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Future of Education

From Wikimania 2014 • London, United Kingdom


With growing concern about jobs, skills and the economy, and the launch of initiatives such as Year Of Code, the reimagining of education is a hot topic in the UK. Wikipedia does not yet feature heavily in this narrative. Should it? And if so, how can we make it so?

To the exasperation of many teachers, Wikipedia is the first port of call for millions of students from primary school to university. Its sheer convenience is challenging standard pedagogical approaches that implicitly assume information is scarce and difficult to duplicate. What if teachers asked students to contribute to Wikipedia instead?

David White

Barbican Hall: Saturday 15:00 – 15:30

"Getting to grips with the way Web functions on a technical level is only a small part of what is required to engage with the nature of the social behaviour and the knowledge that manifests itself via the digital."

David White is Head of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of the Arts London. He researches online learning practices in both informal and formal contexts. He has led and been an expert consultant on numerous studies around the use of technology for learning in the UK higher education sector and is the originator of the ‘Visitors & Residents’ paradigm which describes how individuals engage with the Web.

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Diana Strassmann

Barbican Hall: Saturday 16:30 – 17:00

Diana Strassmann is chair of the board of The Wiki Education Foundation, and the founding editor of the journal Feminist Economics, the journal of the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) and a co-founder of IAFFE. After receiving her undergraduate degree in economics from Princeton and her masters and doctorate degrees in economics from Harvard, she joined the Rice University faculty in 1983. She is currently Carolyn and Fred McManis Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Humanities in Rice University’s Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, a faculty affiliate in Rice’s Asian Studies program, and director of Rice’s Program on Poverty, Social Justice, and Human Capabilities.

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Clare Sutcliffe

Barbican Hall: Saturday 17:00 – 17:30

Clare Sutcliffe is founder and CEO of Code Club, a nationwide network of volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged 9 to 11 across the UK.

With the burgeoning digital skills gap and the lack of programming taught in schools, her aim is to change the way society views computer science and empower and educate young people through the creativity of the computing medium. Bringing together support from key stakeholders such as George Osborne, Google and Computing at schools, she has already achieved over 1000 Code Clubs in the UK and over 1200 Code Clubs worldwide, with ambitions to train at least 20,000 primary school teachers by 2016.

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Emma Mulqueeny

Barbican Hall: Saturday 17:30 - 18:00

"Imagine growing up knowing that your voice counts and that every single person has the ability to activate their communities. Because every person in the digital space has a community and a social network, to 97ers this is completely normal, this is all they have ever known."

Emma Mulqueeny is the founder of Rewired State and Young Rewired State: Coding a better country. She has been included in the 166th annual edition of Who’s Who, voted onto the Wired 100 list, Tech City 100, BIMA Hot 100 and has been voted one of the top ten women in technology by The Guardian. Emma writes regularly for the British Press and on her own blog, speaks on radio and on television, is well known for her campaign: ‘Year 8 is too Late’ (encouraging girls into technology subjects) and relentlessly pushing the potential of open data.

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The Future of Education

Not so long ago students were regularly advised against using Wikipedia. Some teachers, tutors, and librarians claim the crowdsourced model of Wikipedia makes it an unreliable reference source. But that is to miss the point: Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia, and it works as a first point of call in the research process, rather than as a complete reference source. The reality is that students use Wikipedia — and so do most of those teachers, tutors, and librarians who publicly express their reservations. In the early days, contributors to Wikipedia were often lax about citing their sources. That has been changing for some time now. Unreferenced information is now much more likely to be challenged and the majority of pages include a range of references, both from off and online sources.

These improvements have started to have an impact in the education sector. Educators are beginning to realise the importance of teaching media literacy to students. Rather than telling students not to use Wikipedia, librarians and educators are starting to teach students how they can use Wikipedia effectively. Like any other encyclopaedia, students are being shown how to use the site to find the helpful links to primary and secondary sources that are precisely the material students should be citing in their research.

