Slovene student projects in Wikipedia and Wikisource
The paper at the Third regional Wikimedia conference in Belgrade, December 19.-21., 2008
My name is Miran Hladnik. I teach Slovene literature at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and I contribute to Wikipedia and sister projects in my free time as well during my job time. I am introducing Wikipedia into the educational process not only as a source of information, but also as a place where we can upload our knowledge and help build the open access world of information. I am going to present two of my activities:
- Wikipedia student project Slovene literary historians, and
- Wikisource student project Slovene literary classic texts.
As a professor of Slovene literature I conduct three courses: an introduction into Slovene literary history for the freshmen, lectures on Slovene narrative in 19th and 20th Century for the 2nd grade and a seminar for the final year of study for those who have selected literary history as their degree seminar. I have been enthusiastic about computers from the eighties onwards, but I have never gathered enough knowledge to use computers as a research tool. I replaced my typewriter with an Atari computer in 1986, wrote my PhD thesis on it a year later, got my own mail address and began internet communication in 1990, started scanning literary texts the same year, during my research stay in Göttingen, Germany, and I created and published my first web pages in 1995, consisting of personal, language, discipline and institutional information.
Student assignments keep piling up in my room # 218 at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana. After being corrected and graded, they are no longer read or used. To make them useful, in 2004 I suggested to write encyclopedic bio-bibliographic articles of honorary members of our society, to students, who needed a grade, so that they could be published on the web pages of the Slovene Society of Slavic Studies. Not everybody was apt to convert articles, written in Word, in a simple html form, and not everybody had the right to access the faculty server, so I burdened a skilled student with the task of html-ization of articles and publish them.
I made acquaintance with Wikipedia in November 2005 with a birthday present for me: a friend of mine, Marc L. Greenberg, wrote an article about me in the Slovene Wikipedia. A year had passed till I realized it's a matter of polite behavior to return him with a similar act and another year till this noble intention was realized by one of my students. Meanwhile, I gathered experience with Wikipedia and the idea about how to participate in it has been incubated.
In 2006 it came to my mind that Wikipedia could serve my purpose to publish biographies of the founders of our discipline and to serve at the same time as a teaching tool within the academic educational process. I've opened a student project Slovenski literarni zgodovinarji [Slovene literary historians]. Two pages were necessary at start: a list of all Slovene literary historians to be made and a project page. Not too many colleagues used Wikipedia in the same manner at that time. Roman Maurer registered first Slovene Wikipedia-projects in September 2004, the student projects only in 2006: historians in January (20 articles) and theologists in October (20 students); the latter are continuing with their project, however sporadically. Though historians are located just one floor lower at our faculty in Ljubljana where I work, I haven't made any contacts with them to benefit from their experience yet.
One possible obstacle troubled my mind when I started the project. I was afraid this could ruin one of the basic features of Wikipedia and could lead into its decay – volunteering. As soon as we switch off the enthusiasm of participating for free and introduce a kind of payment for the work done (grading as a kind of payment), we are canceling the most attractive side of Wikipedia. It is true that we hardly distinguish between work and hobby, but this is the privilege of academe. Most people connect school with things like job, duty, payment, obligation, suffering, unwillingness, law ... and draw a line between this world and a world of free time, joy, pleasure, hobby, recreation etc. We love Wikipedia as long as it is a part of free time activities. Bringing school, assignment, notes ... to Wikipedia means contaminating the nicer part of the world with the bad one. This possible trouble reminds me of one of Slovene writers' grumbling about the fact, that his texts are among the others in a textbook for student reading at the secondary school. Everybody knows that authors to be read are hated by students. (Unfortunately, local authors are not aware that nobody would read them if they were not a part of compulsory school reading.)
On the other hand, nobody would write encyclopedic articles on Slovene writers, on literary historians, writers and their books, if we didn't do the job. Or it would last too long to get them onscreen. Or we couldn't trust the results, if incompetent volunteers wrote about them in their free time. These reasons prevailed and already three years have passed since the project was started. We've put about hundred of profiles of Slovene literary historians on Wikipedia and have opened or supported additional student projects:
- composing a Wikibook on Children's literature and subprojects, all conducted by Milena Mileva Blažić
- engaging foreign students on exchange to translate and modify Slovene articles into their native languages and publish them in their national Wikipedias
- filling the bank of Slovene poetic and fictional texts in the Wikisource environment
- spreading wiki-writing to additional subjects: (http://sl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedija:WikiProjekt_Romani, http://sl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedija:WikiProjekt_Slovenski_pisatelji) and stimulating it among academic colleagues via short introductory courses.
