Advances in both research and advocacy have demonstrated how Wikipedia-based education, as a movement, has grown exponentially in the last 10 years. As a result, academics know a lot more about specific learning outcomes that Wikipedia assignments might enable and are more familiar with issues of social equity (e.g., systemic biases related to gender) in the encyclopedia. Despite these advances, little scholarship has focused on instructor motivations for utilizing Wikipedia assignments. This paper reports on a survey of over 100 instructors engaged in Wikipedia-based education practices in order to contribute a cross-disciplinary picture of instructor motivations. Our findings suggest that instructors take up Wikipedia-based assignments for a number of reasons beyond learning objectives: including social influence (being inspired by others), providing students an opportunity to contribute to public knowledge, and motivations related to addressing social equity, among others. Participants who are directly motivated to address issues of social equity rationalize their pedagogy as opportunities for activism or advocacy, professional identity, and critical pedagogy. Finally, this paper provides recommendations to Wikipedia Education stakeholders in regards to the finding that instructors’ professional identities play a significant role in their motivation to address issues of social equity.
2. Literature review
In the past 10 years, an increasingly robust body of research on Wikipedia-based pedagogy in higher education has demonstrated a number of benefits for teaching writing, research, information literacy, and digital literacy, among other learning outcomes. First Monday itself has published a number of such studies (Cummings and Di Lauro, 2017; Roth, et al., 2013; Reilly, 2011; Konieczny, 2012; Garrison, 2015). Early scholarship on Wikipedia-based education in First Monday (Konieczny, 2012; Reilly, 2011; Roth, et al., 2013) emphasized the numerous benefits to teaching with Wikipedia, and offered pedagogical advice, mainly focusing on Wikipedia as offering a unique teaching approach. These articles are consistently written from an instructor’s point of view. In more recent scholarship, the emphasis has been on student perceptions and uses of Wikipedia (Cummings and Di Lauro, 2017; Garrison, 2015).
Within the same decade (2010–2020), the encyclopedia has also come under criticism for systemic issues related to its gender gaps (Glott, et al., 2010; Wadewitz, 2013), race gaps (Wikipedia, “AfroCrowd,” 2019), and print-centric epistemologies (Graham, 2011; Raval, 2014; Prabhala, 2011; Vetter, 2019). Critiques of Wikipedia’s homogenous editorship and resulting imbalance of coverage, especially pertaining to gender, have also led to organizations such as Art+Feminism sponsoring edit-a-thon activities that target the representation of women (“Art+Feminsim,” 2020), as well as scholarship on the pedagogical uses of Wikipedia-based education for goals related to gender and social equity (Edwards, 2015; Vetter, 2018). This movement also raises questions about what motivates instructors to include assignments related to social equity, explored further in this paper.
While Wikipedia-based education may be better suited to certain disciplines and courses in communication, writing, research, and digital media, it is being widely adopted across disciplines and subjects. Such adoption is partly due to efforts of the Wiki Education Program, an organization aiming to improve Wikipedia content through collaborations with post-secondary educational institutions as a platform enriching student learning and public communications (Wikipedia Education Program, “Mission and vision,” n.d.). As part of this program, experienced editors and staffers provide instructors and students with online resources such as course syllabi, training modules, and consultations. Since its founding in 2013, the organization has assisted over 1,000 instructors from over 500 universities in integrating Wikipedia editing into their curricula. In Spring 2019 alone, over 388 courses enrolling 8,345 students received support, resulting in 7,800 articles edited, 839 new entries created, and 6.6 million words added (Gundogdu, 2019). The research described in this paper represents an endeavor to better understand instructors participating in the Wiki Education Program, especially their motivations for including a Wikipedia-based assignment in their courses. This research also aims to better understand how instructors are motivated by issues related to social equity, given the increased attention given to the encyclopedia’s systemic issues related to gender, race, and epistemology in the last decade.
1.1. Problem statement
A body of scholarship demonstrates how Wikipedia-based education, as a movement, has grown exponentially in the last decade. Despite these advances, however, little scholarship has focused on instructor motivations for utilizing Wikipedia assignments across disciplines. Such an assessment would provide a more comprehensive understanding of what is becoming a more common teaching approach. Furthermore, identifying instructor motivations also benefits a number of stakeholders involved in these projects, including students, instructors, higher education administrators, Wiki Education staff and leadership, and the Wikipedia and Wikimedia communities overall.