Knowledge is Produced, not Consumed

One of the best ways to teach this aspect of media literacy is to take advantage of Wikipedia's flipped model: knowledge is produced, not consumed. Wikipedia's depth, breadth, and reliability makes it easy to find answers, so educationalists find themselves caught up in a paradigm shift. Instead of being passive receivers of information, students become the creators and curators of knowledge. Wikipedia becomes an opportunity, not a threat, to formal education, and the educators' role becomes facilitating a shift from simply teaching answers, to teaching how to ask questions. We can tackle the implicit 'think less, find more’ promise of the Web head-on by fostering critical evaluation skills.

Response to MOOCs?

Over the last 18 months there has been a huge amount of activity around Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provided by major universities and the potential impact of ‘free’ online learning on this form. The focus on the open access nature of the majority of these courses and the huge number of people signing-up in some cases has created a flurry of excitement which has largely ignored the relatively passive pedagogy employed by many MOOCs. Wikipedia is well placed to provide a balance to the predominant pedagogy within MOOC as it is open access both in terms of consuming information and contributing to knowledge. Finding ways to encourage the open-education/MOOC movement to incorporate contributing to Wikipedia within the learning-design of open-access courses should be one of the key aims of the Wikipedia Education Program.

Shiny tech?

One of the reasons that Wikipedia is often not part of the 'digital education debate' is because that discussion tends to be hijacked by the glitter of shiny hardware or 'revolutionary' software. News stories about new forward thinking educational institutions often talk about the inclusion of the 'digital' as if technology is a solution in and of itself.

Wikipedia is predominantly perceived as content, not technology - a pool of information rather that a site of learning. It can't be owned by any given educational institution and it can't easily be used as an exemplar of 'revolutionary' practice by schools or universities in PR terms. The reality is that as educational institutions start to respond to the influence and the implications of the Web there is an evolution in practice, rather than a commercial hunt for a technical panacea.

. . . or new forms of practice

When the personal computer emerged from the counter culture of California, this was part and parcel of a movement amongst American students whereby they no longer accepted the role of passive consumer of knowledge. The Free and Open-Source Software movement (FOSS) was one product of this. Sharing intellectual property in a process which intertwined both collective learning and collective innovation, FOSS proved to offer new forms of educational practice. The needs of this community soon led to the creation appropriate software, Wikis. With the arrival of Wikipedia, this approach shifted to the mainstream. Wikimania 2014 will prove to be a watershed moment, as all this experience generated outside educational establishments becomes better understood by those shaping the future of education.

Educational Initiatives

Wikipedia Education Program

Nowhere is the Wikimedian community's approach to these more prominent than in the Wikipedia Education Program, a project with secondary schools and universities around the world. The Wikipedia Education Program means the end of throwaway assignments and the beginning of students being able to have a meaningful impact on the world around them.

The idea is simple:

Instructors assign their students to contribute to Wikipedia or other Wikimedia projects as a class assignment.

Typically, this means students write Wikipedia articles about class-related topics. Students gain writing, research, media literacy, critical thinking, collaboration, and technical skills through a Wikipedia assignment. They're forced out of the academic bubble; rather than writing for just their instructor, they have the opportunity to have their coursework reach an international audience. They're able to share their work easily with family and friends. And for many, the ability to communicate ideas and receive feedback from others, who are often thousands of miles away, is an exciting opportunity putting them in touch with the rest of the globe.

Education program activities are underway in more than 60 countries around the world, led by Wikimedia chapters and dedicated volunteers. Already, tens of thousands of students have been introduced to editing Wikimedia projects as part of their coursework worldwide. Instructors and students can get help through brochures, handouts, and videos as well as an online training.

Get involved! See the education portal or email education@wikimedia.org.


Wikiversity logo.
Wikiversity logo.

Wikiversity is a sister project of Wikipedia which was announced at Wikimania 2006 providing a platform for Open Educational Resources. Currently available in fourteen language Wikiversities – Arabic, Czech, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Slovene, Spanish, and Swedish; Wikiversity projects in other languages are being developed at the "beta" multilingual hub.

Additional reading

Getting involved

Attend Wikimania, including the Education Pre-Conference, or consider volunteering!