I have been searching the wiki-world to find similar projects elsewhere, but haven't found much information, probably due to bad linkage among them: only 13 national Wikipedias include schools and university projects. In the Category Wikipedia articles as assignments 385 articles are listed as a part of school and university courses. To improve this situation a bit, I've linked the Slovene student project with some international projects. Similar has to be done also with other unlinked local projects, e.g. Vikipedija:Tim/seminarski radovi by Djordje Stakić.
The experience that student projects bring into local wiki-communities differs from what is reported within the English Wikipedia. Articles within English student projects are subject to severe judgement and selection by the administrators and a number of them are deleted, radically changed, rudely banned or their contents get included elsewhere. Local Wikipedias tolerate badly written articles, because having a bad article or stub is still better as not having any article at all. Bad articles stimulate users to consider the corrections. The number of critical users and writers helps the articles' quality grow. Students' projects presume, in principle at least, the competent participants who execute control upon the written stuff. Some professors rank seminar articles, report about their popularity (no. of accesses, no. of quotations of the article, no. of revisions etc.). Writing Wikipedia articles has been used even in postgraduate degree courses.
Let me resume the report about the experience with writing Wikipedia articles in class, which:
- avoids stacks of assesment papers which finish in trash after a year or more,
- stimulates a higher quality of writing, due to the awareness, that not only the professor is going to read the paper, but also student colleagues and and general public; the quality of the work is superior to the typical in-class assignment and sense of »ownership« of one's work is greater,
- is a good introduction to the academic world, which focuses on the production and dissemination of knowledge,
- develops critical thinking and deletes the gap between study for its own sake and study to solve practical questions.
Students need a teacher's help to learn the language and style appropriate for an encyclopedia-type of article. Writing Wikipedia articles contributes to the pedagogical experience, such as learning to identify credible material, appropriately using copyrighted items, providing appropriate references, and identifying research topics by noting gaps in the existing Wikipedia material. The combination of these issues requires significantly more mentorial care than a typical term paper would.
Let us list the concerns.
- In English Wikipedia a question arises if this kind of work is a general or long-term solution to the fact that Wikipedia is selective regarding the significance of the material it incorporates, and many areas of study already have a detailed material in place, so there's going to be finite room for contributions. There is no such concern with Slovene Wikipedia, as so many topics haven't been covered yet. In addition, it is always possible to go into details and redefine the encyclopedic conciseness and selectivity also in the English Wikipedia.
- The danger to intentionally fake the facts exists, but is mostly avoided, due to permanent supervision of the wiki-community. The assumption that Wikipedia info doesn't go through any peer reviewing is wrong: actually it is happening daily.
- Writing for Wikipedia arises a questions which information is true (reliable) and how to choose among the rivaling descriptions/definitions of the same phenomenon. As I have never read a convincing answer to this question, I am answering from my own conviction: writing articles for Wikipedia forces us to compare different concepts of the world we meet reading about the same topic in other Wikipedias. It opens an intercultural experience and relativizes our »own« point of view.
- Is publishing students' assignments legal? Students and professors should be vitally interested in publishing students' seminar works online. Not many other forms of publishing exist and publishing is, especially in the humanities, the only way of how we document our professional activity. I simply don't understand why some university authorities are suspicious of putting course materials onto the web, though from the legal point of view, course assignments are owned by the institution and not by the students, who have them written. No clear legal decisions have been made yet because institutions avoids legal conflict and don't force students to publish online if they don't want to. Personally, I am familiar with two cases where a web publication was banned. First, a colleague professor was forbidden to demand from her students to publish their work in Wikipedia due to the protest of some students and their support by rival professors; second, a PhD candidate rejected to publish the digitized opus of a mid-19th Century woman writer, although popularizing the work of this writer was the principle goal of the thesis. Understand if you can.
