In a year where more students and teachers are relying on the web to access information for their academic and personal lives, it’s imperative to ensure that they are equipped with skills and strategies that will prevent them from falling victim to disinformation (either believing it or spreading it). The responsibility to develop these skills isn’t confined to a single domain or academic subject, but it’s rather a cross-curricular effort that impacts how students approach information to make decisions in their academic and personal lives. Taking this into account, the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that operates Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects, launched a 9-week online program in three pilot countries that taught secondary school teachers how to use Wikipedia to develop media and information literacy skills among their students. At the Wikimedia Foundation, we work toward a world where everyone can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. We do this by supporting the global movement of more than 280,000 volunteers who collaboratively write, edit, and improve articles on Wikipedia and our other free knowledge projects based on principles of neutrality and reliable sourcing. As everything produced in the Wikimedia movement, the resources created for this program are now available for anyone interested to use, share and remix.
Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites worldwide. The information it contains frequently shows up in the first pages of any search engine and in the Google Knowledge Graph. While its nature as the encyclopedia that anyone can edit raises justified scepticism about its reliability, its demonization and exclusion from the classroom experience is a missed opportunity to engage students with a more critical approach to information. A critical engagement with Wikipedia in educational settings can change how students approach media and information, it can support the development of digital skills, and it can foster new ways of collaborating online. Moreover, educators around the world are already integrating Wikipedia into their pedagogical practice, and there is a growing body of academic literature reflecting on the opportunities of these experiences.
Reading Wikipedia in the Classroom
In 2020, the Education team at the Wikimedia Foundation launched a pilot program in Bolivia, Morocco and the Philippines to help secondary school teachers take advantage of Wikipedia as a tool to foster media and information literacy skills. Our team worked collaboratively with local coordinators from Wikimedia affiliates in these three pilot countries to offer a high-quality and meaningful online professional development opportunity for the participants. The team created, contextualized, and translated educational resources and led synchronous virtual training sessions for over 600 total participating teachers.
The curriculum followed UNESCO’s Media and Information Literacy framework and, as such, it was structured into three modules that touch upon the access, evaluation and creation of information through Wikipedia. In the first module, teachers explore the different ways in which Wikipedia can be used to access information in over 300 languages, the knowledge gaps still present in the platform, and how to maintain students’ safety when they navigate Wikipedia. Throughout this module, participants also have the chance to reflect on the role of open educational resources (OERs) and the sustainable development goals in their teaching practice. By the end of Module 1, participants are able to integrate Wikipedia into their search strategy online through the multiple ways of accessing the encyclopedia (web browser, app, offline options) and navigating its content (hyperlinks, categories, languages).
The second module walks teachers through the different elements of a Wikipedia article and proposes practical exercises for teachers to explore Wikipedia from an informed and critical perspective. Teachers are able to assess the quality of a Wikipedia article by taking into consideration, for example, Wikipedia’s core content policies (neutral point of view, verifiability, no original research) or by interpreting the different warning banners and quality marks that appear in different articles. Moreover, teachers learn to make the most of the information that Wikipedia provides with each article, not only when it comes to the content but also by looking into the process of knowledge construction that takes place in the platform. Teachers move from passive information consumers to actively assess the encyclopedia, thus strengthening their information, media and technology skills – key to the literacies promoted under the 21st-century skills framework. Among other things, this is achieved by:
- Reviewing the “Talk” tab of an article to identify past and current discussions about the information contained in an article, decision-making dynamics in the process of creating and improving an article, and the evaluation of secondary sources used in the article.
- Checking the “View History” tab to see the last edits made to a Wikipedia article, the quality of the contributions, and the diversity of contributors who together build Wikipedia.
- Exploring the “References” section to access the sources used in an article, verify the information it contains, and expand our research beyond Wikipedia.
In the third and final module, teachers receive an introduction to Wikipedia’s editing guidelines and they learn to create an account and user page on the site. Using this account, teachers start taking their first steps in the editing process; they learn how to contribute to Wikipedia articles by adding a citation, sending “thanks” to other Wikipedia editors, and how to participate in campaigns and contests organized by the global Wikimedia community. In Bolivia, the local coordinators organized additional workshops where interested teachers received more personalized guidance around editing and contributing content to Wikipedia.
