Promoting Academic Integrity: Some design questions for instructors



Here are some propositions about students’ academic integrity that I’ve been working with:

  1. Students are more likely to do their work honestly when they see the personal value in what is to be learned.
  2. Students are more likely to do their work honestly when they believe the assessment produces actual evidence of what they have learned.
  3. Students are more likely to do their work honestly when they’ve had the chance for practice and feedback.
  4. Students are more likely to do their work honestly when they know the rules and expect them to be enforced.

Designing assessments for academic integrity is much more than tight invigilation processes and tools like Turnitin and SafeAssign (thankfully). There is much that instructors can do to set students on honest learning paths when they design and teach their courses.   Below, I offer some prompting questions instructors can ask themselves when designing course materials, assessments, and learning activities that relate to the four propositions above.

“See-the-Value” Questions for Instructors:

  • How can I convey/demonstrate the value of what students learn in my course?
  • How can I share my enthusiasm for learning this and the value I place on it?
  • How can I connect students to the benefits this learning brings for them individually, for their families or communities, for society or the world?
  • How can I provide opportunities for students to follow their individual interests and values in the context of this course?

“Evidence” Questions for Instructors:

  • What kind of evidence does this assessment provide that students have learned what I wanted them to learn?
  • What other forms of evidence could I use to determine this?
  • What alternatives could I offer students to show me what they have learned?
  • How can I make explicit to students that an assessment is transferrable to other contexts?

“Practice and Feedback” Questions for Instructors:

  • What do students need to be able self-assess their progress before grades are at stake?
  • How can I provide early feedback so that students still have the opportunity to improve?
  • How can I stage larger assignments with feedback so that students have time to improve (and avoid last minute temptations)?
  • How could I best equip students to provide feedback to each other?

“Rules” Questions for Instructors:

  • What are my rules for my assessments within the academic integrity policy framework?
  • How can I clearly explain both the assessments and the rules so that students know how to best proceed?
  • What are some common misconceptions/errors that I can address early on?
  • How can I help students learn how to follow the rules, especially when it involves technical components like a new citation or referencing protocol?
  • How can I show students that I am committed to enforce my own rules?

We have a workshop coming up at the GMCTL on November 14 that will explore assessment practices that promote academic integrity. Please consider registering.

When Performing Gets in the Way of Improving



I encountered the following video in the spring and have been sharing it with faculty and groups with an interest in questions of assessment.  I think it lays a useful foundation for discussions on (1) what it takes to master skills and knowledge, (2) the value of lower stakes practice, (3) the necessity of formative feedback for learning, and (4) recognition that moments of “performance” or assessment for grades are also needed.

Additionally, this video supports the thinking behind a core element of the Instructional Skills Workshop—an internationally recognized workshop and certification offered regularly at our Centre.  For that workshop, participants practice the facilitation of a 10 minute “mini lesson” so valuable for improving instructional skills.  Here’s a link to more information about that workshop.

Happy to discuss the learning zone and the performance zone with Educatus readers!

First-time Thoughts on a Student Blog Assignment



By Yin Liu, Associate Professor, Department of English
History and Future of the Book Blog

Why I did it

In 2016-2017 I taught, for the first time, a full-year (6 credit unit) English course, “History and Future of the Book,” which is one of our Foundations courses – that is, it is one of a few 200-level courses required for our majors. As in all our courses, there is a substantial writing component, usually in the form of essay assignments. I decided to complicate my life further by trying out a type of student assignment also new to me: a student-written course blog.

I had been thinking about using a student blog assignment ever since I heard a talk given by Daniel Paul O’Donnell (U Lethbridge) about using blogs in his own teaching. The point that struck me most forcibly about Dan’s argument was his observation that students wrote better when they were blogging. Since one of my goals in teaching writing is to help students write better, I thought I should give the idea a try.

Setting it up

From the outset, I had to make some fundamental decisions about how the blog assignment should work within the course. It became one of the writing assignments, taking the place of a regular (2000-word) essay: the blog post itself was to be 500-1000 words long and accompanied by a commentary (read by me only) in which students discussed the process of writing the blog post, especially the challenges they encountered and the solutions they developed. The commentary gave students a chance to reflect on and thus to learn from their own writing processes; it also helped me to evaluate the effectiveness of the assignment. The blog was made publicly available on the Web, but students could opt out of having their own work posted, although it still needed to be submitted to me for grading. Thus students also needed to supply signed permission to have their work published on the blog.

Heather Ross of the GMCTL guided me to the U of S blog service (words.usask.ca) and gave me valuable advice about permission forms and other such matters. The ICT people set me up and increased my storage quota, I fiddled with the WordPress templates, and we were good to go.

Results and learning

Each student wrote one post for the course blog, and thus the assignment was like a regular term paper except that (a) it was not an essay, and (b) it was published to the Web. Acting as the blog editor, I suggested changes to students’ first submissions, which they could incorporate into the final, published version if they wished; but I resisted the temptation to tinker with their final versions, which were published warts and all. I also used the course blog to post a series of Writing Tips for the class.

Students did, for the most part, write noticeably better in their blog posts than in their regular essay assignments. More was at stake in the blog posts; students knew that their work would be read not solely by their professor, but also by their peers and possibly by others outside the class. The informal nature of a blog also allowed students to write, in many cases, with a more genuine voice than for an essay assignment, and thus more effectively. This less formulaic, less familiar genre compelled students to rethink the basics of writing: ideas, information, audience, organisation, clarity. There was a higher chance that they would write about something that truly interested them, and quite a few expressed enthusiasm about the assignment. Students could also read and learn from the work of others in the class. The experiment was a success, and I would do it again.

