Hanging around at Brazilian museums with Wikipedia
Author: João Alexandre Peschanski, Faculdade Cásper Líbero (User:Joalpe)
São Paulo, Brazil
Summary: Faculdade Cásper Líbero junior undergraduates in Social Communications have created and substantially improved entries on museums in the Greater São Paulo on Wikipedia in Portuguese. This is to date one of the largest education programs that was ever set up in Brazil.
There is a widespread misconception of the role public relations professionals should play in communicating on an organization to the public: these professionals are often perceived as propagators of self-interested news as if their role was to deceit the public. Curiously, there is an alert on one of the most relevant introductions to Wikipedia in Portuguese on PR editors, saying that this kind of editors "will try to systematically edit the article of a product and/or a company she works on, either trying to remove relevant content that emphasizes scandals the company has been involved in, or adding non-encyclopedic content written as an advertisement piece" (p. 19). The challenge my students in Institutional Communications at Faculdade Cásper Líbero, in Brazil, and I faced from February to June, 2017, was to engage positively with Wikimedia projects and add good-quality content on relevant organizations in the Greater São Paulo. The official course name was Communications Research Methodology.
Organizations we have worked on are museums and cultural institutions. The end goal was to create or substantially improve entries on these organizations, editing in strict accordance to rules of Wikimedia projects. At the end, results were:
- 143 editors enrolled (136 new editors)
- 368 articles edited
- 31 articles created (no article was eliminated)
- 2,449,783 bytes added in 5,162 edits
- 1,104 Commons uploads (use rate: ~50%)
- 842,210 article views
Examples of articles that were created or substantially improved in the context of the 2017 Education Program on Institutional Communications at Faculdade Cásper Líbero are:
- Memorial Luiz Cássio dos Santos Werneck
- Museu Florestal Octávio Vecchi
- Memorial da Inclusão
- Museu de Santo André Dr. Octaviano Armando Gaiarsa
- Centro de Memória Bunge
- Catavento (museu)
- Centro de Memória Dorina Nowill
- Museu de Saúde Pública Emílio Ribas
- Museu Anchieta
- Museu Oceanográfico do Instituto Oceanográfico da Universidade de São Paulo
- Memorial do Corinthians
- Museu Histórico Municipal de São Caetano do Sul
- Sabina Escola Parque do Conhecimento
- Museu Anchieta
- Memorial da Imigração Judaica
All cultural institutions students have worked on are listed on the Brazilian Museum Institutes (IBRAM), a public entity that is responsible for increasing public awareness on cultural heritage in Brazil.
Students were organized in duos and responsible for finding reliable sources on cultural institutions that were assigned to them, visiting and taking pictures of the institutions and writing encyclopedic entries based on their findings. Though students were encouraged to meet and talk to the museum staff, they were warned first-hand information could not be used. Instructions are available on Wikiversity (all class content is also available on Wikiversity); editing control was made possible via the P&E Dashboard; a specific category on Wikimedia Commons was created.
As a preliminary activity, students were asked to contribute to existing entries related to the Brazilian cultural heritage. These entries were listed by the instructor and as the class cohort was large hundreds of stubs were transformed onto large entries in the context of this activity. This preliminary activity and other editing tasks were preceded by editing workshops, facilitated by members of the Wikimedia Community User Group Brasil (namely User:Mariliacarrera and User:Horadrim~usurped) and independent volunteer User:Rodrigo.Argenton. The latter has created a guide on how to take educational pictures that are suitable for Wikimedia Commons. Mariliacarrera has also published presentation slides to introduce Wikipedia to students on the Commons. These resources are now available for contributing to other education programs.
Community involvement with this education program was high, probably associated to general interest around topics pertaining to cultural heritage. Three editors from Wikimedia projects in Portuguese were particularly active and are worth mentioning: User:Agiesbrecht, User:Érico and User:PauloMSimoes. Their involvement included providing instructions to students and reviewing edits, especially contributions associated to the preliminary activity of this education program.
From the perspective of students, take-home learnings are associated to improving digital literacy and research skills. As they are junior undergrads, many of them had never read academic journals and theses before, and this was an opportunity to understand how academic writing and reviewing occurs. The experience of exploring the city, as they were expected to visit cultural institutions they were assigned to work on, was also important, as these institutions are often not well known. The social impact of contributing to Wikipedia, eventually their first major experience of communicating to a wider public, was also often highlighted as a major positive aspect of taking part in this education program in discussion sections during the semester.
From my perspective (the instructor), a major challenge was to work with first-year students, as education programs I had previously run were done with advanced undergraduate or graduate students. When the semester started, more than half of the students in this program were less than 18 years old. The challenge was to introduce the idea of communicating with reliable sources and neutral writing to very young students just arrived at the university.
From the perspective of the Wikimedia community in Portuguese, the best strategy to include students onto the projects, who at the end may be seen as a special case of good-faith newbies, is a work in progress. Some functionalities of the P&E Dashboard are still being implemented on Wikipedia in Portuguese (e.g., an automatic identification of students who are enrolled in ongoing education programs), and these functionalities will definitely contribute to providing a better understanding of whom these newbies are and who can be contacted if they make mistakes in the projects. Information on this program was published on the Village Pump, before and after it was done, which was key to prepare the community for this program.
From the perspective of the Wikimedia education movement, the case that was presented here has some specific features that might spark interest. Firstly, this education program was run with a large cohort, whereas most programs have been done with small cohorts. The P&E Dashboard has become a major tool for assisting large programs. Secondly, the integration of editing Wikipedia and contributing to the Commons has been a major achievement, as this was an opportunity to introduce two relevant projects and discuss characteristics of each of these projects with students. Thirdly, the topic that was chosen --cultural institutions-- is easy to replicate elsewhere for several academic contexts; digital literacy and research skills that are fostered with this kind of program are especially relevant for students who are being introduced to the university context. Lastly, the possibility to develop in class wide discussions on institutional communications and the role of PR professionals in Wikimedia projects was a major achievement, as I believe this kind of discussions is relevant for better integrating communications students and professionals onto the projects. I hope to be able to engage with this discussion in a future academic piece.