Education/Newsletter/July 2014/Haifa University students write Wikipedia articles for academic credit

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Hana Yariv explaining Wikipedia at the inaugural conference, University of Haifa Humanities faculty, September 2011

Haifa University students write Wikipedia articles for academic credit

By Hana Yariv (Wikimedia Israel and Haifa University)

In September 2011, Wikimedia Israel and the University of Haifa launched a new project to write Wikipedia articles for academic credit in the university on the subject of humanities. The project started with a faculty conference. Professor Reuben Snir, the dean of the humanities faculty, opened the conference. Professor Snir talked about the positive impression he got from Wikipedia when an editor wrote an article about him. He praised the seriousness and thoroughness of the article. Seven active Wikipedians participated in the conference in order to provide support and show their presence.

The project has been active for three years, in twenty courses across five departments: general history, archaeology, Hebrew literature, Middle Eastern history and Israeli and Jewish history. In addition, articles have been written as part of the master's degree program for women and gender studies. As of 10 July 2014, 167 articles were written and approved for the article namespace and another 16 are still in sandboxes. Fifteen additional articles are in the draft namespace, and are still being worked on. Some of the articles reached featured status. Articles were also written outside of the aforementioned courses, by students with previous editing experience who asked their instructors to write articles for academic credit.

In the project, I visit a participating course and conduct a two-hour lecture and workshop on the subject of editing Wikipedia. The students come to class after having already registered a user account. The instruction is practical and I demonstrate editing step-by-step on a draft article, and the students practice each step before advancing to the next one. The students are also required to add their name to the project page on Wikipedia. After this, I help them on the site itself, and leave comments about their edits on their respective talk pages. The comments are usually technical—about the editing process itself, such as syntax—but I also provide content peer review if I read passages that require improvement. The approval process for uploading the articles to the main namespace consists of the relevant professor's approval of the content, and my approval of the Wikipedia style.

One of the most interesting things in the project is the large amount of Arabic-speaking students, especially women, in the women and gender studies courses. They write articles about major figures in the feminist movement and make breakthroughs in the Arab world. They are able to utilize Arabic-language sources and make the information available to Hebrew speakers too.

Dr. Ory Amitay explaining Wikipedia at the inaugural conference, University of Haifa Humanities faculty, September 2011

For the 2013–14 academic year, I initiated a meeting with the dean in order to expand the collaboration to other departments in the faculty. The department heads participated in the meeting, as well as Dr. Ory Amitay and Prof. Guy Bar-Oz, the two project leaders in the university. In the meeting I presented the project in front of all of the participants, with the aim of attracting more collaborations in the following year. I offered each department head to meet with the entire staff of their department and present the project. There were a number of such meeting requests, and a number of departments that showed interest.

In order make the process of editing Wikipedia easier for the students, a helpdesk with the option of personal training will be opened in the university library for those who register in advance. I will staff the helpdesk. The goal is to reserve a permanent weekly two-hour slot, with permanent hours and a permanent room. If the demand will be great, I will be able to increase the training hours.

I hope that these efforts will bear fruit, and in the next year we will see additional departments writing articles on Wikipedia. It should be noted that the faculty is very proud of this project, and publish it in the university spokesperson's official press releases.

One of the students wrote to me after having her article pass the criteria and go to the article namespace. She wrote about SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India, and I thanked her for the interesting article when it passed. Her comment read: “Thank you, Hana. It was an exciting and challenging process for me. I hope to write additional articles in the fields that interests me.”