Our course blog, History and Future of the Book, can be found at https://words.usask.ca/historyofthebook/. Some of the students’ posts have been removed at their request, but most remain, and you are welcome to browse through the Archive and read them – the best of them are excellent.

What’s a Z-Course and How Do I Do That?



As costs for commercial textbooks continue to rise, there has been growing interest at the U of S in open educational resources (OER). OER is not only free to students, but adaptable to make the learning materials appropriate for a particular course. But OER is not the only way to reduce costs and move away from commercial textbooks.

Z-courses, as defined at the U of S, are courses where students have zero or minimal ($35 of less) direct costs for learning materials. This can be achieved through the use of an open textbook or other OER, resources from the Library, instructor notes, or other such materials in place of commercial textbooks, or as a results of no textbook being necessary for the course.

As the number of Z-courses has increased at other institutions, Z-degrees are now a possibility. For example, Tide Water Community College in Norfolk Virginia offers a Z-degree in Business Administration with the use of only OER. Earlier this year, BCcampus put out a call for proposals from universities and colleges across British Columbia for new Z-degree offerings.

The U of S has many Z-courses and students should know about them (as they do about the courses using open textbooks). As well, the GMCTL would like to work with departments and colleges who are interested in offering Z-courses and potentially Z-degrees through the use of OER, Library resources, and other materials.

To begin collecting information on existing Z-courses at the U of S, Vice-Provost Teaching and Learning Patti McDougall sent an email to all department heads in mid-August asking them to complete the included spreadsheet with information on Z-courses within their departments, and return it to me. If you teach a Z-course at the U of S, make sure that your department head is aware of this and reports it to us. If you are interested in converting your course at the U of S to a Z-course, please contact me at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning or your Library liaison for assistance.

 

Fostering Successful Intercultural Group Work: A Summary and Response to article “Rethinking multicultural group work as intercultural learning.”




When I read the above article, I was immediately reminded of an article I read a few years ago, called “’I know the type of people I work well with’: Student anxiety in multicultural group projects.”[1] The authors of that article identify the “cognitive anxiety” and “affective anxiety” of students doing group work with diverse cultural representation within the group (anxieties that seem to be higher among domestic, rather than international students). Each form of anxiety is attributed to “uncertainty…the phenomenon affecting the way we think about strangers” (Strauss, et al, 816). As a result of these anxieties, English-first language speakers were far more likely to, if given the chance to self-select their groups, invite other English-first speakers and to form more homogenous groups. At times, English-first students actually requested not to be put in groups with EAL students, and believed EAL students to be “novices, incompetents or apprentices” [!!] (819). The authors identify that at the time (2011), “there does not seem to be any consensus as to the best way to structure these [diverse linguistic and cultural] student groups” (817).

Returning to the Reid and Garson article, it seems as though they are answering the call and are providing possible strategies for forming functional, multicultural groups. First, I will outline the strengths of the article, but will then highlight some questions and concerns I have. These do not negate the positive aspects of the article, but perhaps will help us dig a little deeper, should we decide to venture into applying Reid’s and Garson’s strategies.

As might be expected, the authors note that it is more likely to achieve culturally diverse groups for group work when they are formed, deliberately, by the instructor. Before placing students in groups, a single intercultural lecture (including activities) was delivered before undertaking their group projects. This lecture included “valuing diversity in teams, exploring the role of stereotypes and assumptions in team selection…and understanding the dimensions of cultural frameworks” (200). In part, this may resolve some of the cognitive and affective anxiety experienced by intercultural group members.

Another strategy was to have each group member write down what they believed to be the top 6 characteristics of a successful group, and on another paper, their own, personal, 4 strengths they brought to the group (200). This, too, should build confidence and competence working together, as students are able to identify different responsibilities based on identified strengths. This exercise should help mitigate “domestic” students’ preconceptions about the contributions of those from a culture other than their own. In addition to collecting this information about groups’ strengths, the instructor also generated a class list with the students’ “country of origin and gender, to form groups that aligned complimentary skills with cultural and gender diversity”(200).

Despite the authors delivering positive results, I do have some concerns about the Reid’s and Garson’s approach, which I think could result in a great conversation. I’ll identify my concerns in point form:

  1. Asking students to self-identify their country of origin risks making cultural generalizations about that student. A student may have been born in Bangladesh and did not leave the country until their university years. Another may have come from Bangladesh when they were 3 months old.
  2. “Domestic” students also come from diverse cultural groups. Asking for a student’s country of origin, if they reply “Canada,” will not reveal, for example, Indigenous peoples’ cultural presence.
  3. I don’t feel comfortable with the instructor asking the students to identify their gender, as this may be very personal. Asking students to identify their gender may circumvent an instructor’s assumptions about a student’s gender, but still puts the student in a very vulnerable spot.
  4. The one-off pre-lecture may actually reinforce cultural stereotypes. From the article, it sounds like there is a heavy focus on cultural dimensions (that is, from the work of Hoefstedde and others in the 70s and 80s, and the general, dichotomized characteristics of cultures around the world). These dimensions can be useful, but must be introduced carefully, as people commonly use these dimensions to “understand” people from cultures other than their own, applying them with a broad stroke and not taking into consideration variances and evolutions in cultures and also individuals.
  5. The 2011 article talks about “multicultural groups,” while the 2017 article talks about “intercultural groups,” which are very different concepts. It might be a useful exercise to explore the multicultural and intercultural aspects of these articles, as the distinction between multicultural and intercultural is very significant.
  6. This brings me to my last point—the coaching seems to lack an unpacking of one’s own culture, and does not seem to address intersectionality, which is also disconcerting.

