Learning patterns/Editing leads to media literacy

A learning pattern foroutreach
Editing leads to media literacy
problemHow can you explain Wikipedia to a group of people without any Wikipedia experience by letting them write a Wikipedia article?
solutionYou need to use an appropriate technical solution for collaborative writing and you need to prepare a framework where the participants can feel safe.
created on16:32, 22 January 2015 (UTC)

What problem does this solve?


An understanding of how Wikipedia works should be part of a general media literacy, similar to knowing the differences between free and unfree press. That’s why explaining Wikipedia sometimes goes beyond gaining new active editors, it can have different purposes. According to the standards of media education, a good way of understanding media production is to produce media. You get a better picture of Wikipedia if you edit Wikipedia. However, this approach is different from teaching future Wikipedia editors who need to know other skills.

This learning pattern shows how to use Wikipedia editing as a part of explaining Wikipedia to a group of people without Wikipedia experience. It was used at a teachers' training course with 25 participants and two experienced Wikipedians as trainers. It should be suitable for different workshop situations as long as you have internet access and a certain amount of enthusiasm.

What is the solution?


What to prepare


Before the participants get active they should listen and look at some Wikipedia basics. This introduction can last up to an hour. The participants should know at least how the wiki markup looks like, what the revision history reveals and how important reliable sources are. Then the actual activity starts: their task is to write a new article as collaborative work within one or two hours. The participants are divided into small groups of two or three people.

You as a trainer need to prepare certain things in advance. You choose the topic for the new article. The topic should be convenient for all participants; it can be something they all deal with in their professional lives or an interesting building close to the premises of the workshop. Use Etherpad to prepare the article’s “frame” and different working tasks.

Prepare the frame of the article which includes the rather difficult formal aspects of an Wikipedia article:

  1. the beginning of the first sentence (The ''''thing we write about''' is)
  2. the section organization and headings
  3. the categories
  4. and (if applicable) geographic coordinates, persondata etc.

Prepare working tasks for the participants such as:

Task Research/writing Formatting Notes
Aspects Writing one or two sentences about a certain aspect of the topic by using a given source (literature, internet link); understanding the necessity to rewrite the material and to write in whole sentences. Using wikilinks; making a footnote for the “references” section.
  • This is the task for most of the groups. It can be modified in different ways.
  • Provide a book (or copies) or an internet link where the participants can find the information without needing too much time for reading.
  • Provide links to the Wikipedia help pages about wikilinks and citing sources.
Lead section Writing the lead section introducing the topic by comparing it with lead sections of other articles with a similar topic and by using a given source (literature, internet link); understanding the necessity to rewrite the material and to write in whole sentences. Using wikilinks and bold text.
  • Provide links to some other Wikipedia articles with a similar topic.
  • Provide a book (or copies) or an internet link where the participants can find the information without needing too much time for reading.
  • Provide a link to the Wikipedia help page about wikilinks.
Reliable sources Internet research for a reliable source to prove a fact (e.g. “the building is acknowledged as a cultural heritage monument“). Making a footnote for the “references” section.
  • Provide a link to the Wikipedia help page about citing sources.
Images Researching an image for the article on Wikimedia Commons; writing a caption. Using the image in the article.
  • Make sure that there is more than one image on Wikimedia Commons that could be used.
  • Provide a link to the Wikipedia help page about using files.

How to get them working and what to do while they are working


The participants are divided into groups of two or three. Each group has a computer with internet access and has one task to do. They all work in Etherpad. Explain them what they have to do and how, be patient and encouraging. You can also distribute printed Wikipedia cheatsheets.

Experienced Wikipedians help the participants as trainers - one trainer per ten participants should work fine. Approximately after the first 45 minutes you can present to all participants how much has been achieved so far by copying the article draft from Etherpad and going to preview on Wikipedia.

How to publish and what to do afterwards


The article is not meant to be perfect. Small beginner's mistakes, typos and misspellings are welcome. If you're lucky this enables you to show how the Wikipedia community deals with new entries and makes them better within a short amount of time. Nevertheless use the preview and let the participants read their article carefully before you save the page.

Don't publish the article while you're logged in as yourself (it's not your work and shouldn't be attributed to your user name). Do it while you're logged out or create a special user account for this. You can encourage the participants to create their own user accounts afterwards by showing them the effects of watchlisting the article.


  • Inbetween the last year, we used this pattern in three of our University seminars at the University of Vienna. With an total of 80 students. This kind of Edit-a-thon is inherent part of our University-program, were every student does have its own, personel tutor (Wikipedians).

The most impressive result is, that the students can see, that after two hours (we use this time also for general informations) a real Wikipedia article is online, for most of them the first one. The students are perfectly motivated. Hubertl (talk) 20:06, 20 November 2015 (UTC)[reply]

See also