About this report: In early 2023, the Wiki Education Foundation received a Movement Strategy Implementation Grant to explore the needs for the global Wikimedia & Education community, as a possible first step in creating a thematic hub. Wiki Education collaborated with the Wikipedia & Education User Group and the Wikimedia Foundation's Education team to co-design Phase 1 of this research. Cornelius Kibelka, a longtime Wikimedian experienced in facilitation and communication, was contracted to engage in a series of 1:1 interviews as well as sessions at the EduWiki Conference in Belgrade, with the aim of creating a report outlining the needs of the global Wikimedia & Education community. The bulk of this report was written by Cornelius, with context setting and next steps collaboratively authored by LiAnna Davis and João Alexandre Peschanski, and with input from members of the Wikimedia & Education community.
The "intertwining" between education and Wikimedia characterizes the health of our movement. The Wikimedia projects have flourished because of the investment of those in education, either as contributors or readers. Many pioneering users of Wikipedia were teachers or students, who found in this collaborative project a way of realizing practices and visions of free knowledge. As time progressed, we became more organized, with affiliates and other education program leaders acting intentionally to broaden, deepen, diversify, document and give sustainability to the relationship between education and Wikimedia. As we managed to act effectively in this relationship, our Wikimedia movement prospered. Education programs have the unique potential to sustain contribution to Wikimedia projects, making them a leading indicator of health of our movement.
The educators' relationship with Wikimedia celebrates almost 20 years and has historically gone through three phases, as described in Davis et al (2023):
- Phase 1: Individual-Driven Phase (2001–2010): In this phase, individual Wikimedians who were educators themselves sought to add Wikipedia as a teaching tool in their classrooms.
- Phase 2: Formalization of Wikipedia Education Program (2010–2013): In this phase, global connections between programs began growing, and the Wikimedia Foundation launched formal support for education efforts.
- Phase 3: Global Expansion (2013–Present): To date, many education programs exist throughout the world, some run by Wikimedia affiliates, some by unaffiliated program leaders. These programs are diverse in scope, but all focus on the pedagogical relationship between Wikimedia and education. Programs receive patchwork support from the Wikimedia Foundation’s Education team, the Wikipedia & Education User Group, Wiki Education Foundation’s Dashboard, and regional collaborations, as well as individual relationships with other program leaders.
The impact the Wikimedia & Education community has had on the Wikimedia projects is undeniable. Content has grown enormously thanks to education programs, especially content in academic areas that receive less attention from current editors and in areas related to knowledge equity, which has been a focus of many education programs. Research has also documented education programs’ impacts on readership, editing, and citations. Globally, at least 10% of all new active editors across all languages and all projects come from education programs. Generally, education programs are welcoming spaces, filled with people who’ve created pedagogically sound resources that help onboard new contributors. A monthly Education newsletter helps share the stories of programs worldwide, and the EduWiki Conference helps foster a sense of belonging among community members.
We arrive in 2023 with at least 70% of Wikimedia affiliates carrying out education programs and activities. These programs and activities are diverse and include things like children’s encyclopedias, wiki clubs and camps, the Reading Wikipedia in the Classroom media literacy project, structured higher education integrations to close content gaps, and senior citizen projects.
But internal and external factors make us believe that the trajectory of "intertwining" between education and Wikimedia may have reached a limit. This moment leads us to question whether we should organize the Wikimedia and Education Movement in a different way. If we have indeed reached a limit, should we establish new coordination strategies and invest in developing Wikimedia and Education governance?
Some of the internal factors include:
- A new Wikimedia Movement Strategy, which calls for the creation of thematic “hubs” to serve as centers of excellence in global coordination
- Scattered support efforts (from WMF, the Wikipedia & Education User Group, regional cooperations, technical Dashboard support from Wiki Education Foundation) without a joint, global strategy and resources
- Relatively uncoordinated, independent, and disparate growth of education programs
Some of the external factors include:
- The rise of generative AI, its influence on education, and its need for human-generated, reliable content for large language models (LLMs)
- Changing trends in knowledge consumption
- Declining public investment in education
- Increasing economic and social inequalities
- Decreasing scientific culture
We believe that simply increasing investment in the status quo is not enough to solve new challenges (both internal and external). Given the opportunity of the Movement Strategy, the Wikimedia & Education community seeks to create a new collaborative direction for our work moving forward.
