Wikipedia for education: how to educate quality contributors

Digital art & photography professor Lila Pagola from the University of Villa MarĂ­a, has figured an interesting way to make the work of students valued, visible, and most importantly - useful.

While they are having mid and end-term assignements, related to history of photography in Argentina, their tasks are to research, study and summarize a complete biography of Argentinian photographers from the past centuries. "This leaves a trace of their work, and made in the right way, creates important archive on the web about people who are historically known in Argentina, but their work and life are not visible on the Internet."

Editing Wikipedia is in the first place a technical course. But aslo: a possibility to interact with the community. The assignment, taking place in a three-month period, allows for other contributors to edit and improve, give a comment, or debate it.

"Students are not used to this type of collaboration work -- they are ready to give up when there is a debate on a peace of information, therefore I need to teach them to reference them well, and defend their work and opinion.

While she teaches the rules and technical details on editing on Wikipedia, students pass a general training on writing in a wiki-way. But apart from this, which is new for the majority of them, there are issues with publishing photos with the right license, and the professors spends a lot of time talking about free licenses and copying contents on the web. "While we discuss these issues, it happens often that more skilled contributors from Wikimedia Argentina improve the articles and add missing photos. The students learn to work in a team online, with people they barely know," discusses the professor.

By her observations, male and female students learn equally fast to contribute in Wikipedia and editing the wiki code. However, finding it as an additional effort, and being told in school that the biggest online information resource is not a trustworth resource for referencing, there is a need to explain the way Wikipedia works, and bring back the confidence and the value of the work of millions of contributors.

In result, students are more motivated to use Wikipedia after this course. However, professor says, there is no guarantee that students will continue contributing to Wikipedia after this course. But the process of learning, both technical and theoretical issues at the same time, is very powerful. And working directly with technology on school projects, shows the multiple sides of the learning process.