There is a lot more that can be discussed around this article, beyond what I’ve noted above—by no means is my response exhaustive, but hopefully it opens a channel for reflection and discussion.


Reid, R, and Garson, K. (2017). Rethinking multicultural group work as intercultural learning. Journal of International Education, 21, 3, 195-212. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1028315316662981

[1] Strauss, P., U, A., and Young, S. (2011). ‘I know the type of people I work well with’: student anxiety in multicultural group projects. Studies in Higher Education, Vol. 36, No.. 7, 815-829. Accessed: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03075079.2010.488720

Creating Time for Intellectual Creation: Deep Work and Maker Time




The familiar challenge:
We are 6 weeks into summer, and in the pile on our desk about mid-way down is that proposal, paper, course redesign that there has yet to be time for.

Each week offers 40+ hours, yet there can barely be 2 hours of continuous focused worktime strung together. How can this be?

What’s going on:
We have time but how we use it changes the quality of that time for worse or for better. Just as fractures weaken the structure integrity of a beam, or aesthetics transform an object into art, time’s productivity is transformed by our use.

Within computer science and programming there is a distinction between maker time and manager (meeting) time. The first involves chunks of time where one can focus on conceptualizing and working through the depth of a design without surfacing to respond or shift to other topics. Managerial time, conversely, is broken up and additive. One more meeting in a day full of meetings does not have the same cost as a meeting in the middle of block of maker time.

Pair of glasses focussing on the word "focus" in dictionary.

Photo credit – Mark Hunter, CC-By

At a recent SoTL writing retreat, a faculty member commented how it was the first time they had read a full article uninterrupted. It can even take a few hours to settle into comfortable realization that the knock will not come, and the email (turned off) will not ding. By then also having become reacquainted with the project, work starts to build and more is accomplished in a day or two than in weeks past.

This call to create space in our week (or at least in our summer) for focused work is the drumbeat of Cal Newport’s 2016 book Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World. He posits that creating space and scheduling for deep intellectual work is the act of taking a chunk of time and maximizing productively. In a recent podcast, he speaks of both what is gained and how focus gets weakened by quick novel stimuli like emails, online, social media etc. It is a shift from talking and thinking about a project to conceptualizing and creating.

Synthesis, analysis, conceptualization, and creation (including writing) are higher levels of learning and thinking that requires deeper focus, executive cognitive functioning, more active engagement, and reflection.

So what can I do now?
The GMCTL has 4 Deep Work time opportunities that provide focused time to work with expertise and facilitation as you need it.

  1. SoTL Writing Retreats (July 20, 21 & 22) with uninterrupted time and on-hand consultations for faculty, instructors or staff working toward publishing on a teaching and learning research project. Select a morning or come for 3 days or any combination in between. Register, we will confirm your choice of days and times via email.
  2. Time for Course Design & Prep – In addition to the course design institute offered each year, we offer Drop-in mornings or afternoons. July 26 9:30am – 12:00pm is the next Consultations & Coffee Drop-In Morning. Bring what you have so far including any questions and ideas, and stay for time to work. *Registration is not required.
  3. Book “Deep Work” space for you, your course team or SoTL project colleagues to meet. We can arrange for a space and customize the level of facilitation and support you want from a few minutes to more. Contact GMCTL.
  4. Get unstuck – book a consultation to think through a course idea/challenge, a research design for a SoTL project, or an upcoming term. Contact GMCTL.

Overtime, identify what works for you. Each person’s approach to Deep Work, like preferences in morning beverages, are unique, though with shared key ingredients and conditions to percolate or steep.

Putting it All Together



In this blog, I pull together several of the concepts discussed in previous posts, such as Portals and WikiProjects, and consider how you can begin to develop course materials and assignments for a Wikipedia-based course.

Let’s say, for example, that you are teaching a physics course and want to assign students the job of editing or writing physics-related articles. A good place to start, for both student and instructor, is the Physics portal, which briefly reviews the field and links to the main article on Physics (see excerpt below).

Physics Portal Main PageIt also has a tab entitled “Topics, Categories, Textbook, and Featured articles,” which links to Wikipedia articles on classical physics, modern physics and cross-disciplinary topics, as well as a “textbook” that slots Wikipedia physics articles under chapter headings. While the textbook remains a work in progress, it is a more efficient way to gauge Wikipedia’s coverage (or lack thereof) than simply using the Wikipedia search engine. Apart from the main Physics portal, other relevant portals might include Astronomy, Cosmology, Electromagnetism, Gravitation, and Science.

The third tab on the Physics portal page is “WikiProjects and things to do,” which I turn to next.

WikiProjects

Table of physics articles by quality and importanceThe Physics portal lists four WikiProjects and task groups: WikiProject Physics, WikiProject Space, WikiProject Time, and WikiProject Cosmology. WikiProjects are valuable both to the quality of Wikipedia and to instructors; for an explanation, see my two-part blog, “WikiProjects, Article Importance, and Article Quality: An Intimate Relation­ship” (http://bit.ly/2l8fSEa and http://bit.ly/2lH9hjJ).

