Learning to edit a wiki/Lesson plan A

This is a simple lesson plan for introducing a class to editing a wiki. Wikis come in different brands, and this lesson plan assumes you are using "Mediawiki", which is the wiki brand used by Wikipedia, Wikiversity and other Wikimedia projects.

Wikipedia headquarters, where you can go if you want to edit Wikipedia. Ooops. Just kidding.

The lesson plan follows a specific order; which has a certain logic to it. The lesson plan focusses mainly on the opening stages of the lesson in which the teacher presents and develops the topic in a relatively closed fashion. Obvious suggestions about later phases of the lesson are given at the very end.

Establishing current knowledge edit

This lesson plan sticks quite strongly to the idea of moving from known to unknown. So start off by establishing whether or not your class already use Wikipedia (the answer may be age-dependent) and whether they have ever seen and wondered about the "edit" links. That will probably be as far as existing knowledge goes. It is unlikely that any of the class have actually edited.

  1. Establish the familiarity of the class with Wikipedia. Do they know what it is? Do they use it? What do they use it for?
    As of 2008, it is likely that all tertiary-level students and adults know what it is and have (passively) used it. Knowledge among secondary-level pupils may be patchy - they may have seen it or used it, but may not remember the name clearly. Awareness is likely to increase in coming years.
  2. If anyone is not familiar, the rest of the class can be prompted to supply the missing information.
  3. Has anyone ever edited Wikipedia?
    The word "edit" may not be familiar to the class. Make no assumption. Rephrase the question just in case - e.g. "changed the text". It is very probable that nobody in the class will have done this (possible discussion about why not?) and they may not even know that you can do it. Subsidiary questions to keep the discussion going include "who do you think is allowed to edit Wikipedia?"

Speculate on the effects of the "edit" link/tab edit

Curiosity is healthy, isn't it?

Invite the class to speculate about what might happen if they clicked the "edit" button.

  1. Ensure the class are familiar with the existence of the "edit" links (top right of each page section) and the "edit this page" tab (top of the page - a picture). Watchpoint: remember both.
    Probably they will all have seen these links, but never dared to touch them. They may not even be properly aware what might happen if you did touch them. If you are holding this class about editing a wiki, it is likely that you have internet access and that many of the class are near to or in front of a computer. Prompt them to navigate to Wikipedia and verify the existence of the edit facilities.
  2. Ask the class what they think would happen if they click it. Do not ask the class to click at this stage, but do not warn them not to either. Just ask "what if".
    Many Wikipedia visitors click the edit facilities out of curiosity, but never submit any edits. It's quite possible that some class members have got this far before. They may have seen the various warnings which appear on the edit page.
    The answer you are looking for is, of course, that anyone could really change the text. The class may have initial difficulty believing this. After all, who could be so stupid as to let anyone in the world edit their website?

First wiki experiences and vandalism edit

The likely content of a first edit - and therefore the first thing you should be teaching about editing a wiki.

Very soon, at this point in your lesson, the issue of "vandalism" is likely to emerge naturally in the minds of the class, and perhaps on their fingertips as well. While you have been talking, the bolder students may already have tried the "edit" button. If you are lucky, they will already have committed at least one act of minor defacement (well, what else does one do if one has no purpose in mind?). If your luck holds out, a minor warning will be issued by an administrator, who kindly refrains at this stage from blocking your entire educational establishment.

If a student does indeed manage to perform what we call a "test edit" on Wikipedia at this stage, you can integrate this into your lesson in a positive fashion, showing what happens when someone doesn't edit sensibly and constructively. On the other hand, we would encourage you not to go out of your way to ensure this happens. If it happens, it happens, and you can build on it. But please do not deliberately initiate "test edits" (i.e. minor pieces of vandalism such as inserting "cool" or "yeah" into articles).

You may like to prepare a range of horror stories for this stage, all relating to the fates suffered by vandals. You can mix fact and fiction memorably - but sort them out again afterwards.

  • There's the story about the Wikimedia Foundation suing a vandal for $1 million after tracking his IP address back to his school and securing the cooperation of the school authorities in identifying the culprit. Needless to say, the school also threw him out. [Warning: fiction].
  • There's the story about the Wikimedia Foundation tracking the school's IP addresses and permanently blocking them so that nobody from the school could ever edit Wikipedia again. [This one is possible and would come true if the vandalism persisted; so you may wish to reveal your school's policy towards students who get the school blacklisted at Wikipedia].
  • Please feel welcome add further tales here.

Spelling edit

Wikipedia's spelling problem should be seen as a great opportunity for lesson planning.

Having dealt with vandalism, the next step is to suggest the most constructive and easiest way to edit a wiki which there is. It is important students should quickly overcome their inhibitions and try some editing. Some teachers would use a simple sandbox page at this stage where the students can do whatever they want - it will be deleted later. However this isn't really constructive or memorable. If you can help the students making permanent, valuable changes to Wikipedia immediately, they will be thrilled and remember your lesson much better. The most constructive and easiest way for a beginner to edit a wiki is to look for spelling mistakes and correct them. For an experienced editor, this is a fate worse than accountancy. But for a first-time editor, to be responsible for a permanent improvement to Wikipedia even of this miniscule scale is an adventure.

How not to look for spelling mistakes: do not open an article and start proof-reading it. This will take ages and may not come up with any mistakes at all.
How really to look for spelling mistakes: think of some commonly mispelled words and run a search for them in Wikipedia's search box.
  • Remember that for the most common mispellings, Wikipedia may be running a "bot" which corrects them anyway.
  • Remember that American and British spellings are both considered correct at Wikipedia, and people will get cross if you try "correcting" these one way or the other.
  • Make a list of commonly mispelled words that aren't quite among the most common. Make this list available to the class and set them searching.
    • Example: the writer of this article checked the word "achieve" spelt as "acheive" in Wikipedia's search facility, producing 102 positive results. Words with ei/ie problems seem to be a good bet at the current time.

Creating a user account edit

So far in your lesson, the class are using Wikipedia as "anonymous editors". This means that their edits are identified by their IP addresses, not by any user names. Generally it's considered to be a good thing if editors use registered user names (which can be fictional). Most editors don't edit anonymously, under their IP address, although this is allowed.

One of the disadvantages of having no username and account is that you don't have a user space either. Everyone who signs up with an account gets a userpage. A userpage is an exciting thing to have in itself (think Facebook & co.), but it is also practical in terms of learning to edit a wiki. Students can practice editing on their userpages and show each other the results, without having to worry about a Wikimedia sysop coming down on their edits like a ton of bricks!

See: separate lessons and lesson plans on creating a Mediawiki account.

Using your user space as a sandbox edit

At this stage of the lesson, you will move to a stage where the class takes over control from you. Point them to any of the many tutorials on Wikimedia projects which explain the basic editing syntax, give them the task of experimenting on their userpage (possibly with some purpose to add focus), and let them get on with it.

Useful resources: The Wikipedia Cheatsheet.

Winding up the lesson edit

A discussion/feedback session at the end of the lesson is an obvious idea - but you're the teacher and you already know this, OK?

  Type classification: this is a lesson plan resource.
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