Why Open Educational Practices in Our Context?

In the previous post about open educational practices (OEP) at USask, I explained what they are. In this post, we will explore why so many people are already engaging in OEP, and why you should consider integrating these practices into your own teaching and research.

Our beliefs make us Open supporters

Open allows students to participate in the co-creation and sharing of text on current major issues (BLM / Indigenous lives, the pandemic, climate change, struggling small businesses) in their learning, demonstrating that USask is engaged with addressing major issues shaping the world and giving students relevant career skills they can demonstrate for potential employers.

When students create materials to share with an authentic, public audience, they work harder and care more, increasing student engagement with the course and discipline. Students who understand why a discipline matters take more courses in that subject.

It is principally important to share student work with the world (keeping it locked in the U of S isn’t what the world needs), because it engenders students with a deep understanding of the value of sharing and disseminating knowledge, making them allies of a primary mission of all universities, as described in Our learning Charter. These students become more effective ambassadors while on campus, and could be more inclined to see USask’s work as important when they become alumni.

Why now?

The COVID-19 pandemic has, in many ways, brought people together for a common cause, from neighbours getting groceries for neighbours, to scientists across the planet collaborating to find treatments and a vaccine for the virus. The U of S is playing a significant role in this research, but collaboration for and sharing of knowledge towards solutions to major problems doesn’t need to be limited to graduate students, post-docs, and those who have finished their formal education.

The world needs a place where students can learn about, engage with, and even create knowledge and find solutions to the problems we face, from issues around such problems as COVID-19, climate change, and racial and other forms of inequality. The world also needs such a place to share that knowledge and those solutions outside of the institution’s walls so that others can benefit and build upon the work being done. The U of S is in a position to be that place, to be “the university the world needs”.

Demonstrating our commitment to our students doing meaningful course work that contributes to knowledge

Undergraduate research, including through the FYRE (First Year Research Experience) program is being conducted in a growing number of courses across the U of S, with results being shared through poster sessions, on open websites, and in the open access Undergraduate Research Journal. Undergraduate research shared publicly allows for more than just the student researchers to learn from it, which is why the Undergraduate Research Initiative has begun promoting the open sharing of undergraduate research at the U of S.

The development of knowledge and finding potential solutions to the world’s problems can be embedded throughout the disciplines at the U of S. Providing students with opportunities to see how your discipline can contribute to these solutions not only increases student engagement within your courses, especially if that knowledge and ideas for solutions are shared beyond just your class, but may also encourage them to take additional courses in the program.

Support is available to help you engage in open educational practices

If you have questions about open educational practices (OEP) or need help finding open educational resources (OER) contact:

  • The Gwenna Moss Centre or Heather M. Ross directly
  • The Distance Education Unit if you are working with them on a course(s) where you would like to integrate OER or other OEP
  • The Library as your Library liaison may be able to help you find resources

What Are Open Educational Practices in Our Context?

We have seen significant growth in the use of open educational resources at the U of S in the past six years. As of this fall, more than a dozen open textbooks have been created or adapted at by instructors and students have saved well over $2 million dollars. “Open”, however, is about more than just textbooks and money saved, it’s about a way of thinking about teaching and learning.

This is the first in a serious of posts looking at the integration of open educational practices (OEP) already occurring at the U of S, as well as about the potential for integrating OEP into courses and programs across the institution. To start, what are OEP in the context of teaching and learning at the U of S during this time of COVID-19 where most of our courses are happening remotely.

OEP at the U of S in this context may include:

Materials are accessible

Open educational resources (OER) are freely available and shareable, increasing the access to the materials. Accessible also means that they should be available for those with differing abilities (e.g. use a screen reader) and for those who may not have access to higher-end technology, including high-speed internet.

Anyone can create, collaborate on, and share the materials

The principles of open not only allow, but rely on the ability for anyone to create / modify, collaborate and share materials. Examples of this include instructors collaborating on an adaption of an existing open textbook to better meet the needs of their students, and students engaging in the creation of learning materials to demonstrate their understanding of a concept (open pedagogy).