One of the key things that a Wiki­Project does is rank Wikipedia articles for importance and quality on a two-dimensional grid. For example, shown here is the grid from WikiProject Physics (screen shot of 27 May 2017, linked to the current version). I’ve selected 822, which is the number of stub-class articles of mid-importance to WikiProject Physics, a list of which can be accessed by clicking on the number.[1] Stub-class articles can be a good starting point for student projects, though start-class articles are also good. An example of a start-class article that is also considered to be of top importance (of the seven in this category) is Classical physics.

It is a good idea for students to become familiar with the different categories of importance and quality in Wikipedia articles, so they know what to strive for and how things can be improved. For example, it would be instructive for them to review at least a couple of the project’s 61 Featured articles,[2] one of the six List articles,[3] a few of the 144 Good articles,[4] and a smattering of the remaining categories. Reading the Talk pages associated with these articles and looking at their View History pages is also a good introduction to the kinds of issues that student editors might face. See, for example, the “Classical physics” Talk page.

One of the things an instructor should consider doing is creating a list of articles that need work and that are within the scope of knowledge for a particular course. Students choose an article to edit from this list, and may also be assigned the task of peer-reviewing another student’s edits to that student’s chosen article. Both the editing and the peer reviewing can be graded. The aim should be to take assigned pages to Good article status, or as close as possible. (Students can make significant contributions to articles, even if, for example, they only start within C-class status, which is not the same as a “C” grade on the U of S grading guidelines.) Here are some Wikipedia articles that might be candidates for editing in a basic Physics course, arrayed in a table that also shows their importance and current quality assessments within WikiProject Physics, along with assignments to a hypothetical set of 15 student editors and peer reviewers:

Article Importance Quality Editor Reviewer
Aerodynamic force Mid Stub-class Student 1 Student 15
Avogrado’s law High Start-class Student 2 Student 14
Electrical energy High Start-class Student 3 Student 13
Focus (optics) High Start-class Student 4 Student 12
Liquefaction of gases Mid Stub-class Student 5 Student 11
Magnet High C-class Student 6 Student 10
Materials physics Mid Stub-class Student 7 Student 9
Measure (physics) Mid Stub-class Student 8 Student 8
Neutron-proton ratio Mid Stub-class Student 9 Student 7
Newton’s laws of motion Top C-class Student 10 Student 6
Pressure Top C-class Student 11 Student 5
Quantum mechanics Top B-class[5] Student 12 Student 4
Quantum vortex Mid Start-class Student 13 Student 3
Rarefaction Mid Stub-class Student 14 Student 2
Time dilation High C-class Student 15 Student 1

The Wiki Ed Advantage

Instructors should also take a close look at the Wikipedia Education Program, set up through the Wiki Ed Foundation to support instructors and students. Help ranges from accessing brochures to training to designing and implementing a 12-week course with Wiki Ed support and an instructor dashboard. The dashboard is a powerful resource that lets you see what aspects of the training that students have completed, as well as all articles or other projects they are working on. You can get started at the main page for educators and proceed to various pages, such as the one that provides case studies of assignments and grading.

Let’s consider an example of a Wiki Ed course, this time from the life sciences. The course is “Molecular Genetics” and the main course page shows that it was taught this spring by Eric Guisbert of the Florida Institute of Technology, with assistance from Wiki Ed’s Ian Ramjohn. Clicking on the Dashboard link takes you to the details for the course; the header excerpt, linked to the Dashboard, is shown below.

Wiki Educator Molecular Genetics Page

This header, and further information found by clicking on its links (Timeline, Students, Articles, etc.) show that of the 27 students who registered for the Wikipedia option, 23 completed the training, and that this cohort edited 55 articles and created three new ones—about 1100 edits comprising some 31,400 words. The articles were viewed by Wikipedia users about 1.7 million times during the course, which provides a sense of the real-world impact—positive or negative—that student editors can have.

Let’s look at the work of one student with username Ncameron2013 (accessed via the “Students” link). Ncameron2013 was assigned (or chose) the article “Receptor Tyrosine Kinase” to edit and was also assigned (or chose) three other articles for peer review—that is, the student was tasked with reviewing and commenting on the work of the three student editors for those articles.[6]

View of student changes page

We can find out what Ncameron2013 did by clicking on the dropdown arrow on the right. The resulting screen shows that after completing the training modules and preliminary assignments,[7] Ncameron2013 was active, first in the Sandbox, commenting on the work of LBates2008 and Cbyrd2011 and creating a new section of the article entitled “Regulation” (March 12–15); then working on the article live from March 15–16. (See below.) Clicking on the “Show” button for any of these entries allows us to see the work that Ncameron2013 did on these occasions. This feature is helpful in giving an instructor a precise understanding of a student’s contribution to article development; it is especially useful in the event that another Wikipedian edits or deletes the student’s work (as has happened more than once with my students).

Table showing list of changes and contributor user names

In the case of Ncameron2013, the most extensive edit was the 8148-character addition on March 15 at 3:29 pm adding two new sections to the article—“Regulation” and “Drug Therapy”—as well as subsections, body text, references, and a table. (See the excerpt from the “Show” screen below; It shows the first two sentences and the relevant citations in Wikitext format.)

