Grants:TPS/Gretchenmcc/CoLang Institute on Collaborative Language Research

This Wikimedia Participation Support request was funded in the fiscal year 2014-15. A report is available.

CoLang Institute on Collaborative Language Research
summaryGive a week-long, hands-on intensive course on editing Wikipedia for endangered languages at CoLang, the Institute for Collaborative Language Research.
event locationFairbanks, Alaska, USA
event date(s)June 20-July 1, 2016
amount requestedUSD 2796
home countryCanada
submitted on01:41, 16 April 2016 (UTC)

Proposed participation


I'm applying for a travel grant to co-instruct a week-long, hands-on intensive course on Wikipedia for endangered languages at CoLang, the Institute for Collaborative Language Research.

CoLang is a summer institute for linguists (university professors & grad students) and members of endangered language communities working to revitalize and document their own languages. This workshop will be a hands-on class to the same group of 15-25 registered participants for four 1.5-hour sessions (6 contact hours), making direct improvements in the coverage about minority languages on large-language Wikipedias (primarily the English Wikipedia) and raising awareness of how Wikipedia Incubator can be used to increase the representation of smaller languages online.

I am a linguist who has organized eleven Wikipedia editathons for linguists to edit Wikipedia, mostly at various linguistics conferences. Six of these editathons were funded by a Wikimedia Inspire grant in 2015 (see my grant application and my successful project report). My master's thesis worked with the Mi'gmaq language (an Algonquian language spoken by about 8000 people in eastern Canada) and I previously attended CoLang in Kansas in 2012.

I put together the proposal to co-teach a week-long intensive course (4 classes, each 1.5 hours) at CoLang together with Lauren Gawne User:loztron, a linguist who works with Tibeto-Burman languages in Nepal and has organized several Wikipedia editathons for under-represented languages in the UK, many of which were thanks to her own Wikimedia grant (details here).

Our course proposal was accepted by the CoLang organizers but they can only fund the travel costs of one instructor, which we have decided will be Lauren since she's coming from further away, so I am applying for a Wikimedia travel grant to cover my travel costs.

Goal and expected impact


This workshop supports Wikimedia's strategic goals of improving content and recruiting more editors from targeted groups.

Improving content


Wikipedia suffers from well-documented needs to increase contributions from subject-matter experts and combat systematic bias that results in the majority of its edits being about topics relevant to English speakers and in more widely-spoken languages.

With respect to minority languages in particular, according to Wikiproject:Languages, 99.9% of the languages with ISO codes have articles in English Wikipedia but they are in poor condition. 12k articles are listed as relevant to the project but the majority of these articles are stubs (6964) and many of the remaining articles are start class (2322). Only 27 articles are Featured or Good articles. Much of Wikipedia's information on less widely-spoken languages has been copied over from databases like Ethnologue and Glottolog -- while this is a good start, much of the remaining information exists in books and journals found in academic libraries or on the shelves of a few language researchers. The people with access to these obscure but valuable linguistic resources are precisely the group of people that this institute reaches. The exact mix of languages represented varies from year to year, but previous CoLangs have involved speakers of and people working with Amazigh (Berber), Uda (Niger-Congo), Cherokee (Iroquoian), Tlingit (Na Dene), Innu (Algonquian), Choctaw (Muskogean), Apoala Mixtec (Otomanguean), and many others. Many of these are indigenous languages of North America, but it also includes languages from other regions.

Furthermore, Wikipedia itself exists in less than 300 languages, and many other languages are still in Incubator. Some of the participants in this institute are speakers of languages who could contribute to Incubator projects themselves, and many others are working with speakers and creating projects like dictionaries, apps, or groups of texts in their languages. We especially want to raise awareness that Wikipedia and its related projects are a way of increasing the digital presence of a minority language online.

The course will be structured with a short introduction/demo at the beginning of each class and then a longer period for hands-on editing where the instructors will circulate around the room to provide one-on-one assistance. We expect that participants will create Wikipedia accounts, make concrete additions of text and citations to pages on English and/or other large-language Wikipedias, and learn more about becoming involved in WikiProjects for specific languages/language families or about creating a Wikipedia through Wikimedia Incubator (and possibly connect with Wikimedia Incubator projects that have already started in participants' languages of interest). We are not promising to bring a language all the way through the Incubator, as that is quite a large task, but participants will be aware of the essential steps and further resources should they desire to do so after the course. We will also be putting the slides from each day's intro online under a Creative Commons license so that interested people who aren't at CoLang can also learn from them, as well as keeping a list of articles that participants edit during the workshop.