Objectives & Methodology
The Education community is one of the more vibrant programmatic efforts in the Wikimedia universe, and is already organized in a structure of program leader representatives supporting global efforts, with the Wikipedia & Education User Group. This research focused on identifying what is working about current international collaborations around education, what needs are not being met, and what our global vision is for the education program. This needs-finding research aimed to surface the needs and priorities of the diverse actors in the education ecosystem within the movement.
This qualitative research, therefore, asked
- What are the challenges of the interviewee’s Education program?
- What kind of support (from the Wikimedia Movement) are they receiving already?
- What kind of support (from the Wikimedia Movement) do they need?
The Wikimedia movement encompasses a wide range of educational activities that are diverse, extensive, and geographically dispersed. Due to limitations, this study focused only on a subset of these activities as defined by the participating Wikimedians.
For this purpose two community discussions (90 min + 60 min) with 20 participants in total were held at EduWiki Conference 2023 in Belgrade, Serbia, discussing the needs and challenges of program organizers. The sessions were embedded in the programmatic track of the conference on "Future of Education" and designed according to the needs of the research.
To gather data, two community discussions were conducted during the EduWiki Conference 2023 in Belgrade, Serbia. These sessions, held under the "Future of Education" programmatic track, involved a total of 20 participants and aimed to address the needs and challenges faced by program organizers. The sessions were designed in accordance with the research objectives.
In addition to the community discussions, qualitative interviews, lasting approximately 30 minutes each, were conducted with 32 education program leaders who were either implementing or planning education programs. These interviews also included input from other primary stakeholders. The selection of interviewees was made by LiAnna Davis and João Alexandre Peschanski, representing the clients of the research project (the Wiki Education Foundation and Wikipedia&Education UG), in consultation with the Wikimedia Foundation’s Education Team. The interview questionnaire and conference sessions were developed with valuable input from the WMF education team.
List of interviewed Wikimedians
- Àlex Hinojo
- Alex Lum
- Ankan Ghosh Dastider
- Bukola James
- Dody Ismoyo
- Erina Mukuta
- Filip Maljković
- Florencia Guastavino
- Frank Schulenburg
- Hernán Perez Molano
- James Taylor
- João Peschanski
- Josefine Hellroth Larsson
- Justine Toms
- Krishna Chaitanya Velaga
- LiAnna Davis
- Lucie Schubert
- Maxwell Beganim
- Melissa Guadalupe Huertas
- Mossab Banat
- Netha Hussain
- Nixon Mukoko
- Rahmi Nailah
- Rebecca O'Neill
- Romeo Lomora Ronald
- Sailesh Patnaik
- Samir Sharbaty
- Shani Evenstein
- Soukhaina Abelhad
- Susanna Mrktchyan
- Toni Sant
- Venus Lui
The discussion notes and interview transcripts were thematically coded. The results indicated a significant need for support that goes beyond the scope of existing structures. As a result, there is a shared desire to develop the current structures into a professional, staffed "global service provider" focused on education for the movement. It's important to note that the limited attendance at the conference sessions and the selection of interviewees may limit the scope of this research, but the findings suggest the need for further investigation.
The final report presents the findings, including common needs identified across global education programs, potential opportunities for a global support structure to address these needs, and questions that need to be answered for the next steps in the process.
“Education” needs a clear(er) definition
The term "education" started gaining prominence within the Wikimedia movement around 2005, and the Wikimedia Foundation's Wikipedia Education Program began using it in 2011-12. It has been used to encompass a range of programmatic activities carried out by Wikimedia organizations, groups, and individual volunteers worldwide. However, throughout the course of this research project, it became apparent that there is no consensus within the movement regarding the precise meaning of the term "education."
Typically, the term is employed to describe various programs that aim to engage external audiences, with the objective of developing specific skills through the utilization of Wikimedia platforms. The "educational" nature often stems from the involvement of students, educators, and the utilization of educational institutions as spaces for these activities.
Nevertheless, due to the lack of a clear and concise definition, the term is occasionally used to refer to activities that fall outside these parameters. For instance, it may be applied to simple outreach endeavors aimed at raising awareness about Wikipedia and its sister projects. Additionally, certain activities within the GLAM field are sometimes labeled as "educational," even though the target audiences (such as librarians) and the spaces involved (GLAMs) are not inherently educational.