At the moment we are satisfied with the results of our work. We were told our students' articles don't require a lot of corrections. Compared to alternative sources, their data are fresh, checked by the »object« or his/her relatives. In seminar where articles are presented, two or three in a session, encyclopedic style, wiki-style, grammar, objectivity are checked by the professor and by the student's colleagues.
At the beginning of each year, I open a new chapter within the project, choose 40–60 names to handle from the list and arrange them among 20–25 sessions, 2–3 per one session (the remaining 5–10 sessions are reserved for other seminar work). Students then edit this timetable putting down their names (together with their user names or their email) to a chosen subject. They publish their article prior to its presentation, so the audience could read them in advance and prepare their advice and corrections.
The genre of bio-bibliographical articles is rather simple to manage and its structure is well known. The articles consist of the following chapters: Life, Work, Bibliography, Links, preceded by the head with labelling information about a person (birth and death data, principle activities) and followed by the Categories line. A picture of a person is added at the beginning if available, and a reproduction of a cover or a title page of his/major major books.
Students should first read the instruction at the project page and its talk page, common Help and Pod lipo ([sl. 'Under the linden tree' = Village pump]). If this doesn't do, they are supposed to ask the administrator, who volunteers on the project. The administrator Domen's help (he was competent even in cases concerning grammar) was so much respected at the start, that students decided to invite him in the class. We were astonished to read in his answer that he is still an elementary school pupil.
Every student in the seminar is obliged to contribute at least five corrections to their classmates' articles. During the presentation, beside the student who presents his/her work I am alas the most frequent corrector. As there is not enough time to immediately correct mistakes, the presenter considers the remarks later at home. At the end of a semester, we check the corrections prior to grading his/her work. To write an article, a student first has to read all the printed enyclopedic information available, bibliography in the national Cobiss (Cooperative online bibliographic system and services) catalogue, and of course, all the information on the Internet and resume it. Common sources are not expected on the reference list, but just the specific and harder accessible ones.
Slovene literary historians are not a plausible subject of other national Wikipedias, so interwiki linking is rarely demanded. For the same reason, their images are loaded mostly within domestic Wikipedia and not into Wikimedia collection. Uploading images is one of the most discussed issues, as images without a proper licence and description of the source are regularly deleted. Proofs of their origin are sometimes put on a talk page, e.g. a copy of a letter by the treated person or his/her relatives, in which they allow their publication. Another difficult issue are the categories. Some literary historians exercised also other professional activities in their lives and we need to add new categories.
The students learn avoiding repetition of information in the bibliographical chapter, they should gain sense for distinguishing important facts from less important facts, they recognize the archaic style in older encyclopedic sources and avoid it, they learn avoiding the laudation style used in funeral or anniversary talks. If there is some anecdotic material present or an appropriate citation, they learn how to include it. The best way to identify important issues is linking. The students have to make a decision which phenomenon should get a status of a potential encyclopedic article and decide about a proper formulation of such an entry. Contacts with the »subject« (if still alive) is appreciated. Literary historians are asked to check the data, refresh them and to give a photo to publish. How much should the object's judgement and wishes be respected? The conflict between the students' formulation and the »subject's« wishes is possible, but has never occurred so far, neither has happened that the biographee would change the article of himself. A daughter of a subject corrected wrong dating that burdened previous encyclopedic sources; some completely new facts were registered, so we can state Wikipedia articles about literary historians offer the most accurate information at the moment.
How do we follow the principle rules of Wikipedia?
- perfection is not (yet) required
- polite behaviour: those who correct our articles are not mean. If someone perpetually corrupts our entry, it is because we failed to contact him and discuss the issue. Constant checking the history and the talk page of our entry is necessary to avoid conflicts;
- creative reflexing and modifying of the rules: also some original research is appreciated, when there is no commonly accepted knowledge available to resume.
Diversity among articles and their different length is caused by the fact that sometimes only scarce information is amenable and another time abundance of them. Chapters are joined in the first case, or additional chapters added in the second case. Ambitions grow: articles get longer along the project, following the example of well-written and praised examples.
