Students are widely using Wikipedia as a source for their school projects and as a learning tool. However, what happens if we change this procedure of just “using Wikipedia” and also engage students in writing Wikipedia? This is the main idea behind the worldwide spreading of Ambassador programs on Wikipedia projects all over the world. One promising method for an Ambassador program was tested by students who participated in cooperation with Czech WikiProject Protected areas.
The Czech WikiProject Protected areas represented by Chmee2 ran in winter semester 2011/2012 in cooperation with Jiří Reif, university teacher at Institute for Environmental Studies, Faculty of Science at the Charles University in Prague. For the project, 30 bachelor’s students participated in writing articles on the Czech Wikipedia. Students had to visit one protected area of their choice, take several pictures of the area, write an article for the Czech Wikipedia and give a public presentation for other students in the class. The presented task was comprehensive, varied and focused on individual work of participating students. We did not just want to attempt to enrich Wikipedia projects with new articles and images, but we also wanted to prepare students for future scientific work and give them the opportunity to try creative writing and critical work with references. This knowledge will soon come in handy when they start writing their bachelor’s work and prepare the defense of their bachelor’s academic degree.
The project enjoyed high popularity among students, according to the results of a survey. A full report with results from this cooperation is available on Czech Wikipedia in English. Here we present only a short summary of this cooperation and main lessons that we learned.
Unlike other ambassador projects where ambassador is supporting students mainly virtually in the Wikipedia environment, our ambassador was personally present at each class. This gave us the opportunity to directly interact with students, easily giving feedback about articles and answering their questions about Wikipedia. And of course, the ambassador was active also on Czech Wikipedia, correcting student’s edits. We realized that this in-person approach is more time-consuming for an ambassador than virtual assistance is. But it is better for the community on Wikipedia and for students. The ambassadors are able to help students understand all standards and rules of Czech Wikipedia without relying on the greater Wikipedia community. As a result, Wikipedia was enriched with high-quality articles containing references with only minor effort from the community. And students were able to directly and easily ask questions and get their answers.
As main benefit, excluding the good articles, I find that 30 students learned how to use Wikipedia and what is behind this project. In couple of years, these students will be members of different social groups and taking wide range of jobs. But whenever they come, they will remember good memories about us and knowledge, how Wikipedia works. It might help us in the future open different doors and keep our good name alive.
Very significant is obviously benefits for students who learned how to write quality research texts, which is a basic skill in scientific work. Also students learned how to use different sources and how to cite them correctly. The necessity of visiting the locality and taking pictures led them to think about the area, which they were processing and describing in the article, and realized its connection to the surrounding landscape. The presentation in the class helped them improve their presentation skills and prepared them for conference talks and their bachelor’s defense. We taught them a wide range of skills necessary for academic existence, many of which are not really taught at Czech universities.
We also noticed it is really important to have some model articles for students. We prepared several sample articles (Boubínský prales, NPP Rovná, Řežabinec a Řežabinecké tůně) before the semester started, which students could use as reference for their articles. Students were able to find in these articles ways to use wikicode and, more importantly, they saw their teachers try to do the same in several cases. It was also important that we wrote short help handouts with the most important wiki-code information (how to make a wikilink, how to upload an image and how to insert references) because generally, the official help on Czech Wikipedia (and same is on other Wikipedias) is really long and comprehensive.
User:Chmee2, an ambassador, introduced students to the issue of copyright law on the Czech Wikipedia to prevent mass copyright violation. It was also useful to explain to the students how easy is to find a copyright violation with Google. I would like to highlight this point as really important. Because we established the rules of the game in the beginning, we did not have any copyright problems in this class.
As a result, Czech Wikipedia was enriched with 30 high quality articles about protected areas. Several articles are high above the average standards of Czech Wikipedia (one already included among the good articles of Czech Wikipedia). An active approach to students, while time-consuming, led to creation of good quality articles and not partial stubs. Also, it was guaranteed to minimize the load of the community by having the Ambassadors do corrections and explanation of principal processes and principles of Wikipedia.
This cooperation has been just one of many our projects that are now included in the Czech Ambasador Program. This program, established just a few months ago, currently takes care of six educational projects in three major cities in the Czech Republic. Projects are held or prepared at Charles University in Prague, Palacky University in Olomouc and Masaryk University in Brno. In the winter term, almost 100 Czech university students were assigned a homework to write a Wikipedia article. This number is expected to grow further on in the upcoming summer term.
We are really thankful to Mgr. Jiří Reif PhD., who allowed us cooperate on his teaching in his class.
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