1.2. Research questions
To guide this research, we posed the following questions:
RQ.A. What motivates cross-disciplinary instructors to teach with Wikipedia?
RQ.B. Why do instructors integrate social equity issues into Wikipedia-based assignments?
While Question A, the broader question, serves to gather general information about the respondents’ integration of Wikipedia assignment into their course, Question B represents a follow-up investigation into instructors’ emphasis on social equity in their assignments.
2. Literature review
Nearly two decades of research on applications of Wikipedia in higher education — especially in fields related to information literacy, research, and writing — have sought to argue for opportunities and benefits for learning offered by the encyclopedia (Cummings, 2009; Hood, 2007; Konieczny, 2012; Patch, 2010; Vetter, et al., 2019; Wadewitz, 2013). In the following review, we divide this literature into three categories: 1. Research related to social equity issues in Wikipedia; 2. Research related to motivations of Wikipedia editors; and, 3. Research related to Wikipedia uses and motivation in education.
2.1. Research related to social equity issues in Wikipedia
At the onset of the movement for Wikipedia-based education (2010 and onward), academic researchers and literacy workers in galleries, libraries, archives, and museums also began to raise awareness regarding Wikipediaa’s largely homogenous editorial demographic (Glott, et al., 2010) and the resulting problems in coverage and representation. One of the most well-known problems connected to Wikipedia’s editorial demographic relates to the systemic biases created by the overwhelming representation of male volunteers who contribute time to edit and create articles. Wikipedia’s so-called “gender gap” (Wadewitz, 2013) — along with other systemic biases related to Wikipedia’s race gaps (Wikipedia, “AfroCrowd,” 2019) and its reliance on Eurocentric, print-centric, epistemologies (Graham, 2011; Raval, 2014; Prabhala, 2011; Vetter, 2019) — has played a more influential role in research and practice at the intersections of Wikipedia and higher education. Perhaps one of the most illustrative examples of this is Art+Feminism (http://www.artandfeminism.org/). The Art+Feminism campaign emerged in 2014 as a response to Wikipedia’s gender gaps to help improve representation of women and the arts in the encyclopedia. Since its founding, “over 14,000 people at more than 1,100 events around the world” have shared in this mission by participating in edit-a-thon events. Many of these events take place at academic institutions.
In addition to the Art+Feminism campaign, the Wiki Education program has also identified social equity as their primary strategic goal for the period of 2018 through 2021. Unlike Art+Feminism, Wiki Education recognized the broader problem of representation as an issue of knowledge equity that goes beyond the gender gap. The first item in their strategic plan identifies the following goal: “Increase knowledge equity by focusing on content and communities that are underrepresented on Wikipedia and Wikidata” (Wikipedia Education Program, “Wiki Education Strategy for 2018–21,” n.d.).
Given the momentum of organizations such as Art+Feminism, and the overall increase in attention paid to issues of social equity in Wikipedia and Wiki Education, this paper explores faculty motivations for teaching with Wikipedia related to social equity. This paper also attempts to build connections between survey data regarding faculty motivations with research related to motivations of Wikipedia editors (not educators) and research related to Wikipedia uses and motivations in education.
2.2. Research related to motivations of Wikipedia editors
Researchers examining motivations of Wikipedia editors have argued that volunteers are driven by both internal and external motivations for contribution (Kuznetsov, 2006; Yang and Lai, 2010). Employing a framework of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986), Yang and Lai (2010) have described the motivations of volunteers as informed by confirmation of internal standards of quality, or “internal self-concept motivation”: that is, “when individuals determine that behaviors meet their internal standards and then receive positive feedback [e.g., from other editors] from performing the behavior, they feel confident in their competencies” . External motivations have also been attributed to Wikipedia volunteers. Kuznetsov (2006) identified external motivations such as “information sharing, learning new skills, and communal collaboration” as especially influential. In exploring these motivations, Kuznetsov’s research also examines and describes five values informing such motivations: altruism, reciprocity, community, reputation, and autonomy. Taken together, both internal and external motivations might apply to educators adopting Wikipedia-based assignments. In the following section, other possible motivators are identified by reviewing research related to Wikipedia-based education.
