On an attempt to use Wikipedia Town in university education

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As shown in “Wikimedia Education”, there are already many examples of attempts to incorporate Wikipedia into educational practices, and the momentum has been accelerating in recent years. Among them, “Wikipedia Town” as an initiative in Japan, including group work and walking experiences in the city, has shown compatibility with educational practice. The Department of Urban Culture and Design in the Faculty of Letters at Nishogakusha University has been implementing Wikipedia Town as part of its university education since 2018. As of 2018, there have been several attempts to incorporate Wikipedia Town into university education. However, at Nishogakusha University, we are working on Wikipedia Town as part of seminar activities, which I think was new in this respect.  

The reasons for trying to utilize Wikipedia as part of university education are clear. One is that the various skills required of university students are condensed into the task of editing Wikipedia articles. They read the materials carefully, identify important information from the materials, think about the structure of the article to describe the subject appropriately, and summarize the information in a concise sentence while indicating the source. Although there is no “question setting” required here, the skills necessary for writing a report or graduation thesis are all in place through this process. The other thing is that it is fun. It is quite enjoyable (or extremely enjoyable, depending on the person) to actually come in contact with a historical event and then compare it with the materials written about it. In addition, when a new article is published on Wikipedia, it remains public. This is both surprising (and frightening) and fun for those who publish an article for the first time. Of course, the article will be revised and added to, but that process can also be fun. Fun is extremely important in learning.  

“Wikipedia Town in Akihabara” in February 2020
File:Wikipedia_town_in_Akihabara_vol.4_2020-02-15_(2)_sa.jpg on commons.wikimedia.org / Photo by Araisyohei / CC-BY-4.0

The educational practice utilizing Wikipedia at Nishogakusha University, which has been ongoing since 2018, had to be suspended for a time due to the spread of the new coronavirus, but was able to resume in the 2022 academic year. This article will provide an overview of the initiative from 2018 and then report on its efforts as part of first-year education. 

Two Types of Initiatives  

At Nishogakusha University, while using the framework of Wikipedia Town, we attempted two very different types of educational practices. They are described in the following order.  

Wikipedia Town as part of first-year education  

In 2018, the Department of Urban Cultural Design was established as a new department in the Faculty of Literature at Nishogakusha University. It is the third department following the Department of Japanese Literature and the Department of Chinese Literature. Every year, the Faculty of Literature holds a welcome event for new students, and in past years, the Department of Japanese Literature has held a kabuki performance viewing and the Department of Chinese Literature has held a Chinese opera performance viewing. So, what did the newly established department do as a welcome event for new students? This was a workshop on writing Wikipedia articles. Basically, based on the Wikipedia Town format, we organized a workshop in a much-simplified form. Specifically, we omitted walking around the town and taking photos, uploaded the necessary images to Wikimedia Commons in advance, and asked each group working on a topic to share representative materials and work on their own.  

The preparation for the workshop was carried out by the students of the seminar of the then full-time lecturer Kanta Tanishima, who was responsible for the implementation of the workshop, as part of the seminar’s activities. In other words, the workshop had two aspects as an educational practice. One was the education of the first-year students participating in the workshop. The other was the education of the seminar students who were preparing for the workshop. Incidentally, in the first year, only first-year students belonged to the newly established department, so the seminar students consisted of students from the Department of Japanese Literature.

The Department of Urban Culture and Design has 60 students per academic year. Conducting a Wikipedia Town-style workshop with this number of students was extremely difficult. First of all, the task of selecting topics and finding materials was enormous. Also, on the day of the workshop, the progress of the work varied greatly due to the large number of groups. As a result, we had to place a heavy burden on the then Japanese Wikipedia administrator, Ks aka 98-san, who was assigned as the facilitator for the entire workshop. The difficulties involved in conducting a workshop for a large group of students in the form of a Wikipedia Town continued to be a problem, and we took measures to overcome these difficulties in FY2022, which will be described later. For now, this is an overview of the Wikipedia Town-style workshop for first-year undergraduates.  

