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Report on Wikipedia Work Group Pilot Projects for Schools (2012)


The Wikipedia Work Group pilot project for schools in Lower Saxony started in the 2012 – 2013 school year. The project was carried out by the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs of Lower Saxony represented by Division 23.4 (Reading Skills and Language Acquisition) and the Lower Saxony Institute for Quality Development at Schools (NLQ, digital media training department) in cooperation with Wikimedia Deutschland and the State Media Authority of Lower Saxony (NLM). The project involved observing how teachers in five schools in Hanover (can) use Wikipedia in their classes. The teachers received training in a series of seminars and had the opportunity to ask a Wikipedia author directly about questions concerning their work in classes. The project was a combination of training courses on Wikipedia and initiatives to enable the teachers to embed Wikipedia in didactic contexts. Five different types of secondary level I schools from the city and region of Hanover took part in the project. The project was supervised by Professor Silke Grafe from Ruhr-Universität Bochum.  


Learnable and expandable skills in working with Wikipedia:

  • Reading skills (content, structure, interpretation…)
  • Writing skills (what, why, how…?)
  • Media skills (analysis, criticism, production …)
  • Social skills (collaborative work, communication …)
  • Subject expertise (on a specific topic)
  • Language acquisition

The aim of using Wikipedia actively in classes was to generate a critical discussion on Wikipedia’s processes and structures.

The projects[edit]

The classes developed different ways of using Wikipedia in class. They all began by examining and familiarizing themselves with the medium of Wikipedia. Following a critical debate on the development of Wikipedia, the pupils analyzed and discussed several articles. The projects ranged from writing an article on a theatre play and editing the article on the school in question to compiling a short entry on a local football player and observing how this article developed. One group made minor amendments to articles on biology, while another took a critical look at articles on globalization. Working with the Simple English articles in Wikipedia proved to be very helpful in the collaboration with young pupils. These pupils would have welcomed a Simple German version! The groups also worked with images. For example, they took photographs of everyday objects and uploaded them. All of the projects led to the conclusion that using Wikipedia actively was very beneficial to both sides – pupils and teachers. The experiences they made helped pupils and teachers to deal confidently with contents and to look critically at them.


There were remarkable developments among the teachers who took part in the project. All of the teachers initially felt rather insecure about the project. The intensive Wikipedia training at the start of the project meant that a lot of knowledge was taught – but was not retained by the teachers. If the project is continued, we recommend a more light-hearted introduction for the teachers. From the start, this should be based on communication between the teachers and the experience of interaction with other community members.

The reports provided by the teachers at the end of the project were very diverse. The different skills of the participating pupils and teachers led to a striking variety of approaches. However, these different approaches had one thing on common: the participants realized that using Wikipedia actively gives them the opportuntiy to defend their own position, to communicate, and to articulate their views. All of the participants were initially skeptical, but by the end of the project they felt that the learning-by-doing approach had been very helpful.

During the final presentation, all of the participants initially felt that the project had not been a success. But over the course of the meeting, once all of the teachers had reported on the difficulties and processes they had experienced, it became clear that the journey was its own reward. Although the schools had taken very different approaches, they had all learned more about the “Wikipedia system” and acquired experience that changed their perception of the production of knowledge. Furthermore, the pupils’ self-confidence was increased by the realization that they too had become a part of Wikipedia through their active participation in small (minor amendments) and large steps (writing articles).

The teachers gave many examples of how their pupils’ perception of Wikipedia had changed. The pupils felt very motivated by the experience of becoming part of the community and being able to change the “system” themselves. In the final analysis, the focus was on the work process. It was important to illustrate this process by keeping a record of the page version or taking screenshots. In other words, the process was more important than the content!

The teachers also discovered that the same rules apply online as in real life. Many thought that the idea was to finish an article and then simply upload it, but they were inspired by their pupils, who had the courage to publish unfinished articles. All of the participants were surprised by Wikipedia’s basic idea of learning together and improving contents by sharing them. The project participants were fascinated by the discovery that there is a medium where mistakes do not matter as they can be corrected as part of a collaborative process. How teachers dealt with this shift of expertise was crucial to the success of the project. In many of the classes, there were one or two pupils who had already corrected or written articles.

The teachers were impressed by the diversity of the range of skills acquired. Almost all the skills described in the project concept were acquired. However, this was only recognized in the final meeting and the skills were only then perceived as such. In conclusion, we can say that collaborating on texts and observing the reactions to the texts, regardless of whether these reactions were positive or negative, had an important learning impact. The project confirmed Wikipedia’s motto: "Be bold!".