2.3. Research related to Wikipedia uses and motivations in education
Little to no research has explicitly taken on the question of faculty motivations for assigning Wikipedia-based curricula, thus the major impetus for the current study. However, a review of literature related to uses of Wikipedia-based assignments in education can provide some indication of educators’ purposes for taking up this type of pedagogy.
Because of Wikipedia’s status as a tertiary source, few educators at the post-secondary level are utilizing Wikipedia-based education towards content knowledge (beyond an introduction or starting place for research). Rather, the majority of educators seem to be motivated by Wikipedia as an interactive and social platform that can facilitate student engagement, community building, investigations of social equity, and teaching towards information literacy and writing practice.
Both Roth, et al. (2013), and Sormunen and Lehtiö (2011) have found that the Wikipedia assignment, while it presents challenges, can lead to increased motivation or engagement by students, among other opportunities. For Roth, et al. (2013), the Wikipedia-based assignment not only leads to “a higher level of engagement by students,” Wikipedia also represents “a platform for students to interact with and learn from the world beyond the classroom” as well as “greater potential for students to learn online etiquette, collaboration, and technology skills.” This research agrees with Konieczny’s (2012) article “Wikis and Wikipedia as a teaching tool: Five years later,” which identifies unique opportunities for students to participate and join a productive community and write for a genuine audience as well as Vetter’s (2014) study of the impact of interacting with authorities outside the classroom on student motivation.
As Wikipedia’s gender gap and other systemic biases have become more widely understood, a small number of teacher-scholars have also begun to identify social inequity as informing their teaching of Wikipedia-based assignments across disciplinary contexts. In English studies, Vetter’s (2018) article, for instance, examines marginalization and misrepresentation of Appalachian place and culture as a point of entry for student editing. In history, Edwards (2015) describes the need for women editors to contribute biographies of notable women throughout history. Kerr (2018), writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, discusses a collaboration between Wiki Education and the National Women’s Studies Organization to encourage more Wikipedia-based assignments focused on closing the gender gap.
This review of literature provides the following possible motivations for instructors integrating Wikipedia-based educational practices across disciplines: 1) outcomes-based motivations, including opportunities for students to learn and practice skills related to communication, writing, digital literacy, research, source evaluation, and information literacy; 2) social equity motivations, including opportunities for students to leverage editorial practice for the purpose of improving coverage of under-represented content and/or marginalized groups and subjects; and, 3) interactive motivations, including the valorization of Wikipedia as a social and interactive space where editors may receive validating feedback from the community (Yang and Lai, 2010), collaborate with others, and share information with the community (Kuznetsov, 2006). We return to these themes in our discussion and conclusion sections.
While recruiting participants, we targeted instructors who were taking part in the Wiki Education Program because these instructors demonstrated a consistent record of experience working with Wikipedia and would provide rich data for our inquiry about their understanding of the online writing platform. Equally important, as “the only organization that can improve Wikipedia and Wikidata at scale” (Wikipedia Education Program, “Wiki Education Strategy for 2018-21,” n.d.), the Wiki Education Program serves as the biggest pool of Wikipedia educators, hence advantageous in participant accessibility. At the same time, for this research, we were also interested in hearing from a diversity of perspectives, the opinions of those who teach Wikipedia editing in cross-disciplinary fields, which the pool also provided.
Our survey collected demographic information, including: age, gender, discipline, experience teaching with Wiki Education Program. More female-identified instructors (63 percent) participated in the survey, surpassing male-identified instructors (35 percent). With regards to the length of time teaching Wikipedia, most participants (80 percent) had experience of fewer than three academic terms (quarters, etc.), while those with over three account for 20 percent, as revealed in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Participants’ experience teaching with Wikipedia represented in academic terms.
