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How-to sign up for Wiki Edu Courses

Wikipedia Education Foundation is a fantastic program that helps integrate the writing of wikipedia articles into courses. Wiki Edu spun off from Wikipedia proper a couple of years ago, and they’ve done a ton of work in that time to put together training materials for students and teachers and organizational tools to help manage classes.

However, it can still be a little confusing as to how to get started in Wiki Edu. Below is a step by step process to help your students join your Wiki Edu Course and navigate back and forth with Wikipedia.

1. After an instructor has joined Wiki Edu and set up a course, she receives an email with a link for their course dashboard. The link that Wikipedia sends will have an enrollment code built in, so that your students can automatically join the course. If students navigate to the page without following the link, they will likely need the enrollment code which can be found at the end of the link. For example, here’s a link for the course dashboard for Remembering the Asian Pacific War:  https://dashboard.wikiedu.org/courses/OU/Remembering_the_Asian_Pacific_War_(Spring_2017)?enroll=xxxxxxx. You can see at the end of the link a bit of text that says “enroll=xxxxxxx.” Whatever comes after the “=” is the code for enrolling in the course.

2. Once a student reaches the course dashboard, she can log in to her account using the button at the top right:screen shot of the wiki edu dashboard for a course with the login link highlighted

3. After she logs in to Wiki Education Foundation, she should click on “join course” in the actions tab on the right hand side of the screen. If it asks for a passcode, she uses the enrollment code.

screen shot of the wiki edu dashboard for a course with the 'join course' button highlighted

4. The student should now be a member of the course. When you are in Wikipedia reading an article, you can return to the course by first clicking on your username at the top of the screen:

screen shot of the wikipedia page for an article with the user name highlighted

5. On your user page, you should have our course listed at the top of the page. Click this link to go to the Wikipedia page for our course.


6. From there you can return to the Wikipedia Education Foundation dashboard for the course.


For more information on Wikipedia assignments and the Wiki Edu program, you can check out my posts below or wikiedu.org


Persistent Student Writing

I have written before about my dislike for disposable writing assignments in college courses. Like math homework, they serve a purpose in having students practice various concepts, but both are seen by students as busy work. Research papers can be made more palatable by giving students enough choice in the topic to establish personal relevance. However, as long as the paper ends up filed away in either the instructor’s or the student’s filing cabinet, it remains merely an ineffective exercise with a single reader.

One common alternative is the course blog. In my class on science and literature, one of my student’s wrote a blog post on the representation of vivisection in the Island of Doctor Moreau, which has been read 319 times so far this year. The thing is that the paper was written in 2014. All told, since he posted it, the paper has been viewed 1,239 times. Lately, the post has been getting about 55 views a week, primarily from Google searches about the book. This student writing a junior level paper that could have been filed away in my cabinet contributed to public knowledge about H.G. Wells and vivisection in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

While I worry about the proliferation of abandoned course blogs, that course site from the summer of 2014 still gets about 600 views a month, about twice as many as this personal blog. Here’s a breakdown of the top posts for May:

Table of views in May for my After Newton blog

I think it’s easier to motivate students to put in work on their research and writing when they know it will be publicly available and possibly widely read. There is also value in showing students that they can contribute to the knowledge community and challenging them to do so.

A second possibility for public writing, and one that frankly dwarfs the course blog in terms of readership, is writing for Wikipedia. My mentor, Peter Barker, taught a survey course on the history of science since 1700 last fall. In that course, Peter asked his students to make edits to improve the Wikipedia articles on the various subjects that they were studying.

Screen Shot of the Wiki Education Dashboard

Notice that the 84 articles edited by the students have been viewed 3.67 million times since those edits were made. That’s so incredible I assumed it must be a glitch, but you can access the views by article on the site. Obviously, most of the articles weren’t created by the students. But as we ask students to join intellectual discussions in our courses and contribute to the broader knowledge community, why would we ever choose to assign a single reader paper over writing for a public audience.

Converting Students’ History Essays into Wikipedia Articles

The history research paper is often treated as busy work by students and seen with the same contempt as an algebra homework set or lab write-up. While all of these assessments have pedagogical utility, they are also all disposable assignments, likely to be thrown away after they are graded. Students practice a skill but often gain little insight into real world applicability. In turn, the teacher grades a pile of nearly identical assignments with only the exceptionally excellent and the exceptionally poor assignment breaking the monotony.

Rather than having students turn in this traditional paper with its audience of one, having them write for a public audience reshapes the assignment. There are many easy ways to do this. The WordPress posts that my students wrote for a summer 2014 course on science and literature still draw about 400 viewers a month, even though there’s been no new content on their course page for over a year. In another course, my students created web projects to communicate their research, and the resultant tumblrs, blogs, Prezis and Tackks were creative and diverse.

I have written in the past on using a Wikipedia assignment in place of the term paper. This is a large scale endeavor that works best if you scaffold the Wikipedia process over the course of the semester.  A lower-barrier option is to to turn a short, descriptive research project (the equivalent of a couple of pages) into a Wikipedia assignment. This semester, I have been helping students in Dr. Elyssa Faison’s history course, Geisha and Gangsters, prepare their short (500 word) essays for Wikipedia.

While this assignment does not require the same level of preparation as the replacing a full term paper, there are a few key preparatory steps.

  1. Both the professor and the students should sign up for Wikipedia accounts.
  2. The professor should set up a course page in Wikipedia using the WikiEducation Program’s site.
  3. Students should pick either a Wikipedia article or section of an article related to the course that they can improve.

Whether they were contributing to preexisting articles or starting new articles, students wrote their essays first in a word document as a standard descriptive essay. As with any history essay, students were advised of the importance of choosing and citing authoritative sources.

We then used one class session to have the students login to their wikipedia accounts and migrate their writings from word (or whatever word processor they had used) to Wikipedia using the platforms WYSIWYG editor. This editor sidesteps the need to learn Wikipedia syntax offering instead a styling menu for marking up section headers and other text formatting. Even citations and footnotes are now largely automated through Wikipedia’s “Cite” button and menu.

History page for the Wikipedia article on Unit 732Once the students uploaded their work to Wikipedia, I sat down with Dr. Faison to comb through the articles. Using the history pages for each Wikipedia article we were able to review the changes that the student had made along with any subsequent changes by other Wikipedia users. In assessing this work, we looked at traditional evaluations of history essays, i.e. how well the text was researched, written and cited.  We also looked at how well that text was integrated into pre-existing information on the Wikipedia article and how well it coincided with Wikipedia’s standards of neutrality and being a tertiary source (written based on secondary sources rather than presenting original primary research or interpretive arguments).

Moving from a disposable research essay to a Wikipedia essay carries several benefits:

  • Students gain a sense of confidence in their knowledge by contributing to a source that they know and use.
  • Students trade the audience of one instructor for a broad readership (one of the students this semester revised an article on Japan’s military Unit 731 that got more than 70,000 views in just December)
  • Students improve their digital literacy through a better understanding of Wikis a medium.
  • Students learn about source authority, especially the increasingly common semi-anonymous and anonymous web sources which so often fill their bibliographies.
  • Instructors trade a stack of homogenous research papers for a variety of formatted essays.
  • Essays are subject to open-review on the web.

Writing for Wikipedia can be as easy as having students copy and paste their word documents into Wikipedia and format their text using the menu bar.  The Wiki Education Foundation is continually rolling out improved tutorials and tools and offers a library of aids for instructors in developing assignments. With Wikipedia and other public writing, we can move away from disposable, busy-work assignments, and encourage students to apply the knowledge and skills they are gaining in school to the (digital) world in which they live.

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