The absence of a clear definition has not necessarily posed a problem, as anyone who defined their activities as "education" was included. However, this inclusive and broad definition has made it challenging to foster a cohesive global community around the concept. While regionally focused communities within the Wikimedia Movement have grown rapidly and gained significance, thematically focused communities, like the Education community, have experienced slower growth, lacked cohesion and strength, and encountered various obstacles. The challenges faced by two global support structures for the education community, namely the former Education Collaborative and the current Wikipedia&Education UG, exemplify the difficulties encountered in building a "thematic community."
Therefore, it is recommended to establish a clearer definition of "education" before proceeding with the development of any new movement-wide structures. This will lay the foundation for delineating the scope and target audience of potential future structures designed to support and facilitate collaboration in the field of education. With a clearer understanding of the scope, focus, and target audience, organizations, groups, and program organizers involved in education will have a better idea of what to expect and how to engage with these forthcoming structures.
Independently, but in parallel to this research, a definition has been elaborated at the EduWiki 2023 conference in Belgrade. However, it is not yet finalized and needs to be approved and legitimized;
The Wikimedia & Education community shares this common definition of our work: An audience of learners engages with the Wikimedia projects through a pedagogical experience, designed to ensure the audience meets a series of learning objectives (such as media literacy or data literacy). Our efforts are aligned to the educational curriculum but adaptable to context and flexible enough to be interdisciplinary. Our programs, which are designed to grow content and contributors to Wikimedia projects, are scalable and replicable.
Main needs: Coordination, Knowledge Sharing, Support
During the course of this research, it has become evident that despite the diverse contexts, perspectives, and experiences of the 32 contributing Wikimedians, certain patterns have emerged. These patterns suggest that the challenges and needs identified vary depending on
- whether the interviewed Wikimedian is an individual volunteer program organizer or a volunteer or staff member representing a Wikimedia affiliate involved in organizing education-focused programmatic activities;
- the size of the education program and its educational/socio-economic context (potentially categorized as 'Global North' or 'Global South') also influences these challenges and needs.
All interviewed Wikimedians shared the challenges they face, which encompass both Wikimedia-related issues and those extending beyond the Wikimedia sphere. They also identified the type of support they require to overcome these challenges. It has become evident that being an education program leader and managing activities is indeed demanding and challenging. However, it is even more challenging to seek and receive support for organizing these activities. Throughout the years, many program leaders have developed their own local processes and methodologies that may not necessarily align with programs in different contexts. Although not explored in this research, a comparison of education programs among Wikimedia affiliates could potentially reveal distinct "stages" of organizational development for such programs.
Regardless of the program's size and context, all education programs necessitate (or at least a lack of) some level of support from the Wikimedia movement. This need arises either due to local challenges in organizing programmatic activities or global trends that require movement-wide efforts and solutions, such as improving the user experience of Wikimedia platforms. Notably, program organizers from emerging communities (about 10 out of the 32) clearly express the need for direct organizational support from the movement, particularly in establishing partnerships with governmental entities.
Some of these needs for support are covered, at least partially, by the existing support structures. Namely, these are:
- WMF’s Education team
- Wikipedia & Education UG
- Wiki Education Foundation
- Regional network structures (e.g. LatAm, CEE, WikiFranca)
However, the support provided to program organizers appears to be insufficient, not fully relevant, and not always responsive to their needs. Additionally, there is limited awareness, geographical coverage, and impact of the support available. Among the support initiatives mentioned by the interviewed Wikimedians, the monthly Affiliates Call organized by the WMF's Education team was regarded as particularly useful. Individual WMF staff members were also mentioned multiple times by different interviewees and appreciated for their efforts. The Wiki Education Foundation's dashboard, despite its limitations, is widely used and considered essential. Furthermore, regional support structures have emerged, such as among Latin American Wikimedia chapters, facilitating cross-organizational exchange and fostering regional education programs, which are seen as highly beneficial and effective.
Among the aforementioned support structures, the Wikipedia & Education User Group (UG) stands out as the only one entirely run by volunteers due to the limitations imposed by the Wikimedia user group's organizational model, making it challenging to secure funding and hire staff. Members of the group identified this as the main reason for its limited effectiveness, reach, and development. The primary goal of this research is to rethink the structure of the user group and lay the foundation for future plans.