The participant discipline (or field of study) is another demographic area that we were interested in. Figure 2 displays that the participants (n=114) represent five professional areas, with the highest, 36 percent, being social sciences and the lowest, 10 percent, being applied sciences. It is important to note that humanities here included history, literature, women’s and gender studies, as well as composition and rhetoric.
Figure 2: Academic disciplines of participants.
3.2. Survey administration
We designed a scaled survey and applied to the Internal Review Board of our university for an approval (Log No. 19–022). After we created the questionnaire on Qualtrics, we decided to send it out through the Wiki Education Program. As mentioned earlier, over the past years this organization has provided constant support for Wikipedia editors and educators, particularly those in the university context. The organization has maintained a big network of those Wikipedians, including us, the two researchers. We reached out to the Student Program Manager, explained our project with an emphasis on our ideal sample of cross-disciplinary instructors; we also presented the IRB approval. The manager was very supportive of our research and shared our survey invitation with randomly sampled cross-disciplinary instructors. We received 114 valid responses (n=114).
As a mixed method instrument, the survey was designed to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. As is commonly accepted in academic research, quantitative data answers “what” questions, while qualitative data answers “how” and “why” questions (Creswell, 2014). The use of mixed methods within a single inquiry has been increasingly recognized in the social sciences in recent years for its capacity for elucidating richer data than can be done through one method, hence providing a more complete story of the research (Creswell and Clark, 2017). In other words, use of mixed methods helps assure reliability and validity of the research (Creswell, 2014; Roth, et al., 2013). In our research, what was quantified involves participants’ demographic information and their evaluations of the Wikipedia-based assignment; these questions are formatted as Likert scales. Qualitative data, on the other hand, helps us discover participants’ motivations for integrating Wikipedia-based assignments and emphasizing social equity in their Wikipedia instruction.
In response to our research questions, we examined four questions and conducted textual and descriptive analyses. The textual analysis started with an independent coding process by Researcher 1. This process features recursive, cross examinations before the findings were brought to Researcher 2 for further examinations. Together, we went through the participants’ texts and modified a few themes. This inter-coding mechanism improved reliability in the interpretations of data.
For the first research question, we also created a question comprising eight items asking the participants’ opinions on the importance of Wikipedia assignments to student learning. These items were formatted as 1–5 Likert-style scales and the collected data were analyzed in SPSS statistical software. With regards to the second research question, we asked a preliminary yes/no question to gather information about the participants’ experience emphasizing social equity in Wikipedia assignments. Data collected from respondents who responded positively to this question provides both qualitative and quantitative descriptions of motivations for emphasizing social equity.
4.1. Results of Research Question A
To answer Research Question A, we created two questions: “What motivated you to integrate a Wikipedia-based assignment into your class?” and “How does/did a Wikipedia-based assignment contribute to your students’ learning?” The first question is formatted as an open essay; the results of the textual analysis are as follows.
Table 1: What motivated you to integrate a Wikipedia-based assignment into your class? Theme Frequency Illustrative qualitative data Being inspired by others 36 I had a guest Wikipedian give some lectures on my campus ... This motivated me sufficiently to create an entirely new course. Encouraging students to contribute to public knowledge 30 I wanted to find a way for students to create knowledge for an audience beyond the classroom. Developing communication knowledge and skills 25 If students can successfully edit Wikipedia, they know how to conduct library research, write, paraphraseavoiding plagiarism, and use information ethically. I care about teaching all of those things. Innovative pedagogy 16 Wanted something to replace traditional term paper and this seemed relevant. Addressing social inequity 13 A desire to help students learn the behind the scenes of Wikipedia. A desire to open on the gender and topic equity of the pages students use. Exploring Wikipedia 9 Most students read Wikipedia to prepare their papers or to find out about any topic. I wanted them to become aware of where the information is coming from, how Wikipedia works and how it can be improved. Advancing interaction with community 7 Sounded to me like a great way to learn about different types of writing, doing research with secondary literature, thinking about public history (conveying information to a public audience), having a writing assignment with an audience beyond the instructor. Building up student self-confidence 6 I also thought ... students would get a kick out of contributing to Wikipedia and being able to show friends and family ... . [and] that the idea of writing for the public might encourage [them] to take more care and pride in their work. Fostering digital literacy 4 I also wanted to learn more about editing Wikipedia myself and introduce students to digital methods of storytelling. Others 5
Our qualitative analysis of the survey question related to instructor motivations to integrate a Wikipedia-based assignment into their curriculum demonstrates the following themes, in order of frequency: 1. Being inspired by others; 2. Encouraging students to contribute to public knowledge; 3. Developing communication knowledge and skills (writing, research, and/or information literacy); 4. Seeing it as a new way to teach (innovative pedagogy); 5. Addressing social inequity; 6. Exploring Wikipedia; 7. Advancing interaction with community; and, 8. Building up student self-confidence.
