A product is now worth 40% of its original price, but what was its original price? If a disease has affected 10% of the population, how many people out of 100 were affected? What is 50% of 120?
These are similar questions to those asked in cross-national studies that assess mathematical literacy, and they show that Brazil ranks amongst the worst. Recent cross-country and national research, such as OECD‘s Programme for International Student Assessment, show the level of mathematical understanding in the county has decreased in the last ten years in this country. This scenario is especially serious, as amidst an economic crisis governments at the municipal, state and federal levels have opted for cutting expenditures in education.
As Wikimedia volunteers, we believe we can have an impact on pervasive innumeracy in Brazil. The User Group Wikimedia in Brazil has worked to change this scenario through two main approaches: improving written content on Wikipedia and illustrating that content with high quality media.
Starting with Wikipedia
To start our efforts, we have begun to systematically improve Portuguese Wikipedia content on mathematics. Under the supervision of professors at the University of São Paulo and with support from a grant from the São Paulo Research Foundation, User Group Wikimedia in Brazil volunteers and undergraduate student workers have systematically improved the quality of hundreds of articles on the encyclopedia. The Portuguese Wikipedia, for instance, now has the most “featured” articles—a marker of high quality—on mathematical topics.
The rationale for improving content on mathematics on Wikimedia projects in Portuguese is that significant parts of the Brazilian population have access to the internet. Projects may therefore become a powerful resource for spreading high-quality information, especially scientific information. We have worked on important articles like média, mediana, moda, distribuição de probabilidade and variável aleatória—respectively in English, mean, median, mode, probability distribution and random variable. We have also tried to include audible versions for these entries to improve content accessibility. As Wikipedia in Portuguese is a go-to reference, the expectation is that when people, especially students, look for content on Mathematics on the internet they will find a way to the high quality content we have produced.
Video with innumerable value
But more recently, we have partnered with independent volunteer Rodrigo Tetsuo Argenton to upload the collection of the University of São Paulo Museum of Mathematics, aka Matemateca, to Wikimedia Commons. Working with museums to upload parts of their collections to Wikimedia projects is quite common, in fact the international community has best practices, and we have already worked for instance with the Veterinary Museum at São Paulo to upload images of their collections. Compared to these initiatives, the work with Matemateca has a major difference: half of the uploads are short videos.
Uploading videos to Commons was very exciting because videos have become a major resource on the internet and can offer an introductory approach to mathematical concepts. In general, and for many reasons, the Wikimedia movement has not relied much on videos as a means of illustrating entries on Wikipedias. One challenge for example: film shooting can be especially demanding for volunteers, and as a movement we should find a way to increase our ability to produce easily and inexpensively, high quality multimedia content.
Working with Matemateca, to produce and upload dozens of short videos allowed us to ensure volunteer time went towards high quality content. With the supervision of the museum director, Eduardo Colli, we have associated videos, such as those depicting mathematical knots, Chladni figures, Galton box, and angles of repose, and pairing them with educational publications from the museum on Wikimedia projects. This initiative is still running, and we hope to upload short lectures on the mathematical concepts objects we have taken pictures of or filmed. We are also planning to write wikibooks on these concepts, starting with a collaborative publication on knots. This initiative has been granted support from the Wikimedia Foundation for acquiring a camera.
Lessons for the future
As we have moved forward in this initiative of producing multimedia content on the collection of Matemateca, we have realized we were able to somehow provide a unique experience of this collection and mathematical concepts. To some extent, we were able to replicate not only content that is available in the museum, but also part of the learning experience one would get from visiting the museum. This is especially different from what one would get from just being in touch with pictures of objects from the collection, since in Mathematics concepts are clearer when shown in movement.
From our experience, the biggest challenge for videomaking was post-production. Comparing to static production, editing videos is more time consuming, and we would have leveraged more of the partnership if we had had more people involved in the process. In photography, the typical strategy is to assess the object to be taken pictures of, choose a moment and extract the most relevant educational aspects of it. In a video, we have to pay attention to the logical sequence and try to create an environment that is suitable for the production. However, this challenge leads to great educational benefit videos can, at the same time, show the image someone talking about it.
João Alexandre Peschanski, User Group Wikimedia in Brazil
Rodrigo Tetsuo Argenton, Wikimedian
You can find more of these types of videos on Commons.
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