The Wonderful World of Wikimedia

Let’s face it: Wikipedia may still be lacking in academic credibility, but that hasn’t stopped us from resorting to the world’s free online encyclopedia time and time again when we need quick facts on a new concept.

What many people don’t know is that Wikipedia is only one of a total of fifteen projects under the Wikimedia Foundation “umbrella,” and which absolutely anyone can edit. In learning communities, teachers and students are encouraged to introduce Wikipedia editing to the learning process: there are a number of Wikipedia Education Programs involving schools and universities all over the world, with impressive results.

But what’s in it for students? Being a Wikipedia editor offers students a multitude of benefits:

  • Writing a Wikipedia article helps students develop their skills in spelling, vocabulary and grammar.
  • Properly referencing a Wikipedia article can be challenging: citations are necessary for even the simplest of articles (known to the Wikipedia community as “stubs”). This means that students need to learn how to identify valid sources, undoubtedly a useful skill for essay-writing.
  • You don’t need an account to edit Wikipedia, but if you do open an account you will soon find that you are a member of an exciting, multicultural community that values learning and volunteering. Editors are not paid for their work; what drives them is their passion for sharing knowledge.
  • Assignments don’t end up merely taking up space on a school shelf or hard disk: on Wikipedia they are dynamic content that can be expanded, translated, enhanced with multimedia etc. in spiraling progress… they may even have a chance at being nominated as featured articles!
  • A Wikipedia editor can proudly share the content he has created on social media, or monitor the popularity of the article she started or edited by viewing its statistics page (click the “View History” tab of an article and then “Page View Statistics”). She may be surprised by how many people found the article useful!
  • And much, much more…

What’s in it, especially for Computer Science students?

  • Using Wiki markup is an excellent introductory “exercise” to learning HTML (so long as you don’t opt-in to the Visual Editor). HTML is also used in wikitext: see the special “how-to” article here.
  • Wikimedia Commons – the Wikimedia Foundation’s multimedia repository – is a perfect place for aspiring computer scientists to share photos and/or videos of computer hardware, source code etc. and enhance Computer Science articles by introducing links to their  files (provided they are willing to share their work under a proper license)
  • Girls interested in pursuing a career in Computer Science may be excited to find out that Wikipedia has an article titled “Women in Computing,” with ever-growing content that they can browse and edit. In fact, numerous Wikipedia “editathons” were held all over the world to celebrate Ada Lovelace day last year. Writing a new article (or expanding an existing one) on a notable woman computer scientist is a great way to draw inspiration and contribute to the available online knowledge on women in STEM.

I have been using Wikipedia and Wikimedia editing in the classroom since 2007, and my students have contributed to over 50 articles on Wikipedia and uploaded over 200 files to Commons. It is a rich experience, which earned us a significant distinction at a European STEM conference: “Why the High School Student Became a Wikipedia Editor” won first prize in the 1st Scientix poster competition in Brussels, Belgium. We have worked on Greek Wikipedia, started two galleries on Wikimedia Commons and this year we’re adding local dialect words to Greek Wiktionary. If you decide to enter the wonderful world of Wikimedia and need guidance/inspiration, don’t hesitate to visit my user page and drop me a line!

Mina Theofilatou
CSTA International Representative
Kefalonia, Greece