As displayed in the above table, theme frequencies (n=151) outnumber the original valid responses (n=113) because some responses fall into more than one theme category. For instance, one respondent states the following:
I hoped in my course that the public nature of Wikipedia would motivate students to produce an excellent writing sample, one that had real consequences and meaning in the world. I also wanted to learn more about editing Wikipedia myself and introduce students to digital methods of storytelling.
This response means that the inclusion of the Wikipedia assignment is meant to develop the students’ writing competence, hence the response is categorized as “Developing Communication.” In addition, the instructor clearly expresses the idea that introducing students to digital methods of storytelling motivates their use of the Wikipedia assignment. Therefore, the same response is counted as two themes: Developing communication and fostering digital literacy.
Our analysis indicates at least three salient findings. First, instructors are most frequently influenced by Wiki Education advocacy from others professionals within and beyond their field. Such a finding is useful for those who seek to increase participation in Wikipedia-based education. Instructors are also motivated to include a Wikipedia-based assignment because of the opportunity such an assignment provides for encouraging students to contribute to public knowledge. Motivations related to helping students develop communication competencies related to writing, research, or information literacy are also common. These themes, in this order, represent the top three most frequently cited factors influencing instructors’ adoption of Wikipedia-based education. But they are also influenced by the opportunity to enact an innovative pedagogy (“seeing it as a new way to teach”), as well as an leveraging the Wikipedia-based assignment to address social inequity. This final motivation represented 13 of the 151 motivations. The top three most salient themes in our analysis — being inspired by others, encouraging students to contribute to public knowledge, and developing communication competencies (writing, research, or information literacy — also provide insight into the similarities between Wikipedia editor motivations and educators who adopt Wikipedia-based assignments. These are explored further in the discussion section of this article.
Another question we created to answer Research Question A is, “How does/did a Wikipedia-based assignment contribute to your students’ learning?”. Different from the above broader question, this question zeroes in on the Wikipedia assignment’s importance to student learning (according to instructors). The question was formatted in 5–point Likert-style scales, and participants’ responses are revealed in Table 2.
Table 2: How does/did a Wikipedia-based assignment contribute to your students’ learning? Learning outcome N Minimum Maximum Mean Standard deviation It improves writing in general. 113 2 5 3.80 .769 It increases writing interests. 113 2 5 3.94 .848 It helps with content understanding. 113 2 5 4.25 .774 It develops critical thinking. 113 1 5 4.11 .748 It develops digital communication skills. 113 1 5 4.50 .733 It promotes collaboration. 113 1 5 3.91 .892 It advances research skills. 113 2 5 4.26 .765 It increases technical skills. 113 1 5 3.90 .823 Valid N (listwise) 113
The outcomes used to build this Likert-scale assessment correspond to a student learning outcome study conducted and sponsored by the Wiki Education Program (McDowell, 2017). Overall, 113 instructors responded positively to all possible learning outcome options, with “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” selected. Analysis of the means, however, demonstrates how some outcomes were more strongly favored by instructors. In order of “Strongly Agree” to “Agree” — the outcomes cited by instructors are that the Wikipedia-based assignment develops digital communication skills (4.5/5), advances research skills (4.26/5), helps with content understanding (4.25/5), develops critical thinking (4.11/5), increases writing interests (3.94/5), promotes collaboration (3.91/5), increases technical skills (3.9/5), and improves writing in general (3.8/5). Such findings add to our understanding of how instructors and students perceive learning outcomes from Wikipedia-based assignments. However, they also demonstrate how educators across disciplines may place less emphasis on writing education within Wikipedia-based assignments.