There are choices for the creator of materials as to what they will create and how they will share Whoever creates the materials may decide on the license they wish to put on their materials, which allows them to dictate how the materials may be used, changed, and shared. In addition, choice means providing creators / adaptors of materials, including students, to determine the format for the materials that they create. For example, for a particular assignment, students may be given the option of writing a paper, updating a Wikipedia article, or creating a poster for presentation

Making research data and publications available for everyone to access, use, and build upon

As most research is publicly funded, the data and results should, ideally, be made freely available to the public. In addition, such sharing of data and results allows for greater collaboration in addressing major issues facing the world such as COVID-19, environmental challenges, inequality, etc. This sharing and collaboration may happen with instructors, graduate, or undergraduate students (undergraduate research).

Reflecting on teaching and learning so that others may learn from our experiences

Reflecting on what has worked and what hasn’t in our teaching and learning allows us to learn from our successes and mistakes. Sharing those reflections with others through publications, blogs, and conversations allows others to learn from our experiences and the opportunity to offer us both support and potential solutions to problems.

Support is available to help you engage in open educational practices

If you have questions about open educational practices (OEP) or need help finding open educational resources (OER) contact:

  • The Gwenna Moss Centre or Heather M. Ross directly
  • The Distance Education Unit if you are working with them on a course(s) where you would like to integrate OER or other OEP
  • The Library as your Library liaison may be able to help you find resources

The Benefits of Using OER For Remote Teaching

Open Educational Resources (OER) have experienced a growing popularity at the U of S during the past six years, with more than 6,500 students using open textbooks and other OER instead of commercial textbooks. They’re free to use, easy to access, and allow for adaptation to improve student engagement and learning, as well as instructor academic freedom (no commercial publisher telling you what you should teach).

With the move of all U of S courses to being offered remotely for at least the spring and summer terms, the use of OER makes a lot of sense, especially with the Bookstore being closed. OER materials are easily accessible for instructors and students, without having to order a book online or purchase an access code, and users never lose access.

Below are some quick facts about OER:

  • OER, including open textbooks have had most copyright restrictions removed allowing for free access by anyone on any devise connected to the Internet.
  • OER can be printed. The Bookstore normally offers a print-on-demand service, but materials can also be printed at home if students wish.
  • OER exists for most major first year courses, and a growing number of other courses. If you wish to find OER, start with the BCcampus catalogue or contact Heather Ross at the GMCTL.
  • Most OER can be modified to meet local needs.
  • Instructors and students have created or adapted several open textbooks that can be found in our catalogue.
  • The U of S uses the Pressbooks platform for hosting, creating, and adapting open textbooks.
  • The U of S has funding to support the adaptation of existing OER and the creation of ancillary resources (test banks, slides, etc.)

If you would like more information about using OER or will be using OER in the coming terms, please contact Heather Ross.

Online Presentations and Poster Sessions Within Canadian Copyright Guidelines

We’ve had several instructors approach us about how to move their poster sessions and student presentations to a remote (online) environment. After extensive conversations with the Copyright Coordinator, Undergraduate Research Initiative Coordinator, and our Distance Education Unit, we felt it was a good idea to develop some support resources around this topic. An earlier post addressed choosing appropriate technology, while this one will provide guidance on staying within appropriate copyright parameters.

If the work does not contain any copyrighted materials then you have the option of having the students share their posters openly. Give them the option of what license they wish to put on their own work. This could mean that they choose to copyright it or choose to use one of the Creative Commons licenses. Let the students choose.

If, however, their posters or presentations contain copyrighted material, or you are unsure if it does, then please follow these recommendations laid out by the U of S Copyright Coordinator, Kate Langrell.

