach an understanding that comes from being able to frequently engage in 1-on-1 discussions. An instructor shared how they had the opportunity to have more individualized time with their students and describes the “great impact” it had on their instruction, “on a weekly basis I get to work closely with them, answer questions about how to research, which sources are reliable, how to cite something, what information is notable, and more. It’s a 1-on-1 situation I’ve never had before and I really value that time.” Even if it is hybrid or in person, the novelty of the Wikipedia assignment encourages students to engage in more inquisitive discussions with their instructors and can result in connections over unexpected challenges, such as in the case of this instructor who said the assignment, “really helped us to bond over finding reliable sources – students really got it.”

What really stood out to me were the personal connections made between the students and instructors. It was a surprise at how the Wikipedia assignment served to cut through the mundanity of the usual filing in and out of classes (in person or virtually). The assignment “provided an opportunity to get to know student interests and tailor other work in line with those interests. That is, allowed more opportunity to get to know them as people.” Especially as we reel back from the remote learning years of the COVID pandemic, it’s wonderful to see in person connections taking place as a result of this project. Other instructors shared similar experiences, “The Wikipedia assignment helped me to get to know my students better! Since I let them choose their articles to edit, I learned more about their interests and career plans.”

Each term, we hear from instructors and students alike about the great sense of accomplishment they feel about the global impact and reach of this project. Now we might sound like a broken record player at this point, but it really highlights how empowering it is for our students to be able to add their little grain of knowledge to Wikipedia. To relay an instructor’s insight, “I think it got students excited to have ownership over a project. They seemed to appreciate that it was an assignment that had a bigger impact beyond just me and them.” To become an active participant in the Wikipedia project as an editor, and to then intentionally reflect and zoom out of the immediate communities and relationships that we hold in our daily lives, and be able to attempt to grasp the idea of our participation in the knowledge building process on the global scale that Wikipedia functions at, is not an easy ask of anyone, or our students. Yet that very thinking becomes a motivating factor in producing quality work, “The fact that the work they were contributing was going to be seen on a global level made the quality of the work improve significantly over previous assignments.”

Contributing information for a larger, global audience also helps students think critically about the accessibility of their information. Students that participate in the Wikipedia project are from all over the US and Canada, and bring their unique, diverse lens to the knowledge creation process. One instructor shared a powerful reflection about their students, “One thing that I realized working with a class full of first generation students was that writing for Wikipedia allowed them to share their work with their families, many of whom had limited English skills. In someways writing for Wikipedia, writing for more general, less educated, global audiences, meant writing in ways that were more accessible for their own families. Many students in my class translated their work into Spanish, making it even more accessible, they were so excited to write for the world, especially when that included people close to them.”

Before I let you go, a quick recap of those fantastic numbers:

  • Number of students: 5,980
  • Number of courses: 351
  • Words added: 5.08 million
  • Refs added: 51,100
  • Article edited: 7,430
  • New articles created: 466

Thanks to all of the new and returning instructors and students that took that leap of faith to give the Wikipedia assignment a chance! We are grateful for your participation and contributions to Wikipedia. Cheers to future collaborations!


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