4.2. Results of Research Question B
To answer Research Question B, we also created two survey questions: “Did your Wikipedia-based assignment engage issues of social equity, in any form (for example, editing to remediate Wikipedia’s gender gap or increase representation of other marginalized identities)?” and “What motivated you, as the instructor, to emphasize issues of social equity in the Wikipedia-based assignment?” The first question is formatted as a Yes/No question; the results are revealed in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Did your Wikipedia-based assignment engage issues of social equity, in any form (for example, editing to remediate Wikipedia’s gender gap or increase representation of other marginalized identities)?
Significantly, 40 percent (48/113) of respondents answered yes to this question. Figure 4 shows the disciplines of those 48 respondents.
Figure 4: Disciplines of the respondents who have addressed social equity in Wikipedia assignments.
As a follow-up, the 48 “Yes” respondents were then directed to answer the question, “What motivated you, as the instructor, to emphasize issues of social equity in the Wikipedia-based assignment?” This question was formatted as an open-ended essay question. Responses went through a text analysis, with the results shown in Table 3.
Table 3: What motivated you, as the instructor, to emphasize issues of social equity in the Wikipedia-based assignment? Theme Frequency Illustrative qualitative data Activism and advocacy 18
The perspective on Wikipedia seems to be from a male, Caucasian viewpoint. I teach at a university that is diverse and wanted to bring in the issue of the lack of diversity when editing an article.
I care about these issues — especially that women and people of color participate in the creation of public knowledge.
Professional identity 15 An emphasis on social equity is at the center of my research and teaching. Critical pedagogy 6 My students were feeling frustrated that the issues we were learning and talking about in class (e.g., race, identity, and systemic injustice) were so vast and immutable ... So with the Wiki project, I showed them how knowledge creation can be its own tool for social activism. Student demographics 5 I work at a women’s college. Political protest 1 Trump
Results of thematic analysis applied to responses to Q9: “What motivated you, as the instructor, to emphasize issues of social equity in the Wikipedia-based assignment?” revealed four frequent themes. The first, and most widely cited (18/47), motivation for instructors to emphasize issues of social equity was related to activism and/or advocacy. Instructors often identified a goal of “diversifying the encyclopedia” as a necessary response to problems such as gender and racial content gaps (as illustrated in the example quote in Table 3). Nearly as prevalent (15/47) were responses that cited a professional identity connection to social equity. For instance, common responses included participants citing social equity, diversity, or inclusion as a major part of their academic or professional work. The theme of critical pedagogy, less prevalent but still significant (6/47), showed up in a small portion of responses. This particular theme emerged as we realized how instructors sought to provide students opportunities for social-justice related praxis that may or may not intersect with the course content. Finally, a small number of respondents (5/47) also cited the demographics of their institution (e.g., women’s college, or HBCU) as motivation for emphasizing social equity.
The results of this study provide insight into instructors’ motivations for teaching Wikipedia-based assignments across disciplines, both in terms of social equity, and more broadly. Furthermore, our analysis demonstrates connections between previous research related to learning outcomes, social equity, and interactive motivations.
5.1. Motivations for teaching with Wikipedia
In response to our first research question, RQ.A: What motivates cross-disciplinary instructors to teach with Wikipedia?, our findings suggest that instructors across disciplines are most often motivated to include Wikipedia-based assignments into their courses because (1) they have been inspired by another professional within or beyond their field; (2) they are motivated by providing opportunities for their students to contribute to public knowledge; and, (3) they hope to help students develop communication competencies related to writing, research, and/or information literacy. These findings both depart from and support previous research on Wikipedia-based education.
The influence of other professionals or educators on the spread of Wikipedia-based educational practices has not been widely researched. Accordingly, this particular finding represents a novel insight into the ways that instructors become motivated to implement a Wikipedia-based assignment into their courses. At the same time, this finding does align somewhat with research on editor motivation that has identified interactivity as a shared social value and influence for Wikipedia editing (Kuznetsov, 2006). Just as Wikipedia editors are compelled to volunteer free time and energy in the encyclopedia in order to collaborate and share information with a community, instructors are also motivated by these social factors.
