reflections and ideas on open and distance learning - by irwin devries

Six weeks with Wiki Scholars

The sun is shining, I’m fully vaxxed, and I think it’s time to get back to the blog. I suspect future digital archaeologists will uncover one of those interesting sedimentary lines in the blogocene indicating a world-wide gap in digital ink production during the Covid-19 Era. Anyhow, that’s the excuse for my extended pause in writing. But onwards.

In open education we’re fixated on authentic and renewable assignments; creating, improving or adapting open educational resources; and embracing digital pedagogies in our teaching and learning. Knowing that, I jumped at in invitation to complete a Wiki Scholars class organized for interested writers through the international GO-GN doctoral candidates research network in open education and hosted in collaboration with WikiEducation. This six-week program provides wiki training with the goal that each participant will create or expand one or more Wikipedia articles on open educational resources. The (virtual) classes were expertly run by Will Kent, a program manager with WikiEducation, and it was great to see many familiar faces from our shared open education networks.

Some members of our Wiki Scholars class

Some things I learned

  • The MediaWiki platform on which Wikipedia is based has improved considerably since my previous involvement with the tool in the early 2010s. In particular, the visual editor makes it much more accessible to non-markup and -code aficionados, and the automated referencing tool is a huge time-saver, especially since there is such a strong emphasis on referencing everything.
  • There is a clear system of policy and guidance on ensuring a reasonable degree of relevance, appropriate tone and quality of articles, including a robust community of volunteers who check articles and maintain the platform in good condition. Some volunteers have done this work for many years. Many of these people are invisible heroes.
  • The platform includes a mind-boggling array of ancillary sites, ranging from Village Pump, Tea House, and WikiFauna to events pages and conferences. Xtools can be used to analyze user activity. Tips on writing better articles and methods to recognize exceptional Wikipedia contributors are just a few examples of the many programs and wiki pages active behind the scenes.
  • The Signpost online newspaper publishes articles about Wikipedia by its editors, with articles that include introspective critiques of Wikipedia itself. An example of a current concern — something that is also discussed more broadly in the field — is a critique of Wikipedia’s epistemology and under-representation of minority authors, thus providing a venue for self-reflection and related scholarship.
  • Wiki Education has a program to support instructors in integrating Wikipedia into course assignments.

What now?

Having gotten closer to Wikipedia over the term of the Wiki Scholars class, I’m now planning to join the many other educators who found ways to incorporate it into their classes. Such exercises not only mobilize knowledge in new ways, but also afford an opportunity to include and explore issues of representation, epistemology, sources of knowledge and other such critical matters in our open educational practices. In addition, I’m thinking about which articles I want to review and add to, and what I want to write next (suggestions welcome BTW).

Speaking of writing articles…

For my project in the program, along with some small edits or additions to an article on OER in Canada, I developed a short article on the Open Learning Institute of British Columbia (OLI). While I blogged about OLI some time ago, one blog post doesn’t compare to a page in Wikipedia given the amount of traffic that passes through Wikipedia. OLI was an important, bold and seemingly forgotten part of the Canadian province of BC’s history in open education that existed from 1978 to 1988 before it transitioned to the BC Open University and Open College, among other components, under the Open Learning Agency (OLA).

Its DNA now lives on at Thompson Rivers University, Open Learning (TRU-OL), and the basic principles espoused by OLI and many of its open education initiatives — as well as new ones — continue to flourish. While this history is not directly connected to the OER theme of the Open Scholars course, OER is a product of open education and related movements, the seeds of which were planted long before the emergence and definition of OER in the early 2000s.

Having worked in various capacities with the original OLI, OLA and, most recently, TRU-OL, I’ve personally experienced the mood and tensions of introducing and maintaining open education approaches that run up against existing structures. Then, as now, open education remains a challenge to closed, proprietary, hierarchical, surveilled and corporatized approaches to higher education.

The article is only an early and frail contribution to this part of BC and open education history, but it’s a start. Over time, I hope to add more research as well as images to the article, but it will take some effort as there is not much out there without digging through archives and print materials in libraries. I welcome any related resources, corrections, additions and other improvements, along with discussions in the talk page.


  1. Alan Levine

    If you are invoking Geologic metaphors I’m running over here! I’d say what you describe is a mere unconformity in the Blogocene Era or just a period of no deposition. It happens much.

    I’m jealous you got a WikiEducation immersion, that Tea house is a beacon of a heated lively community, itself a rabbit hole to slide down.

    Did they cover WikiData? I had some interest first kindled while I was at TRU with Wikishootme as a means to see where there were gaps in imagery.

    In the windows you opened a helpful reminder that there are many forms of contribution that are not just articles.

    Keep the blog light on!

    • Irwin DeVries

      Thanks for the geologic clarification; I possess only an erratic pebble of knowledge in this field. The rabbit holes of Wikipedia are many, and fun to tumble down, and you don’t know what you’ll find. The course didn’t cover WikiData at the end but they did mention the possibility of another session to cover that off. If it happens, I want in. Thanks for setting off some great memories from the time of your TRU residency.

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