Education/Newsletter/April 2017/How responsible should teachers be for student contributions?
How responsible should teachers be for student contributions?
Summary: Wikimedia Taiwan's bold initiative to present challenges can and should inspire others to reflect on issues as many of these are common to those of us who organize and execute education-related projects. One common issue is conflict between student editing and elements of various Wikipedia communities, especially among editors who have a very negative opinion of education projects in general. It is suggested that we as a Wikimedia community form mechanisms for outreach and guidelines for education programs to prevent conflicts and give communities tools to resolve those that do occur, other than newbie biting of students and even banning of professors.
Article: When this newsletter was started a few years ago, the main idea was to have a place to share success stories. However, Wikimedia Taiwan's article last month was thought-provoking as it introduced a new dimension... the presentation of challenges. Wiki Learning Tec de Monterrey shares many of the challenges that are being experienced on the other side of the world.
In this article, I would like to focus on one particular issue... student writing skills. Issues with grammar, plaguarism and just plain inability to follow instructions are nothing new to the Wikipedia Education Program and certainly not limited to Wikipedia assignments. Despite what many students (and teachers) think going into the assignment, writing a Wikipedia article is not easy. Like any other publisher, it has its requirements and idiosyncracies. This is one reason why many education programs rely heavily on (or at least did rely) on Campus Ambassadors, Wikipedians who specifically volunteered to support classroom projects as to not require professors to become experts in Wikipedia to have their students participate. This support is crucial because while a piece of writing to be seen by a teacher can receive a barely passing grade with no ill effects, this is not the case with a Wikipedia assignment. Barely passing writing may, and often does, simply get rejected and erased.
There have been quite a few cases across Wikipedia communities of "regular Wikipedians" getting extremely frustrated with student assignments over the years since the Public Policy Initiative in 2006. There are sometimes very very vocal Wikipedians who come to the conclusion that any and all student assignments do nothing more than create more work for them. It is true that a poorly designed and poorly supported student projects can do this, but it is also a fact that student work will necessary vary in quality... much the same way that the quality of work of any other participant in a Wikimedia project will vary.
However, at least in the English and Spanish Wikipedia projects (as far as I know), there are Wikipedians who believe that teachers should be held responsible for student work... and that student project work should be held to a higher standard because there is supposedly someone in charge to be held accountable. As an example, I was recently banned from Spanish Wikipedia, not because I broke any rule of that community, nor because of any editing I did, but rather because about 12 Wikipedians and 1 administrator decided that I was incompetent to assure that all student contributions were linguistically acceptable to the community. (This is true in the sense that I am not a native speaker of Spanish.) In March, a couple of students ran into issues with translations they had done (too close to the English original in most cases). Long story short... a discussion of these issues led to my banning and further discussion as to how to block Tec de Monterrey students from participating in Wikipedia. (https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Caf%C3%A9/Archivo/2017/Marzo ... in particular the section on Anexo:Gran Premio de Japón de 2014). They also went so far as to search for students working with me, using the group photos that we took and had students put on their user pages. (Needless to say, we will no longer do this.)
I should mention that part of my workload at Tec de Monterrey is supporting Wikimedia projects of various types, working both directly with students and with professors who work with their students. The block put me in a very uncomfortable position with my job, something that hardly any professor wants. Fortunately, the school did not freak out, but instead has promised support to change how we work.. principally, selecting students for servicio social with writing skills to be proven rather than assumed. We have also started the process to establish a Writing Center (something that had begun various months before, but will now includes Wikipedia as a consideration.) The selection process can begin for the summer session, but it is not certain when the Writing Center will open. About a third of all student work from servico social of this semester has been summarily deleted or reverted... as well as work done by some previous semesters. Most of this work did not meet the deletion requirement in eswiki for a "translation that is unreadable." It was judged harshly simply because it was associated with this education program. Far worse is that even those students who did not have articles tagged or erased refuse to work in Spanish Wikipedia because they do not believe that the community will judge them fairly.
This situation is not the first of its kind, and has also been an issue with other kinds of projects, especially edit-a-thons. In conversations with various individuals, both those who have worked in ed programs and those related to the WMF. In the end, the answers are that we have their moral support, but no one will go against community decisions, no matter what.
But there was some mention of community outreach. We in education are (or should be) a community as well. But to be this we need to speak with one voice. There should be guidelines developed for education work in the various projects, since it now seems that projects judge work by students differently than those by individuals. It is also important to keep in mind that such projects involve educational institutions, who may not be quite so patient and understanding with wiki-politics, especially in cases where it is their first time editing. Several of the people in the aformentioned discussion were under the impression that education programs had to (or should have to) get "community permission" in order to do a project.
Outreach is important because communities need to have a better understanding of what ed projects do and teachers need to have clear ideas of what they can and cannot expect in the way of support. I repeat,the Wikipedia Education Program (and all of its offshoots) is a community... or at least should be. We can and should speak as a voice in the wider Wikimedia community, so that maybe we can prevent problems of this type, and failing that, have a way to provide support to both programs and the project communities they interact with.
Tags:Community, newbie biting, banning