Wikipedia Town for the general public conducted mainly by seminars students 

Participation in Wikipedia Town functions as a place for university students to acquire various skills necessary for their studies, but it is also a completely different, yet very valuable, experience for those involved as organizers and managers. The organizer must begin by selecting the topics to be covered in the workshop. This requires a certain degree of familiarity with the area, which in turn requires a lot of walking around and library research to prepare for the event. It is also necessary to publicize the workshop in order to gather participants. In this case, the significance of the workshop must also be explained. In addition, if we are going to ask for cooperation from the local community in the course of preparation, we will inevitably have opportunities to get involved with the community.  

The workshop for first-year undergraduates was conducted in a much-simplified form of Wikipedia Town, but the workshops which are open to the public include a town walk. The first year was quite groping, but from the following year onward, students gradually accumulated the know-how. In addition, some students became involved in the operation and implementation of Wikipedia Town as their graduation project which is worked on instead of their graduation thesis. Since the satellite campus in Akihabara was opened at Nishogakusha University in FY2018 (closed at the end of FY2021), the campus in Akihabara was used as the venue and four workshops were held under the title of “Wikipedia Town in Akihabara” before  the spread of the new coronavirus. The following is a summary.  

  1. “Wikipedia Town in Akihabara vol.1  
    • Date: Saturday, November 17, 2018, 10:00-16:00  
    • Edit items: “Kanda Fruit and Vegetable Market” and “Shoheizaka” *All new  
    • Announcement page: https://nishoakibalab.peatix.com/view  
  2. “Wikipedia Town in Akihabara vol.2  
    • Date: Saturday, February 16, 2019, 10:00-16:00  
    • Edit items: “Kamakura river bank” and “Textile wholesale district (Iwamotocho and Higashi-Kanda)  
    • Announcement page: https://peatix.com/event/578555/view  
  3. Wikipedia Town in Akihabara Vol.3  
  4. Wikipedia Town in Akihabara Vol. 4  
    • Date: Saturday, February 15, 2020, 10:00-16:00  
    • Edit items: “Renjakucho_(Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo)” “Misaki-za” “Misaki Inari Shrine” 
    • Announcement page: https://peatix.com/event/1395087/view  

In February 2020, when this fourth Wikipedia Town was held, a new type of coronavirus infection had already been confirmed in Japan, and the Wikipedia Town workshop at Nishogakusha University had to be suspended for a while after this session.   

Resumption of Wikipedia Town at Nishogakusha University  

In FY2022, activities at the university were somewhat normalized with the resumption of face-to-face classes. Under these circumstances, it was decided to resume the practice of Wikipedia Town. However, the two-year hiatus caused a break in the transfer of know-how within the seminar. In the following, we will introduce the Wikipedia Town activities after the resumption.  

Wikipedia Town as part of first-year education  

In FY2022, the decision was made to resume workshops using Wikipedia as a result of internal discussions. In the past, workshops were first held for first-year undergraduates, where seminar students gained experience, and then Wikipedia Town was held for the public. The same process was to be followed this time as well, and preparations for the workshop for first-year undergraduates were made first.  

Implementation system

The first step was to establish an implementation system. The main group was the Kanta Tanishima Seminar of the Department of Urban Culture and Design, which has overseen workshop implementation in the past. Three fourth-year students from the seminar raised their hands. They are the core members who will implement Wikipedia Town as their graduation project. In addition, two third-year students joined as support members. The facilitator supporting the two workshops, one for first-year undergraduates and one for the general public, was Araisyohei-san, the administrator of the Japanese version of Wikipedia, who had also facilitated the workshop before the suspension of activities due to the spread of the infection. 

Workshop format  

The first consideration in the preparation process was the format of the workshop. In the workshops held before the spread of the new coronavirus infection, each team had to create a new article, which meant that as many topics had to be prepared as there were groups. For this workshop, we decided to try a new format using a sandbox.

As nearly 50 participants were expected at the workshop for first-year undergraduates, it was decided to organise 12 teams: the 12 teams were divided into two groups and each group was assigned a topic for the assignment. This means that the same topic is allocated to six teams in one group. Each team’s work would then be shared in the sandbox. At the end of the workshop, all articles are critiqued and one article from each of the two groups judged to be the best is published.