Our analysis of data related to this research question also reveals how instructors are motivated by how Wikipedia provides opportunities for their students to contribute to public knowledge. This particular response was common among instructors and is supported by previous research that values public platforms for the rhetorically authentic writing experience they provide (Cummings and Di Lauro, 2017; Kuhne and Creel, 2012; Patch, 2010; Vetter, 2014). Such a finding also connects to the external motivations of Wikipedia editors presented by Kuznetsov (2006), specifically the positive evaluation of altruism and information sharing.
Respondents to this survey question cited student learning outcomes related to communication competencies (in which we combine information literacy, writing, and research) third in terms frequency. The identification of communication competencies as motivation aligns with our identification of outcomes-based motivations in the secondary literature, especially in writing and rhetoric studies (Hood, 2007; Kill, 2012; Kuhne and Creel, 2012; Patch, 2010; Purdy, 2009; Tardy, 2010; Vetter, et al., 2019), but also in information literacy (McKenzie, et al., 2018; Perloff, 2018; Soler-Adillon, et al., 2018; Staub and Hodel, 2016). However, one might expect educational outcomes to be mentioned more frequently by respondents. This particular finding demonstrates how learning outcomes, although they have been the subject of a majority of research literature on Wikipedia-based education, are important to educators but not of primary importance. Less frequent themes that emerged in response to this research question demonstrated instructors’ being motivated by Wikipedia-based education as a type of innovative pedagogy, the opportunity to address social inequity and explore Wikipedia, and the pedagogical value of having students interact with a community.
5.2. Motivations for integrating social equity issues in Wikipedia-based assignments
The growing movement around issues of social equity in Wikipedia prompted us to ask the following research question: RQ.B: Why do instructors integrate social equity issues into Wikipedia-based assignments? Our results demonstrate that around 40 percent of respondents teach a Wikipedia-based assignment that integrates issues of social equity, and that the majority of those respondents teach in the humanities (n=20) or the social sciences (n=16). The follow-up question — What motivated you, as the instructor, to emphasize issues of social equity in the Wikipedia-based assignment? — provided more qualitative data related to instructors’ reasoning for addressing equity. Salient themes in the responses to this question, in order of frequency, included 1. activism/advocacy; 2. professional identity; 3. critical pedagogy; and, 4. institution demographics. The fact that a majority of respondents identified activism or advocacy as primary motivator for integrating social equity into their Wikipedia-based assignment demonstrates that organizations like Art+Feminism and Wiki Education have been fairly effective at promoting Wikipedia-based education practices that address these issues, and that scholarship related to gender gaps (Glott, et al., 2010; Wadewitz, 2013), race gaps (Wikipedia, “AfroCrowd,” 2019) and print-centric epistemologies (Graham, 2011; Raval, 2014; Prabhala, 2011; Vetter, 2019) is becoming more widely understood. But the frequency of this particular theme also shows that a majority of instructors are viewing this type of pedagogy as a form of activism or advocacy in and of itself. These instructors are engaging Wikipedia-based education because they want to actively work to solve issues of inequity in the encyclopedia and encourage their students to do the same. As one respondent wrote, “I recognized the imbalances on Wikipedia, and though students would be motivated to address them in ways that were meaningful to them.”