Throughout the interviews, it became evident that there is a pressing need for support that goes beyond the capabilities of the existing structures. Three key needs consistently emerged in almost every interview, often implicitly or explicitly expressed as challenges or requirements. These needs are interconnected and overlapping:
- Coordination/Networking: There is a shared need for a structure that allows Wikimedia organizations, groups, and program leaders involved in education to coordinate, connect, and network. This structure should provide reliable and up-to-date information about individuals and organizations involved in education. Ideally, it should facilitate self-facilitated connections and collaboration among peers. Regular convening of the Education community, such as through the EduWiki Conference, could be an integral part of this structure. It has been suggested that the Capacity Exchange initiative should be integrated or built upon.
- Knowledge sharing: There is a shared need for a centralized and accessible structure that enables the discovery, sharing, and exchange of knowledge, experience, and advice related to education-focused programmatic activities. It has been proposed that the facilitator of this structure proactively encourages knowledge sharing by providing spaces and facilitating connections among peers (as mentioned in the previous need).
- Skills/capacity building/direct support: There is a shared need for direct, one-on-one organizational support and advice for program organizers. This includes skill sharing, capacity building, training, and other forms of direct support to enhance their capabilities and effectiveness.
While being part of a movement of knowledge collectors and curators, the existing structures / processes don’t support that well.
Tech maintenance & advocacy for tech
All the Wikimedians who participated in this research expressed a strong passion for the education programs they have organized in the past, are currently organizing, or plan to organize in the future. Despite their passion and expertise as educators, community organizers, or project managers (or a combination of these roles), many of them lacked a strong technical background. However, the challenges related to Wikimedia's technical infrastructure were frequently mentioned during the interviews and conference sessions, highlighting the critical importance of addressing these technical needs.
A widely shared need is for a more reliable technical infrastructure and better maintenance of the tools used to organize educational programs. While the Wiki Education Foundation's Outreach Dashboard is considered a significant improvement compared to previous tools, program organizers often encounter bugs, lack of tutorials, and other difficulties. The Dashboard is essential for providing relevant metrics to measure the success of education programs, secure funding support, and gain visibility. However, it is described as unreliable, and the delayed launch of the Wikimedia Foundation's technical grants funds has resulted in a lack of dedicated resources for its maintenance.
Apart from the Dashboard itself, program organizers face challenges due to the proliferation of different, yet not well-integrated, sets of tools. Resolving technical issues consumes valuable time that could be better utilized for developing educational programs if the technical infrastructure were better maintained. Furthermore, limitations of the platforms, particularly Wikimedia Commons, such as the inability to accept certain scientific file formats or lack of zoom functionality, were also mentioned as hurdles.
On the other side of the "technical" coin, there is a common need to upgrade and develop new tools that align with programmatic requirements. Currently, these needs are not adequately considered or prioritized within existing tech development structures and processes. Program organizers expressed specific tool requirements and feature requests for the Wikimedia platforms. For instance, the absence of a learning platform akin to Moodle was mentioned, as well as the need for tools or accessible functions for video editing and easier creation and translation of subtitles.
Given that young people, including students, are a primary target audience for educational programs across the movement, there is a pressing need to adapt the content and methodologies of these programs to evolving technologies. Their familiarity and affinity with technology necessitate faster adaptation and incorporation of technology into educational programs compared to other aspects of the Wikimedia ecosystem.
Program size and context determines further specific needs
These four needs are widely shared by organizers of educational programs, regardless of size or context. There are other, less frequently mentioned, context-specific needs that can be structured as follows:
Wikimedia Affiliates with large, well-established, long-running programs typically operate self-sufficiently and do not require special support from the movement to improve or maintain their programs. Sharing knowledge, experiences, and success stories with global support structures is their primary form of interaction. However, there is a growing interest among these affiliates to discuss how global trends and technological advancements impact the movement as a whole, with a particular focus on education programs. The existence of well-managed education programs provides space and capacity for these affiliates to collectively develop new strategies, collaborate on innovations, and engage in discussions on the future of education.