There are several clear advantages to this approach. First, it greatly reduces the number of issue topics that must be prepared. At the same time, it also means that the number of documents that must be researched can be reduced. It also leads to quality control of the articles that are eventually published. If many teams write different articles, some articles will inevitably have quality problems. With this method, the best article can be selected from among six different types of articles. However, there are some disadvantages and risks. The first concern is the problem of co-editing. While public articles can naturally be co-edited, co-editing is usually not possible in the sandbox. Araisyohei-san advised that this could be cleared up by having a code that allows collaborative editing written at the beginning of the sandbox. There was also a concern about whether it is realistically possible to select only one excellent article from multiple articles written on the same topic. It is quite difficult to select one article from multiple articles of similar quality, but from slightly different angles. However, integrating such multiple articles would not be easy in the short time available during the workshop. This was a concern for the facilitators even during the actual workshop. The biggest concern was whether the simultaneous editing of the same topic in multiple sandboxes would be considered suspicious. This is not a normal occurrence. It was decided that the facilitator, Araisyohei-san, would address this point if there were any problems. Although there were other concerns, it was decided to use the sandbox this time and have multiple groups write articles on the same topic in parallel.  

As in previous workshops for first-year undergraduates, we followed a simplified Wikipedia Town format, omitting the city walking part.

Preliminary Preparation  

Preliminary preparations proceeded in three major steps. The following is a step-by-step explanation.  

1.Searching for materials
The first step was to identify topics from the books in the advisor’s laboratory that had not yet been included in the Wikipedia article. Imoaraizaka, Ushigafuchi Park, Kudanzaka, Nakasaka, and General Togo Memorial Park were identified as candidates. Two of these were to be the topics. It was decided to eliminate General Togo Memorial Park from the list of candidates because it is under construction and the photo is not very suitable to be posted on Wikipedia. The other hills were also eliminated because they might be difficult for first-year students to understand what they should write about in their articles. Therefore, we began our search for topics by choosing historical and cultural sites that were easily recognizable from the Kudanshita area, where the university campus is located. We then searched the Chiyoda Library for new topics, including Ushigafuchi Gate, Aizen Jizoson, Goto Inari Shrine (Eiju Inari Shrine), Myoho Ego Inari Shrine, Yotsugi Inari Shrine, Ushigome-mitsuke, etc. We used the reference service of the Chiyoda Library, with a target number of three books for first-year students.
2.Topic selection
Among the candidates, the material on Ushigome-mitsuke was chosen as the topic because it was easy for first-year students to handle, including the history of Edo Castle, illustrations, and information boards with historical explanations. We also looked for materials on the Nishichiyama Fudoin tTemple, but were unable to find it using the reference service, and since we could only obtain information from the Internet, we eliminated it as a candidate because it was not suitable as a reference material. As for Inari shrines such as Goto Inari Shrine, Myoho-Ego-Inari Shrine, and Yotsugi Inari Shrine, we decided to use Goto Inari Shrine as our topic because there was a book that summarized the Inari shrines of Chiyoda and there were some materials available. Therefore, Ushigome-mitsuke and Goto-inari Shrine were decided as topics for first-year students.
3.Manual preparation, etc.
In order for the nearly 50 participants, who were almost all complete beginners, to work smoothly, a manual of some sort was necessary. However, it would not be digestible if it were too detailed. Therefore, we decided to create a simple manual with the minimum amount of information. The contents of the manual consisted largely of 1) how to create an account, 2) how to find an existing article for reference and check its source code, 3) commands for headings, links, etc., and 4) how to upload images to Wikipedia Commons. To make it intuitive, we created the manual by combining screenshots of actual screens.

Although the manual included instructions on how to upload images to Wikipedia Commons, we omitted the city walk/interview from this workshop. For this reason, photographic materials used in the articles were taken in advance by staff members and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.  

Advance preparation by participants  

About 10 days prior to the workshop, we used related class time to conduct advance preparation work for the participants.  