Another year would be necessary to cover all Slovene literary historians on the list. Instead, I am going to propose writing of a different sort next year: the students are going to check the literary links in our previous articles, complement the information if stub or write it anew if the article is still missing. Categories will be supplemented and additional lists formed with the goal to connect and fulfill literary knowledge in Slovene Wikipedia. Another project should start: major Wikipedias share a comparable platform for literature Portal:Literature, however, not yet Slovene Wikipedia, though literature has always played a privileged role among Slovenes, who would still like to be considered as a »literary nation«.
As Internet archive WaybackMachine shows, 45 books in html-format were available at the end of 1996 on my Slovensko leposlovje [Slovene literature] page, 80 are there by today. In 2001 Franko Luin, typographist and font designer from Trst and living in Sweden, included this corpus in his collection of Slovene literary classics and added new digitized items, numbering 300 books by the time of his death in 2005 – they are no longer accessible. Franko was not very sensitive about the authorial rights and he included also a number of authors who were dead less than 70 years. I haven't heard of the protests of their heirs, as the pdf-format of books didn't allow users to copy-paste these texts. Mathematician Primož Jakopin increased the number of Slovene poetic, dramatic and fictional texts in the collection Nova beseda, which now consists of 12–14 billion words, presenting 5 % of the 240 billion words corpus, and enables word search and concordances. IntraText Digital Library in Vatican does something similar on a smaller corpus. Lately, from 2005 on, Dlib (Digital library of Slovenia) took over the initiative with the digitization of Slovene literary journals and books, presenting them in searchable pdf- and html-format. 340 Slovene books (translations from German) have been put online in frames of the TraDok project at the University of Graz, conducted by Erich Prunč. Google books brings some valuable rare and old books on the screen, too. The problem of the latter three depositories is, that they consist of OCRed texts, that haven't gone through manual correction: in case of very old texts, only their images are useful. Additional books are obtainable at the personal literary pages of authors, the association of blind people, the poetic portal Pesnik.net, online magazines as Locutio;; Slovene branch of Rastko project.
There is no need to argument the digitization of national literary heritage and publish it online: what doesn't exist on the Internet, it doesn't exist at all. We don't read much any more. If we want at least students to read what they decided to study, we have to make texts availabe in the best possible form. Institutional projects are simply too slow to meet our needs. In addition to the listed resources, Wikisource proved good to neet these goals. Less training is demanded for participation in Wikisource, so more workers could be engaged as with the former projects. An overview of what has already been done is missing, a common searchable and classified list of digitized Slovene texts. Wikisource student project Slovenska leposlovna klasika (2008) has the ambition to become the starting point and an aggregate of Slovene digitized texts.
Plans and priorities of Wikisource student project
- We plan to document all we already have in the digital form, so that the work wouldn't get duplicated. The list of all digitized texts is in progress, edited by Matjaž Rebolj.
- We acquire texts that teacher colleagues have digitized for educational purposes and deposit them on their CDs and HDs at home, transfer them on the institutional server and establish a »homepage« for each one of them in Wikisource, uploading their images or a rude OCR together with basic bibliographic data.
- We acquire online available texts in less usable and less open formats: pdfs, old ASCII, LaTeX, etc., convert them into the wiki format and correct them.
- Colleagues literary historians and linguists were called for their priority lists of texts to be digitized.
- Literary community is regularly informed about the existence of the acquired texts, called for the editorial work to be done and notified about the finished texts. The Slovlit discussion group that includes 1170 members, mostly philologists, is the principle information channel.
There are three types of students involved: all freshmen without previous knowledge, ambitious students from all four classes, and a few »experts«. Freshmen (about 100) qualify for further assignments by putting a short text by a classic author (e.g. a sonnet) on Wikisource. I have opened their class page at the bottom of the project site and pasted the list of enroled students there. Students are supposed to add links to the texts they have scanned, typed or corrected next to their names. Another page has been opened for students, who got stuck between two grades. Their activity within the project is rewarded with a higher grade. The majority of project's work has been done by a good dozen of students, who were attracted by the possibility to earn some money. In the Spring 2008 I applied for a ministerial financial support and got close to 10.000 eur to multiply Slovene online literary corpus with texts in a volume of 4 billion words till the end of the year.
