Editing live Wikipedia pages: Assessing students through OER creation

Photo credit: Unsplash, Lysander Yuen, CC0

In this post, Dr Varia Christie, Programme Coordinator for the online PG Cert Global Health Challenges, reveals how assessing through editing Wikipedia pages develops students’ skills in communicating knowledge to a wider audience while instilling a sense of social responsibility….

What is it that makes significant pedagogical and administrative effort involved in the development and implementation of ‘innovative’ assessment worthwhile? Every such instance will have its own story, but for us on the online PG Cert Global Health Challenges it all started with a little curiosity towards the Open Education Resource (OER) creation in the curriculum. It was pretty exciting to then realise that with just a small change to the format of an existing assignment, we could achieve a double purpose: showcase student progression towards the learning objectives of the course and contribute to the development of open knowledge. Let me explain.

Global Health Challenges: an Introduction is a course that lays the foundations for the programme. It introduces students to the principles and practice of global health and develops their critical thinking around everyday but complex concepts such as health, disease, food, smoking. As well as that, it teaches valuable communication skills, introducing different styles of writing for a wider audience – blogs, journalistic articles, infographics.

Building on an existing groupwork assignment that asked students to create a Learn Wiki on a natural or human-made disaster, with the invaluable help of the University’s Wikimedian-in-Residence, Ewan McAndrew, we tailored it to the live Wikipedia format. Although the brief was overall similar to the old one, this time we asked the students in their groups to select a disaster-related ‘stub’ page with the view of expanding it by 800 – 1000 words. The focus shifted to presenting information in a neutral tone and a concise manner rather than presenting an in-depth overview and analysis. This tied in well with the course’s focus on different communication strategies, and stretched students to research disasters that might have not received much publicity.

The challenges

  • Students getting error messages when trying to create user profiles: Not something any of us expected, but these are the joys of online learning – our students don’t sit in the same room as us and we have limited control over their IT environment. Luckily, where the customary ‘try logging in from another device’ did not work, Ewan was able to create accounts for them.
  • Setting the word count for groups of unequal size: We asked for each student to contribute around 200 words, resulting in some groups having the word limit of 800 words for their final submission and the others of 1000. While it felt ‘equal’, in reality, this meant that smaller groups had to grapple with more limitations – having to cut out chunks of text and omit details – ending up with a less coherent output. Next year, we are going with ‘fairness’ and setting the same word limit to all groups irrespective of their size.
  • Marking criteria: As anticipated, the marking criteria previously used for the Learn-based wiki project had to be revised to account for the Wikipedia-style writing conventions. Drawing on marking criteria for Wikipedia projects, shared with us by Ewan, we ended up creating a synthesised version. It was not entirely perfect and we’ll revise it again for next year but we’re learning, too!

So, what did we achieve with this assignment? Asking students to edit a live Wikipedia page as opposed to populating a Wiki space on Learn has hopefully provided them with more than just the digital skills to enable this. Writing for Wikipedia develops student ability to disseminate information to a variety of stakeholders outside academia and gives them a sense of real-world impact through their contribution to the development of knowledge. Consistent with the learning objectives of the course, this activity also ties in with the programme team’s (and the wider University’s) sense of social responsibility – rather than keeping assignment research outputs within the tight confines of a course, we help our students develop content that is openly available. For an advocacy-oriented programme like ours, it was also important to tap into the diversification of Wikipedia by developing sparsely available content on LMICs.

Innovation is often used as a buzzword, but as somebody rightly pointed out at the workshop I attended a few weeks ago, you can only be innovative once. Being clear on the benefits of integrating Wikipedia-editing assignment, we shall only be happy if by the next iteration of the course this will no longer be seen as ‘innovative’ but as a well-rehearsed routine.

Varia Christie

Dr Varia Christie is a Programme Coordinator for the online PG Cert Global Health Challenges. She overlooks learning design and provides learning technology support on the programme.

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