  • Put a prominent statement on a password protected webpage that says something to the effect of: “PLEASE NOTE: These posters are provided here for educational and research purposes, and for viewing only. Please do not copy, download, or distribute any materials from this page without written permission from the creator(s).” To facilitate this, consider including the instructor’ email unless the students are willing to share their own.
  • To be safe, limit access to the site to instructors and students within the college the course is part of.
  • Having the posters available for a limited time would also mitigate the risk of copyright issues.
  • All images and other copyrighted materials used in the posters or presentations should be cited. If there are any images that could be easily replaced with an openly-licensed or copyright-free alternative (e.g., a Creative Commons licensed image), that would lower the risk of copyright issues.

For more information on copyright, please see the University of Saskatchewan Copyright websiteUniversity of Saskatchewan Copyright website.

 

 

 

 

Online Homework Systems: How to Protect Student Privacy and Keep Materials Costs Down

Online homework systems (OHS) are online tools that can grade questions asked to students as homework, track formative practice, or assess examinations. Students can receive immediate feedback on the activities they complete using an OHS, providing students with a clear picture of how they are progressing and where they may need to do some additional work.

During the 2018-2019 academic year, approximately 70 courses included the use of online homework systems (OHS) that were registered through the U of S Bookstore. Several additional courses made use of these tools by sending students directly to publisher websites. OHS are used extensively through the STEM disciplines, but are also used in other fields including Psychology and business. While they have benefits for both instructors and students, there are concerns that both should be aware of.

Concerns

The Cost of OHS for Students

In about half of the courses using OHS purchased through the bookstore, students are required to make that purchase as part of their grade in the course. Often, the OHS is bundled with a textbook making it impossible for students to purchase a used textbook or even use one they purchased a previous year, in the case of needing to repeat a course. Publishers are also moving toward a model where bundled textbooks are only available online and for a limited time.

While instructors at the U of S have saved students almost $2 million in the past five years with a steady increase in the use of open textbooks, the costs associated with homework systems could potential counter that savings, something publishers are aiming for with methods such as bundling textbooks and OHS.

Student Purchases Directly From Publishers

As I noted above, in some courses students are sent directly to publisher websites to purchase access to an OHS. This requires them to have a credit card and opens them up to privacy breaches of their financial information as well as any additional information that publishers require them to submit. This risk can be mitigated by instructors having students purchase required access codes through the Bookstore.

Limitations for Instructors

While OHS can make grading, especially in large classes, easier for instructors and TAs, but there are also limitations. In many cases, instructors have little control over the content being assessed. In addition, some systems, especially if students are going directly through the publisher’s website, won’t integrate with the grade book in Blackboard.

Supports For Instructors

The U of S Bookstore Wants to Help Keep Costs Low for Students

I’m often asked how the Bookstore feels about the growth of open textbooks and the questioner is surprised when I say “they love it, they’re the ones who offer the print-on-demand service for open textbooks.” The U of S Bookstore wants to speak with instructors about how to lower materials costs for students. Most classes use traditional course materials, which are made by publishers, but ordered by instructors. In their role as supplier of these materials, the Bookstore is limited in what it can do and needs instructor help in reducing costs for students. To learn more about how to reduce costs for students, please visit their website here or reach out.

ICT Can Help Protect Student Privacy

In order to protect student privacy, the U of S has established formal terms of use agreements with a number of software and textbook publishers addressing required privacy, legal, security, and business requirements. ICT has a webpage listing the publishers who have signed agreements with the U of S. 

Help and Funding For Alternatives to Commercial OHS

The GMCTL can assist you in finding alternatives to requiring students to purchases access to commercial OHS in three ways:

  • Advise instructors on alternative forms of assessment
  • Discuss with instructors options for non-commercial OHS
  • Provide funding for the development of assessments such as test-banks

For more information about these options, please contact Heather M. Ross at the GMCTL.

Guidelines for the Use of OHS at USask

The U of S is currently developing guidelines for the use of OHS at the university. These guidelines will take into account the needs of both students and instructors.

First-time Thoughts on a Student Blog Assignment

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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?

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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.

 

Putting it All Together

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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

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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

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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.