Snapshot of changes made by a student during one session

Ncameron2234 continued to modify this addition to the article over the next 24 hours before wrapping up on March 16 at 3:20 pm. You can see the net effect of Ncameron2013’s edits by using the “diff” feature in the View history tab for the article:

Changes made by an individual student in a 24-hour period

This generates a page that shows the differences between the version of the article before Ncameron2013 started working on it (version saved by Headbomb on 2 March 2017 at 5:30) and the by the time Ncameron2013 finished working on it, ignoring any edits in between (version saved by Ncameron2013 on 16 March 2017 at 21:20).[8] The current version of the article (with subsequent edits by others) can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Receptor_tyrosine_kinase. A screen shot from that version, reflecting Ncameron2103’s additions, is shown below:

The version of the page after student has completed updates

Finally, the citations that Ncameron2013 added to support these edits are shown below:

Citations included by student to reference sources

I hope that these blog posts have provided greater insight on how you can use Wikipedia assignments to help your students make the leap from consuming knowledge to creating it. From here, my recommendation is to “just do it” and learn how to adapt all of this to your own context. And if you’re excited about getting more involved, consider attending the annual international Wikimania conference, being held this summer in Montreal. Conference themes include the contributions of academic and cultural institutions within the Wikipedia movement, privacy and rights, and the role of technology in disseminating free knowledge. As for me, this will be my last blog post in this series before I take up my new position next month. I thank the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning for giving me this forum to share my thoughts, and invite you to stay in touch with your stories about the use of Wikipedia in higher education.


John Kleefeld is an associate professor at the College of Law, a 2017 teaching fellow at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, and incoming dean of law at the University of New Brunswick. Portions of this blog series are from an article that he and a former law student wrote about using a Wikipedia assignment for class credit. See J. Kleefeld and K. Rattray, 2016. “Write a Wikipedia Article for Law School Credit—Really?” Journal of Legal Education, 65:3, 597-621.


Notes

[1]    Hyperlinks in this grid direct to an external site, Wikimedia Labs. The link for the first 1000 entries in the stub-class, mid-importance category (that is, the intersection of these two ratings) is https://tools.wmflabs.org/enwp10/cgi-bin/list2.fcgi?run=yes&projecta=Physics&namespace=&pagename=&quality=Stub-Class&importance=Mid-Class&score=&limit=1000&offset=1&sorta=Importance&sortb=Quality. However, each of these categories has an equivalent article in Wikipedia itself; here, the relevant article link is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Stub-Class_physics_articles_of_Mid-importance.

[2]    See https://tools.wmflabs.org/enwp10/cgi-bin/list2.fcgi?run=yes&projecta=Physics&quality=FA-Class or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Physics#Featured_articles.

[3]    See https://tools.wmflabs.org/enwp10/cgi-bin/list2.fcgi?run=yes&projecta=Physics&quality=FL-Class (see especially the Featured List article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nobel_laureates_in_Physics).

[4]    See https://tools.wmflabs.org/enwp10/cgi-bin/list2.fcgi?run=yes&projecta=Physics&quality=GA-Class or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Physics#Good_articles.

[5]    This is a former Featured article, which means that the quality has slipped over time (see the articles’ Talk page).

[6]    The articles, not shown here, were “PLCG1,” “TLR4,” and “Classical genetics.”

[7]    See https://dashboard.wikiedu.org/courses/Florida_Institute_of_Technology/Molecular_Genetics_(Spring_2017)/timeline. See also the thorough set of assignments there, designed to gradually bring students up to speed on Wikipedia conventions and editing practices.

[8]    Times shown here are Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), closely related to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and used by Wikipedia to keep track of edits. For the “diff” comparison between former and revised versions, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Receptor_tyrosine_kinase&type=revision&diff=770669168&oldid=768683561.

Wikipedia’s Ways of Knowing – Part 2




In the first part of this two-part piece, I discussed arborescent (vertical, discrete, hierarchical) and rhizomatic (horizontal, overlapping, interconnected) ways of acquiring and classifying knowledge, as well as the convergence of the arbor and the rhizome in modern knowledge systems. In this part, I discuss how this applies to Wikipedia.

Most of us use the Web rhizomatically: we enter a search term in Google or Wikipedia, look at the search results, and follow the links, whether to other Wikipedia pages or other online or offline resources. As I said in the previous post, this lets us explore pathways that interest us most, and may also lead to more engaged learning. But this approach can be both over-inclusive, requiring us to sift through a lot of information before getting to what we need the most, and under-inclusive, in that we can miss relevant material that requires different search terms than the ones we used for searching. Fortunately, Wikipedia provides a number of ways for accessing knowledge that makes it a more powerful encyclopedia than it would be if you had to rely on the search engine alone.

The first of these is Portals, which in turn direct you to Categories. A teaser is found on Wikipedia’s home page, which has links to eight named portals as well as a link to all of them (see linked screen shot below).

Top bar on Wikipedia's home page with link to major categories.

The Biography portal reveals that biographies are categorized in various ways (e.g., by association, ethnicity, gender, nationality or occupation). Thus, using this method, you could find, for example, a linked list of all Wikipedia biographies on signatories of important documents (an association category), which in turn leads to a subcategory of Signatories of declarations of independence. The most famous of these is the United States Declaration of Independence, and a further subcategory links to the Wikipedia articles on all 56 signatories of that document. These articles are also listed in the Wikipedia page Signing of the United States Declaration of Independence, showing that there is often more than one path to an information source on Wikipedia.

