Quebec school project improves French Wikipedia

Members of the 2009 edition of the Cégep de Chicoutimi school project. At far left stand fr:Jean-Marie Tremblay, founder of the digital library Les Classiques des sciences sociales, while Simon Villeneuve is at far right.

I am Simon Villeneuve. I have taught physics and astronomy at the Cégep de Chicoutimi, a college in Quebec (Canada), since 2005. Since the 2008 fall semester, I have used the French Wikipedia in my astronomy class and have introduced my students to the commons-based peer production principle of public wikis. I coordinate their work with the Cégep de Chicoutimi pedagogical project.
Like it or not, the free encyclopedia will take an increasing place in the education world[1]. I believe Wikipedia is a wonderful educational tool for learning a lot of stuff like critical thinking, peer production principle, ability to find and evaluate the quality of sources and, especially, production of online libre knowledge that anyone can reuse.
In this post, I discuss some results of my school project and resources we created in order to follow and frame more easily the students assignments.

A work in progress

It took me a long time to evaluate the kind of Wikipedian work I could ask my students. At first, I assigned them two tasks:

  1. Contribute 20 edits in the main space, with a minimum of 10 astronomy-related edits.
  2. In teams, significantly expand an astronomy article of your choice.

I tought the first assignment was sufficient for students to learn the ropes of the encyclopedia, enough to complete the second task. Impressed by the results of the Wikipedia:WikiProject Murder Madness and Mayhem, I wanted to lead my students in the drafting of good and featured articles. It was a disaster, plain and simple.
I came to realize that mastering the basics of MediaWiki and the encyclopedic style are very difficult to the average human being. I overestimated the degree of computer skills from my supposed digital natives digital naives, as well as their ability to master the encyclopedic genre.
This led me to develop a learning process involving six, rather than two, assignments and focus their work on brand new articles or stubs.


Here are some results:

Results from the projet pédagogique au Cégep de Chicoutimi (2008-2012)
Year[note 1] N[note 2] Editions[note 3] Creations[note 4] Octets[note 5] Articles[note 6] Octets articles[note 7] Words[note 8] · [2] Assessment[note 9]
Total 155 6,003 157 1,160,933 71 467,840 46,784 29 Start/C, 5 B
2012 36 1,301 68 249,862 14 78,856 7,886 7 Start/C, 1 B
2011 [note 10] 34 1,509 48 390,923 29 164,075 16,408 8 Start/C, 1 B
2010 32 1,356 11 210,145 18 120,563 12,056 10 Start/C, 1 B
2009 34 1,603 11 261,031 [note 11] 10 104,346 10,435 4 Start/C, 2 B
2008 19 234 19 48,972 0

The last four columns show the results of the main assignment in which I asked teams of students to significantly develop one article.[note 12]
Since 2009, I also ask students to fill a short survey at the end of the semester. The survey is far from perfect, but it gives a general idea about the perception of the project by the students, including the gender gap.

Comparison between women (blue) and men (red) for the first 7 replies issues (2009-2012). The gender gap is clear.

You can get a detailed overview of the results on (fr) Wikipédia:Projets pédagogiques/Cégep de Chicoutimi/Résultats.

Other WMF projects

My use of wikis in the classroom is not restricted to Wikipedia. I also introduce the students to other Wikimedia Foundation projects.
Some contributed to Commons[note 13] and participated in the 2012 Wiki Loves Monuments contest.
In the last weeks, the students wrote astronomy and astrophysics news items on Wikinews.[note 14] One article, (fr)fr:Le géocroiseur 2012 DA14 s’approche de la terre” was showcased on the site’s Main Page for several days.
I also introduced my students to Wikisource. One of them has started working on a French translation of the Einstein–Szilárd letter and of Churchill‘s “We shall fight on the beaches” speech.[note 15]


Screenshot of the homepage of the digital library Les Classiques des sciences sociales. The educational project at the Cégep de Chicoutimi allows the coordination of multiple Quebec actors of the free culture movement by creating some activities like (fr) copyleft days.

There are very few French resources and appropriate tools to help teachers to achieve educational activities using Wikipedia.
With the help of Wikipedians like Lilyu and Benoit Rochon, we created several templates and specialized categories to help us identifying students activities as well as articles they worked on. To get an idea of ​​these resources, see the (fr) Catégorie:Projet:Cégep de Chicoutimi.
Over time, I was able to gather a core of education stakeholders interested in creating open educational resources by organizing various activities, such as the (fr) 2011 copyleft day. Thus, with the help of such fellow Wikipedians/Science and Mathematics teachers Cantons-de-l’Est and Letartean, we have created a number of exercises.[note 16]. While still very sketchy at this stage, I believe that this approach can serve as a guide to create a turnkey approach for an educational use of Wikipedia by fellow teachers.
Our latest initiative is the establishment of a partnership with the digital library Les Classiques des sciences sociales with the launch, in February 2013, of a new collection dedicated to natural sciences[3]. We have taken this initiative because the eligibility policy on French WikiSource is much more restrictive than what is acceptable under Canadian law. The new collection, with free texts in 5 formats (.html, .pdf, .doc, .rtf, and .epub), provides access to the French text from renowned scientists such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, René Descartes, Albert Einstein, Gregor Mendel, and Ernest Rutherford.
That’s about all I can tell you for now. If my Wikimania 2013 presentation is accepted, I’ll be able tell you more face to face. Wink.png
Simon Villeneuve, Cégep de Chicoutimi

Archive notice: This is an archived post from, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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Nice!! Really interesting work, looking forward to your presentation at Wikimania (scholarship pending, see my presentation proposal – though still incomplete – on the Wikimania page). All the best from a computer science teacher in Greece (who was born in Montreal Quebec in the year of Expo Montreal – 1967… as a matter of fact, the date of this post was my birthday:)))

Thank you!
You’re project is very cool ! I missed your post on the blog in February, but I talk about it in the last version of the French “Signpost” :
I’ve been in Greece, but not on the West part of it. Maybe one day we’ll see each other. The world of education projects on Wikimedia Foundation wikis is still small enough to believe that we’ll see each other soon !

This is a lovely project. Thank you for sharing this update.

Thanks for sharing our work! Yes I am quite certain that it’s a small world, looking forward to meeting you soon:))

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