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With Wikipedia in the classroom, a former student has become the teacher

Four years ago, Ismael Andani Abdulai was in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, working towards a master’s in law.

One of the required courses for that degree was on cyber law, focusing on legal issues related to computers, the internet, and information technology. Appropriately, the professor in charge of the class assigned their students to edit Wikipedia articles.

“As part of our assessment for the class, each student was required to write a Wikipedia article on any topic related to the course,” he told us. “We were also required to peer review the articles of at least two of our colleagues.”

Like many students, Ismael was no fan of assignments handed down by his teachers—but this one was different. To his surprise, he was excited and enthused about getting graded for editing and reviewing Wikipedia.

“I was … keen on this assignment … because I thought it would be a fun way to contribute something useful to the world,” he says.

Besides being enjoyable and novel, Ismael had another motivation for editing. “There is a sense of pride and achievement each time I see my article pop up in a search,” he admitted.

Today, Ismael is a part-time lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) in Accra, and he’s putting his Wikipedia experience to work.

In 2017, he called on the Wikimedia Ghana User Group to help him set up a Wikipedia Education Program at the institute (now known as Wikimedia Education). “I thought I would give my students an opportunity to share in the same excitement I did when it was introduced to me,” he says, adding that “it was also an opportunity to share more material on Ghanaian law.”

Since Ismael was teaching a class on intellectual property law, focusing on topics like industrial property rights and copyright, Ismael assigned his students to create articles around that topic.

The program, which he named ‘Wikipedia Education Program Gimpa’ or simply ‘WEP Gimpa’, had 60 participants—the entirety of Ismael’s intellectual property law class.

The Wikimedia Ghana User Group hosted two workshops for the class as part of the program before the assignment got underway.

The first workshop introduced the students to Wikimedia, Wikipedia, and Wikimedia in education around the globe. The second gave them the opportunity to create Wikipedia accounts and also learn how to create and edit articles.

The next activity was the assignment to write articles. “It was a mandatory assignment, so it was not too much of a problem getting them involved,” Ismael amusedly recounted.

The user group took note of the versatility of Wikipedia as a teaching tool in the classroom.

In one activity, students could learn through writing articles and contributing knowledge, for which they would get rewarded. The tutor could also rely on it as an innovative way to give exercises.

However, these benefits didn’t come without hurdles.

“Many of [the students] didn’t quite understand Wikipedia editing standards, and that was quite a challenge,” Ismael said. “Also, because of numbers, they had to work in groups so managing them was a bit easier, although I’d have preferred individual assignments.”

Alongside his students, Ismael has learned from the assignment as well. In the future, he’d like to “devise a way to improve supervision, both in terms of content, and in terms of actual editing.”

Still, Ismael ended his interview hopeful. “Yes, I am [happy],” he said. “I’m hoping at least one of [the students will] take it a step further” and become a regular editor of the site.

Sandister Tei and Justice Okai-Allotey
Wikimedia Ghana User Group

This blog post has been edited to clarify that the Wikipedia Education Program is now known as Wikimedia Education.

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