There are currently 1491 portals on English Wikipedia, with one of these portals being an alphabetical index to all 5.4 million Wikipedia articles from Aa (you might be surprised to know how many rivers are named “Aa”) to ZZ (a scale used in model railroading). When it comes to categories, there is also an alphabetical index to all categories, though given the many thousands of categories, it may be more useful to access the topical category index, which organizes categories under 12 broad headings and provides a separate search engine just for categories (see linked screen shot below).

Wikipedia's Contents - Categories

I tested this by searching for a highly topical subject—cybercrime. The results show that this is a named category (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Cybercrime, the standard syntax for categories in Wikipedia). The results list a number of other related categories, such as Cyberwarfare and Cybercrime by country, several of which may be relevant to writing or editing a Wikipedia article. The Cybercrime category in turn currently has 20 subcategories and 123 pages, and the subcategories also have subcategories and pages of their own. Using this approach, I quickly found, for example, the recently created article on the WannaCry cyberattack, reported to have affected more than 230,000 computers in over 150 countries in May 2017.

The above approach proceeds from the general to the particular in a branching or arborescent fashion (though I could have started at an even higher level of generality—Crime by type). The point I want to make, though, is that you can also discover this structure by going from the particular to the general. For example, if I use Wikipedia’s basic search engine and type in “WannaCry,” I get the article on the WannaCry cyberattack; then, scrolling to the bottom of the article, I find lots of related information, including links to six portals; a template for the category Hacking in the 2010s, showing a timeline with major incidents, groups and vulnerabilities; and links to several other related categories, from “2017 in computer science” to “Ransomware.” From here, I can switch modes and proceed rhizomatically to other topics, while still being able to see the overall structures within which they are organized. In other words, Wikipedia lends itself to a high degree of convergence of both arbor and rhizome.

Image of the links to the major incidence of hacking in the 2010s

Wikipedia provides other methods of organization besides portals and categories, including third-party systems such as the Library of Congress Classification (LCC) system that I mused about previously (see below).

Letter Subject area
A General Works
B Philosophy, Psychology, and Religion
C Auxiliary Sciences of History
D General and Old World History
E History of America
F History of the United States and British, Dutch, French, and Latin America
G Geography, Anthropology, and Recreation
H Social Sciences
J Political Science
K Law
L Education
M Music
N Fine Arts
P Language and Literature
Q Science
R Medicine
S Agriculture
T Technology
U Military Science
V Naval Science
Z Bibliography, Library Science, and General Information Resources

While the LCC system has been criticized as being more a guide to the books in a library’s collection than a classification of the world’s knowledge, it is well developed and in use by many academic and research libraries. Its 21 classes are further subdivided into a large number of two- or three-letter subclasses that are listed on the LCC page, with, in many cases, links to their own pages. For example, subclass AE – Encyclopedias, mentioned in my last post, has its own Wikipedia entry. Many of these are important subject articles in their own right. For example, RB – Pathology, a subclass of class R – Medicine, links to the Wikipedia article on Pathology, considered of high importance to WikiProject Medicine and currently rated B-class on the project’s quality scale. (On these rating systems, see my blog posts from February 14 and February 28.) Thus for a researcher already familiar with the LCC system (or a component of it such as, in my case, subclass K – Law), Wikipedia offers a way to translate that familiarity and move easily from browsing a library shelf to browsing an online encyclopedia.

In my next post, I’ll bring together a number of concepts that I’ve been writing about. Specifically, I’ll tell you how you can work with Portals, WikiProjects, and the Wiki Ed program to create a course that incorporates Wikipedia assignments and that uses the Wiki Ed dashboard to keep track of student work.


John Kleefeld is an associate professor at the College of Law and a 2017 teaching fellow at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, where he is coordinating a campus-wide project on integrating Wikipedia assignments into course materials. Portions of this blog series are from an article that he and a former law student wrote about using a Wikipedia assignment for class credit. See J. Kleefeld and K. Rattray, 2016. “Write a Wikipedia Article for Law School Credit—Really?” Journal of Legal Education, 65:3, 597-621.

An Opportunity to Request Open Textbooks You Need




Many of the open textbooks being used at the U of S were found through the BCcampus open textbook repository. If you are interested in switching to an open textbook, but haven’t been able to find one for your course, this call for suggestions from BCcampus may be of interest to you:

In an ongoing effort to sustain and build the BC Open Textbook Collection, BCcampus asks for your help to identify subject areas within this collection that are missing open textbooks either entirely or in specific categories and/or course levels. As an overview, there are currently 180 textbooks in this collection covering eight main subject areas (Sciences, Trades, Business and Management, Liberal Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, Upgrading Programs, Health Related, and Recreation, Tourism, Hospitality and Service). Within these eight areas are 36 secondary subject areas. For a summary of these subject areas and links to specific books, go to the Open Textbook Stats page and click on the “Subjects” tab.

We ask that you please send us suggestions for subject areas that are missing open textbooks, those subject areas where you have heard from faculty “I would adopt an open textbook, but there isn’t one in my subject area”. Additionally, it would be helpful to have the following information for each identified subject area.

Textbook Subject
1. Subject
2. Course level
3. Specific topic with the subject (if applicable)

We will be reviewing these suggestions as we publish a new call for proposals in the coming months- proposals for creation, adaptation, adoption of open textbooks- preferably with a targeted approach based on the needs of the system.

Contact us: opentext [at] bccampus [dot] ca or go directly to the Suggestion for Collection form.

