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Over the last 6 months I have been trialling an independent outreach workshop in a secondary school. The intent is to engage with teenagers of 15+ over issues such as:

  • What is Wikipedia?
  • What is open content/knowledge?
  • How can they help you achieve.

This brief overview records some of my experiences with this outreach. It should be noted that I am not a trained educator, but I have years of experience working with children. For this reason there are no formal lesson plans or teaching materials; classes were free-form discussions based on a few crib notes I prepared beforehand.

Attempt 1: Research[edit | edit source]

The outreach started with three classes taught to GCSE level students. I kicked things off with the following question; what do you know about Wikipedia? The initial few answers were:

  • It's an encyclopaedia
  • You can't use it in schoolwork
  • It's free
  • People volunteer

I listed these (excellent) points on the board and we tried to discuss them. Over the next two sessions we expanded our discussions onto ideas such as referencing ("you can use Wikipedia in schoolwork; as an overview to the topic, and a way to locate proper reference material"). Free knowledge was a complex discussion, touching on the ideas of copyright, taking up most of Lesson 2.

Outcome: Not a success in terms of educating effectively. However it was a success in identifying the teenage viewpoint of Wikipedia and open content. It was clear from the initial discussion that the class didn't really understand what an encyclopaedia was; they simply knew the word. One class member introduced a brilliant word when we talked about using Wikipedia as a resource; "springboard". Lesson 2 also identified the complexity of understanding the "open" concept. Finally, by Lesson 3 the class started to show initiative in debates, with my involvement becoming more of a moderator role whilst they engaged in discussion over the relevant concepts (which ties back to encouraging critical thinking).

Attempt 2: "Springboard"[edit | edit source]

A similar (3 lesson) attempt with another class of GCSE students. I utilised the word "springboard" as a term to explain the concept of a reference work. On the board I wrote:

"Wikipedia can be a springboard for you to find out about a subject"

We discussed what this meant and jotted down relevant words on the board, such as:

  • references
  • further reading
  • overview
  • understanding

In the second lesson we discussed the topic of open content in depth, with the discussion lead mostly by myself. We broke down the various forms of "free", introduced (briefly) the issue of copyright, talked about creative commons and so forth.

Lesson 3 I started by asking my very original question; what do you know about Wikipedia? Answers (slightly paraphrased):

  • It has summaries of topics
  • It has references for further reading
  • It is free

I also asked "Who writes Wikipedia?". No one could really answer, so we discussed the concept of "anyone can edit" & what might motivate people to contribute. I considered "preaching" about vandalism (i.e. "How would you like it if..") but decided it would likely be counter-productive. Also did not give them any insight into *how* to start editing.

Outcome: Extremely positive. By the end the class appreciated the four important facets of Wikipedia (free, references, summary resource that anyone can edit). There were indications that they were beginning to appreciate the issues with relying on Wikipedia as a resource (critical thinking), although not in much depth.