Innovations Cafe #5, and Wikipedia-editing in the Classrooms of Kosovo

Posted on Jan 23, 2011

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(The discussion).

 

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The basic idea is this: the Albanian language Wikipedia is quite young, and needs a lot of work [1]. One way to develop it would be for students [in high schools and older] to edit it. To do this systematically, the project would work with teachers to assign students Wikipedia editing as homework, and offer whatever help is necessary in order to help the process along.
Of course, as with most things, the devil is in the details. Given that there is a lot of conversation about teachers telling their students not to use Wikipedia as a research source [2], will teachers actually buy into this? How would the process work in a classroom setting? How will project members convince teachers this is worth whatever extra hassle this will give them, or find teachers who will be fired up by this idea? Will this ever work in the classroom setting? Do teachers grade student-writing on Wikipedia?
Some of those questions have easier answers than others. I want to summarize a bit of the conversation we had, and the action items project members are thinking of, so that any readers can offer further thoughts.
  • First, Wikipedia editing has several benefits to the writer/editor, not just to Wikipedia and/or the world at large. These benefits were especially interesting to me, as different people articulated them in different ways. These benefits are important to think about, especially if project members need to convince teachers of the merits of Wikipedia.
  • School students use computers a lot today, but in many “unproductive” ways (Facebook and Messenger, here in Kosovo). Wikipedia would be a productive way of doing the same.
  • The assignments students get in classrooms of Kosovo are quite boring. Editing Wikipedia and working on the Internet would be more much fun than most average homework.
  • Being able to edit a public webpage gives you a sense of power. You have the power to contribute to a source that others look to. This can lead to a personal sense of  empowerment.
  • The power to contribute to public information also shows people how easily information can be produced (and “manipulated”), which helps lend a critical eye towards public information. This, in turn, is a necessary skill for the citizens of a young democracy (and participants in the cultures of the Internet).
  • Given Kosovo’s status, editing English articles about Kosovo will no doubt lead to interactions with Serbs (both from Kosovo and outside). Some of this interaction will be nasty, but I personally hope that much of it will not be. Either way, Kosovo Serbs and Albanians will have to figure out different ways of mediating these interactions. This co-operation, whatever forms it takes, is only a good thing from my viewpoint.
  • [And after I wrote much of this post, I found this list of school and university projects for editing Wikipedia, which echoes much of the spirit of what I said above, as points out a few more things.]
  • Writing for Wikipedia is different from just ‘writing.’
    • Writing for Wikipedia is not just ‘writing.’ In fact, the phrase “a state of mind.. appropriate for Wikipedia writing” came up in our conversation. Writing for Wikipedia means you have to follow Wikipedia’s principles, which include “no point of view” and reliance on other sources rather than anecdotal information. So telling students to go and edit wikipedia isn’t enough, they have to be taught (1) the mechanics of editing a wiki (2) about analytical and ‘no point of view’ writing, and (3) to look for, evaluate, and cite, sources.
  • Translation maybe the easiest win.
    • Given the above, asking students to contribute original articles to the Albanian Wikipedia may be a tough sell, especially to begin with. Perhaps translation from the English Wikipedia is the right way to start, as even quite basic information has quite some room for improvement (see the articles on triangle, in English vs Albanian).
    • Given this, perhaps the right teachers to get in touch with are Albanian teachers in high schools or universities. In fact, we found out that one of the tracks in the Faculty of Philology is a ‘translation’ track: perhaps project members could approach some professors there to assign article translation as homework.
  • The English Wikipedia should not be forgotten; there is plenty of room for improving articles about Kosovo.
  • One shouldn’t forget students. In fact, some conversants felt that students would more readily get Wikipedia than teachers. However, to have a larger impact and to be a bit systematic about it all, most people wanted to try approaching teachers to integrate Wikipedia in classrooms. It was felt that the right kinds of students would grow into Wikipedia champions through classroom exposure.
  • No matter what, given that the project wants to work with teachers, getting teachers who will *get* the idea, and will be passionate about it, is the biggest challenge.
As a result of the above, those participating in the conversation agreed on approaching the Wikipedia writing project with three action items, for now:
  • Identify teachers in the translation department of the Philology department and get feedback on what they think about the idea.
  • Identify high-school Albanian language teachers (and English language teachers) with the same.
  • Identify any other teachers who believe in the power of the Internet in improving education, and work on making it as easy as possible for such teachers to ask students to write Wikipedia articles.
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Thanks to members of FLOSSK for the source of the idea, especially Taulant Ramabaja and Arianit Dobroshi. Thanks to Petrit Augustini, Amy Schirmer, Gokhan Balaban, Sarah Jane, Elizabeth Gowing, Altin U, Agron D, Ardian H, Gent T, and others at the Innovations cafe for the thougths that I have tried to record above. Thanks in advance to whoever takes the ideas forward as it develops further. All opinion is, as always, mine.
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[1] – There are only about 30,000 articles, and Kosovo-related articles need quite a bit of work. As a quick test, I pulled up the Albanian-language article on Prishtina, the capital city of Kosovo. The article is really quite weak, especially compared to the English version (or the German article on Vienna, to take a nearby capital as an example).

 

[1, cont.] These same thoughts apply for other Wikipedias as well. The Serbian one, with almost 140,000 articles, is doing much better, but could use much more work. Incidentally, a Nepali living abroad also sent me a concept of an idea similar to the one I describe here, but for the Nepali wikipedia.

 

[2] Wikipedia, being universally editable, is not accepted as a citable source by many teachers. While this is changing slowly, this short article’s title (Will Wikipedia ever be legitimate?) brings forth the ever-present tension.

5 Comments

  1. Isa Leal
    November 30, -0001

    Very interesting idea. I’m teaching in Tirana and trying to run a project on ITCs in education (specially in Foreing Languages, but not only) with my students. There are many things to do around here on this area…

  2. Alyssa
    November 30, -0001

    Hello,I’m currently teaching high school English in Kosovo at two of the local high schools. One of their Albanian teachers is interested in implementing this wikipedia project in our school. Is there someone still in Kosovo who we can discuss the logistics with and/or find out more information? Thanks,Alyssa Warren

  3. Prabhas Pokharel
    November 30, -0001

    Alyssa, if you can Ron Salaj and Arbnor Hasani at the Unicef Innovations Lab, and they might have ideas: http://kosovoinnovations.org/contactThanks for the interest, and I hope something comes out of it!

  4. Steph
    November 30, -0001

    This was a really excellent and interesting post, examining all the angles. I agree that translation may be the quickest win. Wikipedia provides ideal translation material for language students, and this bypasses all the arguments about Wikipedia’s legitimacy as a source. It would be quite exciting for students to see the (edited and corrected) results of their work go live, and it would be a great help for readers if high schools and universities took this up as a classroom activity. Every Wikipedia, including the English-language one, is desperately in need of translators, although we are not very effective at getting the message out there. Please continue to promote your innovative proposals.

  5. Arianit
    November 30, -0001

    Excellent wrap-up.A few comments:1. The project will be developing research-based academic writing…and some other skills. Wikipedia is just a byproduct.2. Teachers in Kosovo probably don’t have an idea one way or another about the reliability of Wikipedia. Of course, with no research going on in schools, I doubt reliability of sources has gone through anyone’s mind. Judging the authority of sources is also a skill that needs to be developed and kinda critical. I would venture to guess that those Kosovo teachers who have heard of Wikipedia would be more receptive than their foreign counterparts.