Confirmation of attendance on the day of the workshop
Final confirmation of the actual number of participants available at the time of the workshop.
Team assignment
Teams were divided among students who were actually able to participate, and adjustments were made to take into account the Japanese language abilities of the international students.
Determination of sandbox personnel
In the actual workshop, each team will use one sandbox, where all the work will be concentrated. To avoid confusion on the day of the workshop, we decided in advance who would be in charge of using the sandbox.
Setting up shared Google docs for each team
It was decided that Google docs would be used to share work among the teams during the workshop. Therefore, we set up Google docs sharing for each team in the preparation stage.
Reminder to create an account in advance.
There is a high possibility that problems will occur if all participants start creating their accounts at the same time at the workshop venue. Therefore, we asked the participants to create their Wikipedia accounts in advance.

The actual day of the workshop 

On Saturday, 17 December 2022, Wikipedia Town for first-year students of the Department of Urban Culture and Design in the Faculty of Letters was held at the Nihonmatsu Gakusha University Kudan Campus on a schedule of 13:00-16:00. The management members gathered at 11:30am for the start of the event at 13:00 to prepare the venue and organise materials. From 12:30, a final meeting was held by the management members, including facilitator Araisyohei-san.

Critique by the facilitator

The event started at 13:00. The first 30 minutes was an orientation by Araisyohei-san. Here, the facilitator introduced himself and explained about Wikipedia and Wikipedia Town. The participants then proceeded to work using two classrooms to write articles on “Goto Inari Shrine” and “Ushigome-Mitsuke”. 

Immediately after work began, a number of problems arose. First of all, some of the teams were short of members due to absences on the day of the project, and it became necessary to move members from one team to another at short notice.  Even more serious was the fact that a certain number of participants who had not created their accounts in advance tried to do so on the spot, but were unable to do so due to the wide area blocking of IP addresses. If they could not create an account, they could not edit the sandbox together. It is technically possible to share the text in Google Document prepared in advance and have it uploaded by proxy, but this would complicate management from the perspective of copyright, which should be held by the article creator. We decided to address this point by annotating the necessary information in the editorial summary description field when editing the sandbox.  

One student staff member was assigned to each classroom to support the smooth progress of the event and to take pictures of the work in parallel. However, the operation manuals prepared in advance by the management members and on-the-spot question-and-answer sessions enabled the students to gradually respond to the questions. Almost all groups were able to publish their articles in the sandbox 30 minutes later than originally planned (although some teams were not able to upload their articles in time for the critique).  

At 16:00, the classroom was moved to start the critique part. Each group gave a brief explanation of the articles they had published in the sandbox, which were then critiqued by facilitator Araisyohei-san. Finally, one team was selected from an overall perspective for each of ‘Goju Inari Shrine’ and ‘Ushigome Mitsuke’, and the team’s article was published on Wikipedia. At the time of selection, the facilitator commented: ‘I think the participants felt a sense of accomplishment as well as the difficulty of what materials they had to refer to and how they had to complete their articles in a limited amount of time. This selection was quite difficult. I hope that you will not stop today, but continue to add to it”.


In this workshop, we tried a new method of writing articles on the same topic using the sandbox, with multiple groups working on the same topic in parallel. In the end, each group was able to publish an article on the sandbox, and selected articles were officially published on Wikipedia. In the main, I think we succeeded in making the workshop format work. However, there were many challenges.  

The challenges we faced this time can be broadly divided into two categories. The first is one that can be separated from the format of this workshop. The first is the issue of account creation, which can be addressed by making sure everyone knows about it in advance, and by preparing rental pocket Wi-Fi so that accounts can be created even at the last minute. The confusion over team formation due to absences on the day of the event could have been handled more smoothly if the number of teams had been reduced and allocated to a smaller number. In this case, there were several teams of three people working together. In addition, in creating the manual, we strongly felt the need to share information on how to add footnotes in an easier-to-understand manner. These are issues that should be addressed regardless of the sandbox method. One issue directly related to the format of this workshop was the procedure for selecting one final article. As expected, it was difficult to choose one article from among those with different characteristics that could not be simply compared. It would be better to take the time to compare multiple articles, extract usable elements from them, and integrate them into a single article, in order to fully exploit the potential of the sandbox method. However, this would require more time, and this is a problem that we are struggling with. Although there were many issues, I think we were able to see the potential of the workshop as a format that can handle a large number of people.  

Taking advantage of the lessons learned from this workshop, a Wikipedia Town for the public was held about two and a half months later.  

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