Perhaps a more surprising finding, and one that might apply more directly to stakeholders beyond instructors (especially Wikipedia Education, Wikimedia, and academic disciplinary organizations), is that so many of the respondents also cited professional identity as a motivating factor. Comments similar to the following were prevalent in this theme: “I teach women’s history, which inevitably raises issues of the historical representation of women. I was shocked to learn how few women are among Wikipedia’s contributors. Of course, that also has affected the contents, including unevenness in coverage and sexist prose.” Such a finding should resonate with both the Wikimedia community and the Wiki Education community, as both organizations have announced strategic goals related to social equity (Wikimedia, n.d.; Wikipedia Education Program, “Wiki Education Strategy for 2018–21,” n.d.). If we want to continue to grow academic involvement in the Wikipedia project, and invite academics to contribute to social equity initiatives, it will be especially prudent to identify and sponsor connections between professional identity and Wikipedia editing for equity. The fourth most prevalent theme, institution demographics, also provides an important finding for stakeholders interested in promoting and centering Wikipedia-based education around social equity. While most co-educational institutions are already more diverse than the English Wikipedia’s overwhelmingly male editorial demographic (Glott, et al., 2010; Wadewitz, 2013), institutions that serve marginalized identities, including but not limited to HBCUs and HSIs, may represent especially productive spaces to forward an agenda of social equity in Wikipedia. The third most prevalent theme in these responses, critical pedagogy, summarizes responses that identified student learning about social inequity as a primary motivation. One participant wrote, for instance, “I wanted my students to be cognizant of the social inequity endemic in an information source created by self-selected volunteers and take that into consideration in the future when determining how much credence to assign to it.” This motivation underscores the importance of engaging issues of equity as a matter of awareness, even if students or instructors are not compelled to directly edit and attempt to improve marginalization or under-representation in the encyclopedia.
This paper reported on a survey of over 100 college-level instructors across disciplines partnering with the Wiki Education Program and teaching a Wikipedia-based assignment. The primary exigence of this research was to identify factors motivating instructors to teach with Wikipedia, and to better understand why instructors integrate social equity issues into Wikipedia-based assignments. Overall, instructors cite the following motivations for teaching a Wikipedia-based assignment: being inspired by others, encouraging students to contribute to public knowledge, and developing communication competencies (writing, research, or information literacy). This study also examined how addressing social equity might play a role in instructor motivation. Our results related to this question support the claim that a large portion of our sample, though not the majority, is motivated to teach with Wikipedia because doing so allows them to address social inequity, either as a direct form of activism or advocacy, as part of their professional identity, as an engagement with critical pedagogy, or in order to serve their student demographic.
For the researchers, the most significant result of this study was the role that professional identity, affiliation, and institutional setting played in participants’ identification and description of motivating factors. For example, instructors “being inspired by others” (the most frequent theme identified in respondent’s description of primary motivations) often took place in professional settings such as campus workshops or academic conferences. Among those who do engage social equity issues in the classroom, instructors discussed their assignments in terms of their own professional identity, the demographics of their institutions, and their pedagogical and professional commitment to critical pedagogy. While themes related to learning outcomes and “encouraging students to contribute to public knowledge” should not be discounted (as they were both very prevalent), future research might look more closely at how instructors’ professional contexts and identities serve as a significant motivation and foundation for engagement in Wikipedia education. On a more practical level, these findings should speak to other stakeholders (especially members in the Wiki Education and Wikimedia organizations) about how to more fully understand the importance of professional identity when it comes to participating in Wikipedia projects. Ultimately, a more comprehensive understanding of why instructors are prompted to take up Wikipedia-based assignments promotes understanding of pedagogical motivations for engaging in a new and challenging set of practices, and may also serve to help grow the movement around Wikipedia-based education, academic participation, and social equity.
About the authors
Jiawei Xing is a Ph.D. candidate in composition and applied linguistics at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and an associate professor of English in Shenyang Normal University. His research interest centers on composition studies, with a specialization in writing development mediated by Wikipedia-based instruction, technology, and culture. He has published work in the Journal of Social Sciences, Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics, and with the Educational Science Publishing House.
Matthew A. Vetter is assistant professor of English and affiliate faculty in the Composition and Applied Linguistics Ph.D. program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches graduate courses in rhetoric and composition. His research asks questions related to technology, writing, pedagogy, and digital culture with a specific interest in investigations of the ideological and epistemological functions of digital communities. Vetter’s work has appeared in journals such as College English, Composition Studies, Computers and Composition, Pedagogy, and Hybrid Pedagogy, as well as publications sponsored by the Wiki Education Program.
Corresponding author: mvetter [at] iup [dot] edu
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Received 14 March 2020; revised 22 April 2020; accepted 23 April 2020.
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Editing for equity: Understanding instructor motivations for integrating cross-disciplinary Wikipedia assignments
by Jiawei Xing and Matthew A. Vetter.
First Monday, Volume 25, Number 6 - 1 June 2020