Recruiting more editors


As described above, the participants in this institute are people who are already working on languages that are significantly under-represented on Wikipedia, who can bring a substantial amount of subject-matter expertise and sources to Wikipedia, and who care deeply about this topic. The structure of CoLang as an institute requires participants to sign up for courses in their entirety, so we'll keep the same core group of participants (about 15-25 people) for all four class sessions (6 hours in total), allowing participants to develop deep skills in editing Wikipedia. Repeated editing events with the same group of people have been shown to be the most effective way of increasing editor retention and adding high quality material to Wikipedia.

Some participants will be university professors who can be encouraged to have their classes edit Wikipedia in the future (I have previously directed over 20 linguistics professors to Wiki Ed).

We'll also be around for the entire two weeks of CoLang courses, encouraging participants from our course and any others from the 200 CoLang attendees who are interested in meeting one-on-one to talk about further projects to do so in the second week. In my previous grant, I emphasized the importance of having conference editathons where the facilitator was a member of the expert community and a participant in the entire conference, so that we can take advantage of informal conversations over lunch/dinner/etc to further encourage people to participate in Wikipedia editing and to reach a second group of conference attendees who are interested but not attending the official workshops. All of this continues to apply here.

Why co-instruct?


We believe that it is maximally beneficial to fund two instructors for this intensive course for several reasons:

  1. Since most of this workshop is very hands-on, having two instructors who are experienced in facilitating this particular kind of Wikipedia editing provides double the support for course participants.
  2. Since Lauren and I are both donating our time for a course that involves a more in-depth commitment than our previous editathons, we will save time in course preparation by being able to share the labour in creating the slides.
  3. Most CoLang courses are taught with two instructors -- previous years of this institute have demonstrated that this provides students with multiple perspectives and more hands-on support. CoLang is a not for profit organization that tries to keep its costs down so that it's not too expensive for students and community members to attend, so they can only fund one instructor and the second instructor relies on other sources of funding, which we are seeking from Wikimedia in this case because this project also aligns with Wikimedia's strategic goals.
  4. CoLang this year will take place in Fairbanks, Alaska. While this is a central location for work on endangered languages (nearby languages include Tlingit and Athabaskan), it is not a high population centre where we can draw on a deep pool of local Wikipedians. Nor is it cheap for us to self-fund to travel there. Furthermore, previous editathons by us and Art+Feminism have demonstrated the importance of having workshop facilitators who are subject-matter experts and trained facilitators, not just editors.
  5. Lauren's grant was a direct offshoot of my grant and we have been collaborating for some time now, but we have never actually met in person (she lives in the UK and I live in Canada). We're intending to share an apartment-style dorm room at CoLang so that we can spend lots of informal time talking with each other about this project and further projects that we might be able to collaborate on.

Budget breakdown

  • Return flight from Montreal, Quebec, Canada to Fairbanks, Alaska -- USD 1426
  • 2 weeks stay at University of Alaska Fairbanks dorms (shared apartment-style with co-instructor - dorms are optimal so I can have more chances to talk with other participants) -- USD 750
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks meal plan, 2 weeks (looks expensive because food is more expensive in the North) -- USD 620
  • Shuttle from airport to University of Alaska Fairbanks -- $0 (provided by CoLang organizers)
  • Room for instruction, including wifi access for participants -- $0 (provided by CoLang organizers)
  • CoLang registration fee -- $0 (waived by organizers)


Other instructions


I would prefer if Wikimedia could pay all expenses directly, as that would eliminate wire transfer fees and be less complicated than transferring funds from US dollars into Canadian dollars and back again. Note that the accomodation info listed on the CoLang website is for students, and that the instructor dorms have a slightly different setup -- I can forward dorm info to Wikimedia for booking directly. Also please recognize that flight fares are an estimate based on the best available options at time of grant writing, and may go slightly up or down.


  • I have an obvious motivation to support Gretchen's application, as I'm her co-instructor for this CoLang course. Gretchen makes Wikipedia editing accessible and appealing to linguists and community members. The extended nature of the CoLang course, and the extra time she will spend there supporting people, makes this the perfect place to create a new group of committed contributors in a range of languages. Loztron (talk) 06:00, 16 April 2016 (UTC)