A significant number of affiliates have established medium-sized education programs that are experiencing growth. These programs, usually managed by a single staff member, face similar organizational and technical challenges as they aim to expand and scale their initiatives. In addition to the need for a more reliable technical infrastructure, these affiliates grapple with challenges such as a shortage of volunteers and consistent funding. Moreover, there is a strong desire among these affiliates to build partnerships within and outside the Wikimedia movement, enhance programmatic improvements, secure additional financial resources, and foster knowledge sharing among peers.
Particularly, staff members responsible for running education programs often experience a sense of "programmatic loneliness." They are often the sole individuals in their organizational context working on the topic, lacking opportunities to exchange ideas and experiences with colleagues. While these staff members express interest in connecting and learning from others, international collaboration is typically not prioritized or allocated resources in their budgets.
Organizers of individual volunteer programs and training initiatives in emerging communities, particularly in the Global South, encounter both well-known Wikimedia-related challenges and various external socio-economic challenges that necessitate greater direct support. In these contexts, there is often a need to lay the groundwork by raising initial awareness of Wikipedia, as the project may be unfamiliar to the audience. Some communities even lack basic device literacy skills. Program organizers from these communities express a strong demand for enhanced support, including improved funding, direct organizational assistance, logistical guidance, and adaptation of successful methods and activities to their specific contexts.
A common need among these communities, predominantly in the Global South (subject to further discussion), is the requirement for support in establishing partnerships with government and other larger institutions. Authorities often do not take (individual) volunteer Wikimedians or groups seriously, but the presence and support of a (foreign) organization like the Wikimedia Foundation would be persuasive, useful, and advantageous for the local community.
A specific challenge identified within the English-speaking Wikipedia community revolves around the sheer size of the community. Frequently, "autonomous" program organizers run educational initiatives with minimal or no connection or awareness of the affiliate in their respective countries. Affiliates desire to support these organizers, but identifying them within the community can be challenging. Conflicts have also arisen between the project community and the affiliates, who often request increased on-wiki support, such as monitoring articles created during programmatic activities, defending against deletion requests, and addressing online harassment.
On the other hand, these "autonomous" non-affiliated program organizers often feel overwhelmed with information on running successful educational programs. They require additional preparation materials, guidance, and "on-demand" support. Similarly, there is a need to support the creation of educational programs by offering templates, pre-designed courses, and other resources, both for individual program organizers and organizations.
Opportunities for collaboration beyond support
There is a strong desire and necessity for improved and more effective support structures that specifically cater to the needs and challenges of the Wikimedia movement. These structures should not only provide support but also serve as platforms for advocacy, innovation, expansion, revitalization, collaboration, and opportunities within the education domain of Wikimedia and beyond.
Once the essential structures for coordination, knowledge sharing, and capacity building are established, numerous opportunities for partnerships between affiliates and program organizers working in education would arise. The Wikimedians interviewed for this research expressed their desire to collaborate with their peers to develop new materials for programmatic activities, courses, and more. They emphasized the importance of coming together to collectively address challenges. Additionally, international collaboration within the Wikimedia movement could serve as a source of motivation for both volunteers and staff, countering the "programmatic loneliness" previously mentioned.
These future structures could also advocate for greater recognition of the education field within Wikimedia itself. They could highlight that education programs are powerful tools for engaging young people and fostering community growth. This includes establishing connections between the Education community and ongoing Movement Strategy processes and other strategic conversations within the Wikimedia Movement. Education outreach has the potential to shed light on inequalities and guide the Movement's efforts towards knowledge equity.
Surprisingly, there were very few proactive voices envisioning future structures as platforms to connect with external organizations and movements focused on education, such as OER (Open Educational Resources). Overall, it can be inferred that the Education community is primarily focused on addressing Wikimedia-related challenges and needs, potentially overshadowing potential collaborations with external organizations.
Emerging consensual patterns for future structures
Throughout the interviews conducted (excluding the conference sessions), expectations and recommendations emerged regarding the model and functioning of future global support structures. These insights were primarily based on experiences with existing (Wikipedia&Education UG) and former support structures (EduColab), as well as general challenges faced within the Wikimedia movement. In summary, the following consensus-based patterns for future structures can be identified:
It became evident through the interviews that there is a need for support that surpasses the capabilities of the existing structures. As a result, there is a common desire to transform the existing structures into a professional, staffed "global service provider" focused on "education" for the movement. However, as the research primarily focused on identifying the needs to be addressed by these structures rather than exploring the structures themselves, this aspect was not extensively explored beyond the interviewees' responses.
