Writing Wikipedia Articles: the online course

Last month, my colleague Sara Frank Bristow and I finished our first run of the free online course, Writing Wikipedia Articles: The basics and beyond. This course is part part Communicate OER, a project to improve the coverage of open educational resources on Wikipedia. We introduced it as part of the launch of Peer to Peer University’s School of Open in March.

The course was designed to help those new to Wikipedia learn to write, edit, and improve articles, in the context of the site’s history and philosophical underpinnings. Of the 100 students who signed up initially, 25 went on to add themselves to the course roster on Wikipedia. During class sessions and optional lab sessions, we guided them through both technical and cultural challenges, and emphasized that the best way to learn about Wikipedia is to “be bold” and start trying things out.

Our students took on a variety of tasks, including:

  • Expanding the lead section of the main article on Open Educational Resources, as well as covering the term’s definition more thoroughly
  • Adding links to books and documents that are open access (available online)
  • Substantially expanding a biography originally started by the subject’s relative, including several new high quality references
  • Adding public domain images to unillustrated articles
  • Starting a new article on government OER policies
  • Adding an “info box” to an article
  • Reviewing an article on its “talk page”

They learned valuable techniques, such as:

  • Entering a useful edit summary with every edit
  • Using the talk page to disclose a possible conflict of interest
  • Referring to Wikipedia policy pages, the Manual of Style, etc. in order to resolve disagreements
  • Identifying which Wikipedia articles have undergone various peer review processes
The WikiSOO Burba Badge reflects that its wearer has substantially improved a Wikipedia article, and made at least 200 edits to Wikipedia.

The WikiSOO Burba Badge reflects that its wearer has substantially improved a Wikipedia article, and made at least 200 edits to Wikipedia.

As a pleasant surprise, we had students working on several language editions of Wikipedia, including Greek, German, and Catalan. At the course’s conclusion, we are pleased to begin awarding the WikiSOO Burba Badge – an award recognizing a student’s successful completion of the course and final project.

We were fortunate to have help from many quarters in the Wikipedia and OER communities. Special thanks go out to our panelists from Week 4 and Week 5: Sage Ross, Lane Rasberry, Catherine Casserly, David Wiley, David Kernohan, and Nick Shockey.

The lessons, of course, were not confined to the students. As instructors, we learned a great deal about how people want to learn about Wikipedia, and how to teach accordingly in an online environment. We found that the course is more ambitious than we had imagined, and that we need to provide structure in areas we hadn’t anticipated. We got helpful feedback, including a request that students be put in pairs or small teams from the beginning, in order to get them into a collaborative context from the outset.

With these lessons under our belt, we are excited to run the course a second time! We will launch next week, on Tuesday for those in the Americas, Wednesday for those in Asia/Australia. We hope you will join us!

About Pete Forsyth

Pete Forsyth is the principal of Wiki Strategies, and a Wikipedia expert. Full bio here: wikistrategies.net/pete-forsyth
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