Wikipedia in Action #oer2015

Another sunny morning in California and more OER related action from the Hewlett Grantees meeting in Sausalito.  The next session I’m going to attempt to capture is a panel discussion about Wikipedia.  Here are the participants:

  • Pete Forsyth, Wiki Strategies (PF, facilitator)
  • Amin Azzam, UCSF (AA)
  • Dan Cook,Wiki Strategies (DC)
  • Jeannette Lee, Cambridge School of Weston (JL)

PF began by outlining his efforts with Sara Frank Bristow to improve the quality of OER related entries on Wikipedia.  All the panelists use Wikipedia in their work.  JL started using Wikipedia in the classroom when her students couldn’t use part of an article in an assignment.  AA described how medical students are becoming increasingly relaxed about using Wikipedia as part of their studies, which is an example of how the peer-review community is becoming more accepting of Wikipedia. (There is an article here which describes this in more detail.)  DC spoke about his frequent use of Wikipedia as a journalist.  He says that Wikipedia can even be understood as a new form of journalism, but requires an entirely different set of skills.

JL noted that her students are also having to learn about the structure of WIkipedia articles and how referencing, etc. works on the platform alongside learning traditional skills like essay writing. AA notes that Wikipedia is moving to a more central position in learning.  One of the central skills Wikipedia use can help to develop is the navigation of online resources and the evaluation of their reliability and consistency. PF notes that people often make the most contributions to editing while they are learning about a subject and their interest is sparked.

Wikipedia has a variety of projects, such as the drive to improve the quality of medical information available.  Wikipedia Zero partners with cellphone companies in the developing world to give access to the encyclopedia for free.

What is at the intersection between OER and Wikipedia?  JL says that both can learn from each other, and that Wikipedia can be thought of as an OER learning space. AA’s students also use Wikipedia as a way of learning about open resources and open access.  DC asks when students are ready to do this kind of research on their own.  JL argues that there are high school students who are able to do this.

Transparency is an important part of Wikipedia editing, and this can be a useful lesson for journalists, says DC.  We have come to expect the ability to relate content to authors and the idea of anonymous editing is something that is likely to be left behind.  Historically, part of this was down to professionals being worried about being associated with a platform like this but as Wikis have moved into the mainstream this is less of an issue.

PF describes Wikipedia as a sign of the times – something that enables circumvention of historically important institutions. Cable Green speaks about how important Wikipedia is for OER advocacy since this is the first place people will look for information about OER, open access, etc.  But who monitors the quality of these articles?  Advocates need to make sure that these spaces are well tended so that they can be supported in their work while improving their PR strategy.

There’s a further capture of the session available at


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