Main insights from Bolivian teachers
Teachers from all over Bolivia responded to the open call to join the program and the team selected a cohort of 100 teachers to participate – following criteria that strived for equal gender and geographical representation. Before the program started, the team led a needs assessment strategy that allowed us to learn about the perspectives of teachers in the country. It gave us insights into their use of Wikipedia, highlighted their interest in learning more about youth safety in online/digital spaces, and helped us understand their knowledge of media and information literacy. Through this initial online survey, we learned that 56% of teachers understood media and information literacy as the act of accessing information (online and offline), and over 60% considered that their students could not differentiate factual vs false information due to a lack of training. We also learned that 19% of teachers use Wikipedia to find instructional content, and a significant 90% of teachers said they would encourage or already encourage their students to use Wikipedia. In contrast, 60% of teachers in Morocco and 70% of teachers in the Philippines responded positively to the same question. However, this encouragement was again mostly linked to the possibility of accessing information. Teachers expressed that some of their main concerns were still the reliability of the content and the possibility of plagiarism when students use Wikipedia.
Over nine weeks in 2020, the participants moved through the content in the Teacher’s Guides and participated in 5 synchronous online training sessions. Throughout the program, we monitored a private Facebook group where participants could share their reflections and learnings and ask for support. On average, 57 teachers actively engaged with the content throughout the nine weeks of the program. Among their most useful learnings from the program, teachers reported that they gained the ability to conduct a “critical reflection on the information.” For example, toward the end of Module 2, teacher Lidia Calle Rosas from La Paz shared that she realized “there isn’t a lot of information online in my students’ mother tongue (aymara). This might be mainly because there isn’t an official writing system of this language, and additionally, those who speak it might not know how to write it. It’s very important that information in our mother tongues exist because there are expressions that will be hard to translate in their full complexity. Specially all the knowledge in natural medicine needs to be documented and researched so we can share them through reliable academic means.” Likewise, teacher Jorge Aneiva Rejas from Cochambamba highlighted how by the end of Module 3 he could see a different side of Wikipedia and understand “the dynamics of editing, the information Wikipedia can provide us, and how us teachers can contribute to collective knowledge.”
By the end of the program, 93% of surveyed teachers reported that they felt confident to integrate the new knowledge and skills they have gained about Wikipedia into their classroom practice. Additionally, teachers shared how identifying and reflecting on the content gaps about Bolivian history, culture and society in Wikipedia encouraged them to become editors themselves – an unexpected outcome of the program. For example, in a post-program interview, teacher Ismael Quispe Flores from Tarija expressed that “as a professional I always had the dream of publishing, sharing what I know and I had never realized the potential of Wikipedia to fulfill this dream and with such a wide reach. Now I understand the common thread with which I can motivate and encourage the capacities of content creation, research and critical reading in my students.”
Respondents of the post-program evaluation also highlighted how the program made them think differently about contributing to Wikipedia, searching for information online, and even how to better use technology and digital platforms in their teaching. Teacher Rolando Vargas from Pando expressed that at first he “thought that Wikipedia was a platform like Google, but now I value all the volunteer work done by the community behind it.”
The Education team at the Wikimedia Foundation has published the Teacher’s Guides used for the program on Wikimedia Commons in 4 languages: English, Spanish, Arabic, and Tagalog. In the coming weeks, we will be sharing the full program report with insights from the three pilot countries.
The plans to scale this pilot include a training of trainers program and funding opportunities for other Wikimedia communities and interested partners to implement the program in their own localities. We hope that this program can be integrated into professional development strategies for pre-service and in-service teachers. We will also be publishing other assets developed for this program: the evaluation tools we created, localization guidelines for the resources, and lesson plans and visuals of the synchronous training sessions. If you would like to get in touch with the Education team about the “Reading Wikipedia in the Classroom” program, please send us a message at [email protected].
About Melissa Guadalupe Huertas
Melissa Guadalupe Huertas serves as a Program Officer for Education at the Wikimedia Foundation. She’s previously led diverse education initiatives in Latin America focused on community development and cross-cultural understanding. She’s a former Chevening Scholar with an MA in Education, Gender and International Development from University College London. She joined the Wikimedia Foundation to further expand resources and strategies that help integrate the Wikimedia projects into classroom learning, with a particular focus on emerging communities and knowledge equity.
About Nichole Saad
Nichole Saad is the Senior Manager for Education at the Wikimedia Foundation, and previously worked for the UNESCO Office in Amman and the Ministry of Education in Malaysia. She earned an MA from George Washington University, USA, in International Education, focusing on Teacher Professional Development, Education Technology, International Development, and Education in Emergencies. Her current work at the Wikimedia Foundation allows her to pursue all of these academic interests while working towards a world where the sum of all human knowledge is free and accessible to everyone.