380 texts (mostly in a book length) have been put on the project site, 186 of them have been corrected, 200 still waiting for correction. On the talk page to the project standard OCR-mistakes were listed in detail, with the instruction how to deal with chapters, lists of contents, notes, poems, quotations, etc. and how to equip texts with category tags which help when we search for different types of texts and genres: 19th century poetry, sonnets, historical novels etc. Equipping texts with category tags is far from being finished. The level of proofreading is marked with a number on a scale from 1-4 in the head of a document. Images of text, its source, and bibliographic data are there as well. Students documented their work in a table, with links to the corrected text, time spent and the tariff. As the one responsible for the project, I signed entries after checking their work.
The project contract for 2008 has been realized, but the perspectives of this kind of work have only opened. Much more has to be done in comparison with what has already been done. If the enthusiasm will last, next year novels and long stories published in major literary magazines in the 19th and in the first half of the 20th century are going to be corrected and put on Wikisource, as well as books from Google project. A tool like Distributed Proofreaders by Project Gutenberg or Rastko will be needed. The classics of popular literature are going to be added. Contemporary authors or their agencies and publishing houses are going to be contacted to allow electronic publication. They will hardly resist, I assume, because the competition of freely available works will be too strong: readers have got used to free quality reading material.
Maybe I was too courageous when I introduced writing in Wikisource in the first class: a lot of mistakes have to be corrected. If this self-criticism proves to be legitimate, I am going to ask Slovene Wikimedians to open the Slovene Wikiversity page, which is supposedly going to be less restricted, and transfer some of student work there. In general, I am convinced that not the reliabilty and quality of the articles is the ultimate goal of introducing Wikipedia and Wikisource in an educational process (though reliabilty and quality are highly demanded), but to help realize students how rewarding the experience of active participation in presenting cultural facts in digital form is. This is a unique cultural experience and, I am sure, so positive, that outweighs eventual negative collateral damage. Students should find pleasure in creative addition, correction and modification of the information. Wiki-projects shouldn't be looked upon just as a better source of information, but as a place where we can upload our knowledge, express our creativity, exercise our personal activity, develop social responsibility and cooperation, and gain the feeling that we are not helpless toys in the hands of a higher power (destiny, genes, history, God, corporations, states ...), but that every indivudual has a chance and power to influence the world.
- The number of Wikipedia articles in the region (50.000–100.000) ranks us as follows: 17. Turkish, 18. Rumanian, 21. Hungarian, 23. Slovak, 31. Serbian, 32. Slovenian, 33. Bulgarian, 36. Croatian.
- Some of student's assesments, however, get status of featured article.
- EDUCASE conference 2007. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/10/29/wikipedia
- School and university projects. Since July 16, 2003.
- WikiProjekt Literatur. Since May 1, 2004.
- Andrea Forte, Amy Bruckman. From Wikipedia to the Classroom: Exploring Online Publication and Learning. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference of the Learning Sciences. Bloomington, IN, June 2006.
- WikiProject Classroom coordination. Since April 12, 2007.
- WikiProject North of the Rio Grande. Since September 1, 2008.
- Miran Hladnik. Slovene Language, Literature and Culture on the Internet. Die erweiterte Europäische Union und Südosteuropa: 33. ABDOS Tagung, Kiel; 24.–26. maj 2004. Berlin: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preussischer Kulturbesitz, 2005 (Veröffentlichungen der Osteuropa-Abteilung, 33). 54–58.
- --- Sodobna slovenska literatura in elektronski viri / Contemporary Slovene Literature and Electronic Sources. Almanah Svetovni dnevi slovenske literature / Almanac World Festival of Slovene Literature. Ed. Alojzija Zupan-Sosič. Ljubljana: Filozofska fakulteta, Center za slovenščino kot drugi/tuji jezik, 2006. 20–23.; 
- --- Wikipedija v izobraževalnem procesu [Wikipedia in education]. January 19, 2007.
- --- Wikipedija in Slovenci [Wikipedia and Slovenes]. Gorenjski glas April 13, 2007.
- --- Kako selimo slovensko književnost na splet [How we transfer Slovene literature on the Internet]. Zbornik SSJLK. Ljubljana: FF UL, 2008. 164–67.