While ideas for organizational models for these structures varied, many envisioned a strong facilitating entity at the core to provide the necessary "gravitational pull." The Wiki Education Foundation was suggested as a potential organization to lead such efforts, while no other organization appeared to have the ability or interest. A few, but salient, voices were critical of an eventual involvement of the WMF in leading such efforts.
To be an authentic "global service provider," the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion should be integral from the outset to address the needs of previously and currently marginalized communities. While the structures should be welcoming and open to all, whether affiliates or individuals, inclusivity may progress at different rates depending on specific needs and capacities.
Divergence emerged regarding the focus, scope, and target audience of these structures, which is closely tied to the lack of a clear definition of 'education'.
- Strong, narrow focus: Some emphasized that a narrower focus would lead to more tailored and relevant support structures for beneficiaries, strengthening their position. However, a narrower focus may result in greater exclusivity. It was suggested that future structures should be more than just platforms for knowledge sharing but rather shared projects that foster commitment.
- Broad focus with global aspirations: Others favored a broad focus for future structures, encompassing anyone who considers their work to be educational. However, such a broad scope may not be able to meet the needs of all due to resource limitations. Claiming to be a "global service provider" also carries the risk of disappointing target groups.
Nevertheless, it was argued that even with a broader focus, new structures would require time to fully meet everyone's needs during setup and development. Limited resources may not allow these structures to independently address all needs. Prioritizing specific target groups and focusing on certain types of support activities would be necessary.
In conclusion, defining the scope, focus, and target audience of future structures is a crucial yet complex topic with potential consequences for many stakeholders within the movement. There is consensus that these structures should not have an exclusive role and should complement existing and upcoming entities (such as Regional Hubs), resulting in a broader support network for the Education community. This network would be responsive to the diverse needs of the community.
In addition to these consensus-based patterns, several questions emerged regarding the future structures yet to be developed. While finding answers to these questions is beyond the scope of this research, it is beneficial to discuss them before making decisions and progressing with new structures for the movement:
- Which organization or individual is best suited to lead the future structures?
- Should the future structures be an extension of an existing organization?
- What changes or improvements should be implemented compared to the existing structures? Who would benefit from these changes?
- With sufficient funding, would the current structures be effective in achieving their goals?
- Can the future structures adequately respond to the various contexts they aim to serve?
- How can the future structures better cater to the needs of those currently underserved by existing structures?
This report documents the initial Phase 1 of our research project into the needs of the Wikimedia and Education community. In the next phase of the project, the Wiki Education Foundation will work with the Wikimedia Foundation’s Education team and the Wikipedia & Education User Group to:
- Discuss the results of this project with our community.
- Since it was out of scope to speak to the hundreds of people involved in Wikimedia & Education worldwide, we want to ensure the conclusions from the smaller group we did talk to at the EduWiki Conference and in 1:1 interviews also resonate with others in the community
- We welcome comments on the talk page of this report, and we will also share the findings in a Wikipedia & Education User Group Open Meeting in July 2023.
- Specifically, confirm preliminary definition of Wikimedia & Education to set our scope for our work
- Adapt the conclusions of this report based on any additional feedback we receive during the feedback process.
- Conduct additional research, including:
- More information on external trends (identified earlier)
- What locations do we not yet have education programs that are ideally positioned for them, and what do we need to support local communities in starting programs in those regions?
- What structures of global governance and prioritization work for organizations both within and external to the Wikimedia movement?
- Define a multidimensional model for measuring and evaluating our work and transformation in Wikimedia and education
As Phase 2 wraps up, we will look toward the clear need for a global structure that better supports the Wikimedia & Education community. Steps required for that phase include:
- Define a governance model, with roles and responsibilities
- Establish a shared identity and brand plan
- Establish a transition plan between our current governance model and the agreed model
- Design and maintain an efficient model of communication and decision-making with participatory empowering governance
- Produce and operationalize a global partnership plan for the promotion of Wikimedia and education, including grantmaking
- Create a plan for the development, maintenance and documentation of a shared sustainable technology base
- Establish an ongoing plan for capacity building, training and sharing of good practices
We look forward to collaborating with all relevant stakeholders in these coming phases of work. We welcome any comments or questions on the talk page of this report.
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