You may also contact me at heather.ross@usask.ca if you’re an instructor at the U of S with questions or would like assistance finding and integrating open educational resources appropriate for your course.

Wikipedia’s Ways of Knowing – Part 1




In my previous post, I characterized the subject categories in the Requested articles page as idiosyncratic and mused that they might be better based on the Library of Congress Classification system. As it happens, Wikipedia does map some of its articles (pages) into the LCC system, and also provides several other methods of organizing knowledge. Some of these are well known, some less so. I want to discuss them because I think that instructors and students alike should be familiar with ways of finding knowledge beyond today’s default method of keyword searching. First, though, I want to talk about two approaches to knowing or learning, which philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari termed arborescent and rhizomatic in their 1980 book, A Thousand Plateaus. I will then consider how these approaches are converging in web-based retrieval systems, including Wikipedia.

The Arbor and the Rhizome

The word arborescent is Latinate for treelike. Tree diagrams, also called dendograms (Greek: dendro, tree + gramma, drawing) have depicted genealogical relationships (“family trees”) since medieval times; the “tree of life” or variants on it have been used at least since Carl Linnaeus classified relationships among organisms; and the ubiquitous “org chart” is a kind of inverted tree. Arborescent ways of knowing are said to emphasize totalizing principles (the notion that universal facts can be discovered and classified), binary opposition (e.g., male-female; predator-prey), and relationships characterized by discrete branching hierarchies rather than horizontal interconnections.

The rhizome is also a botanical metaphor. A rhizome (Greek: “mass of roots”) is a stemlike root lying on or just below the soil surface and having the ability to send roots and shoots from its nodes. Think of ginger, ginseng, and many grasses. The concept allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points, with one thing potentially networked with many other things, sometimes in unpredictable ways. Ecosystems, power grids, and Web 2.0 are quintessentially rhizomatic systems. And Wikipedia is a quintessentially a Web 2.0 phenomenon, in allowing users to collaboratively create knowledge with multiple jumping-in and jumping-off points based on hyperlinked text and images.

Having identified the differences, I don’t want to convey the impression that rhizomatic ways of knowing are either entirely new or necessarily superior to arborescent ways.

As to newness, consider the dictionary, which, even before the 1755 publication of Samuel Johnston’s opus, came to be organized alphabetically rather than topically. This form of organization, which must at first have seemed arbitrary compared to its forebears, turns out to be surprisingly rhizomatic: I can open a dictionary at any page, read a word’s definition, and be led to another word and its definition through an italicized or bolded word in the definition. The idea is so powerful that it stuck: with today’s dictionary apps, you jump to the new word by clicking on it instead of turning pages. Consider also the polymath—a distinctly rhizomatous type of scholar. An early example was Aristotle, whose knowledge spanned physics, metaphysics, poetry, theatre, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, ethics, and biology. In a similar vein, Hildegard of Bingen was an abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, musician, mystic and medical writer. Leonardo da Vinci not only created the world’s most famous painting but is also credited with inventing the parachute, helicopter and tank. Erasmus Darwin, physician, poet and propounder of the evolutionary theory more rigorously developed by his grandson, penned a 4,400-line treatise that straddled all branches of science and technology and used a whimsical rhyming couplet structure footnoted with his scientific observations. Though polymaths are at risk of becoming an endangered species, recent interest in interdisciplinary studies may yet save them and their rhizomatic tendencies.

As to superiority, rhizomatic approaches let people access material in ways that are most intuitive for them and explore the links and pathways that interest them most. But while this can lead to more engaged learning, it can also be inefficient and leave knowledge gaps that more structured approaches would avoid. In other words, it can be both over- and under-inclusive.

I’ll illustrate this with an example from my own discipline, law—specifically, the “implied undertaking” rule in litigation.[1] Litigating parties have “discovery rights,” an aspect of which is that they can get copies of each other’s documents that are relevant to the litigation. In Canada, such rights are generally accompanied by an implied undertaking not to use the documents for a purpose outside the litigation (also framed as “collateral or ulterior” to the litigation). Suppose, for example, a dismissed employee sues her employer, a company, for wrongful dismissal. Through the discovery process, she obtains a report that one of the company’s officials made to a government ministry, with comments that criticize the former employee’s ethical conduct. She then starts a new lawsuit against the company official for defamation. If the lawsuit is based solely on the report obtained in the wrongful dismissal action, it will likely constitute a breach of the implied undertaking rule and be unsuccessful.[2] I say “likely” because the rule’s scope is subject to interpretation, may be overlaid with other court rules specific to a particular province, and may be subject to exceptions or court procedures in which a party can seek to be relieved of the undertaking.

Suppose I want to learn more about the rule. One way is to enter “implied undertaking” into a search tool like CanLII’s public-domain search engine or Westlaw’s proprietary product (available free with a U of S library account). This approach generates useful information—in the form of hundreds of case reports decided by judges. On skimming the cases, it becomes apparent that they are weighted according to relevance, which, in a mechanistic attempt at modelling human reasoning, means that they are ordered by the number of times the term “implied undertaking” comes up. This is neither a reliable nor an efficient way to learn about the scope of the rule or its exceptions, and even if I apply filters (for example, isolating the search to cases only in a certain province, or only at appeal-level courts), I am still likely to have to sort through dozens—perhaps hundreds—of cases. Even then, I will likely miss a lot of material because other terms are also used to refer to the concept, such as “deemed undertaking” or “undertaking as to confidentiality.” Isn’t there a better way to get an overview of the subject? Yes, and it’s arborescent.

That way is an encyclopedia article, in this case, from the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest (CED), another Westlaw product. One of the ways of accessing its material is through an alphabetically ordered, branching, hyperlinked table of contents. This requires some thinking about how the subject matter might be organized. After a bit of trial and error, the title “Discovery” seems an option. It has two headings, one for Ontario and one for the Western provinces. Scanning through the topics under either of these headings leads to the subheading for the article on the rule, as can be seen below (omitted subjects marked with an ellipsis).

Canadian Encyclopedic Digest

… D …

Discovery (Ontario)

Discovery (Western)

VII — Use of Discovery Evidence

1 — General

2 — Implied or Deemed Undertaking

Clicking on the subheading pulls up an 11-paragraph article that succinctly outlines the rule and how it works, footnoted with a couple of dozen cases for those who want to drill down to get more information. This still leaves me with a fair bit of reading to do, but not nearly as much as by following the purely rhizomatic approach.

Systems Convergence

In fact, the story I have just told is oversimplified, because it doesn’t explain how in modern knowledge systems, rhizomatic and arborescent approaches are evolving towards convergence. For example, the “Implied or Deemed Undertaking” article in the CED also has a paragraph that links to headings in the Canadian Abridgment Digests, which cover cases on the rule from across Canada in digest (condensed) form. Further, even if I had only used my simple keyword search, “implied undertaking,” I could have arrived at the digest list through the first case on my search results by clicking on a sidebar headed “Related Resources.”[3] Unfortunately, this list does not link back to the CED article on the topic, indicating that convergence is still a work in progress. But armed with the new information of a subject entitled “implied or deemed undertaking,” I can use that as a phrase in the CED search engine to find the encyclopedic article of the same name.

Other systems work in similar ways, with varying degrees of convergence. An example of a highly convergent system—one that allows for multiple searching approaches that are cross-linked to each other—is the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Its main web page allows you to choose from three searching methods: Browse, Advanced Search, and Keyword Search. Let’s suppose I want to look for books about collaboration in Wikipedia. I might start with something as simple as a Browse for subjects containing “Wikipedia” (see below).

Wikipedia Browse Subjects

This takes me to a page that lets me select from several subjects, including one just called “Wikipedia” with 24 records. In that list, I find two titles that seem to relate to my topic: Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia and Global Wikipedia: International and Cross-Cultural Issues in Online Collaboration. I click on them to see their records:

Wikipedia Results

Those titles may be enough to satisfy me, but I won’t have done a very thorough job of researching if I don’t also look at the information below the book title. The first thing I notice is that two books have different Library of Congress (LC) classification numbers.

The first starts with AE100. LC Class A is “General Works,” and subclass AE is “Encyclopedias.” The second starts with ZA4482. LC Class Z is “Bibliography, Library Science” and subclass ZA is Information resources/materials. Thus similar-sounding material may be indexed under different numbers—in the one case, the focus is more on encyclopedias and in the other more on user-generated knowledge—but the LC system allows me to search on both those numbers to expand the search pie. I can do that simply by clicking on the number beside “LC classification (partial)” or by searching for it as a call number in the Browse feature (see below).

Wikipedia Browse Call Number

If I do that, about 15 records come up for AE100 (followed by higher-numbered records; as the name implies, this feature is similar to browsing books on a shelf). If I do the same thing for ZA4482, about 20 records come up. I have now expanded my search results from 24 to 35 potentially relevant records.

If searching by call number seems too geeky to you, a different option presents itself in the form of related subject headings. There are six of these for the Good Faith book and five for the Global Wikipedia book, with an overlap in the first subject heading, “Wikipedia.” All of these are hyperlinked and take me to the subject listings in the LC catalog. For instance, if I click on the subject heading “Authorship–Collaboration–Case studies” under the record for the Good Faith book, I get three further entries, including one German book that falls in the ZA4482 class and a book on textual curation that falls in the AE1 class.

In my next post, I will show how Wikipedia uses the LCC system as well as several other organizational systems that allow for the convergence of both arborescent and rhizomatic ways of knowing.


John Kleefeld is an associate professor at the College of Law and a 2017 teaching fellow at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, where he is coordinating a campus-wide project on integrating Wikipedia assignments into course materials. Portions of this blog series are from an article that he and a former law student wrote about using a Wikipedia assignment for class credit. See J. Kleefeld and K. Rattray, 2016. “Write a Wikipedia Article for Law School Credit—Really?” Journal of Legal Education, 65:3, 597-621.


[1] I am indebted to a colleague, Heather Jensen, for the following example.

[2] See Goodman v Rossi (1995), 24 OR (3d) 359 (CA), 1995 CanLII 1888.

[3] My first search result was Jutte v Jutte, 2007 ABQB 191, reflecting the large number of times the term “implied undertaking” appeared in the case. Under “Related Resources” is the hyperlinked heading “Abridgment digests and classifications for all levels of this case.” Clicking on that leads to the following branch of the Canadian Abridgment Digests (the numbers of cases digested for each heading are shown in parentheses):

CIV Civil practice and procedure
CIV.XII Discovery
CIV.XII.1 Introductory (413)
CIV.XII.1.d Deemed or implied undertaking (153).

Clicking on the last of these headings leads me to the digests, sorted in reverse date order.