Wikimedia South Africa/Training

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This is the pre-work course material for the Train the Trainer event to be held by ITOCA on 29 and 30 October 2012 in Centurion, South Africa. The course will be presented by David Richfield (email:

What do you need to know?[edit]

This course is primarily aimed at librarians, information specialists and educators from around South Africa. I will assume that you are properly computer literate: you know how to use a web browser; how to cut and paste text; how to save files and upload them; and install software (for the section about Kiwix - this will be covered during the hands-on training, not in the pre-work), but you don't need to know anything about Wikipedia or Wikimedia.

What will you learn?[edit]

In this course, we will cover the following material, and you will be given material to help you explain it to students, library users and other community members:

  • What Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects are,
  • How to access Wikipedia,
  • How it can be used in academic settings,
  • How it should not be used in academic settings,
  • How to evaluate the quality of a Wikipedia article,
  • How to contribute to Wikimedia projects
  • The implications of free licenses on re-using Wikimedia content
  • The implications of free licenses on contributing to Wikimedia projects
  • How to use Kiwix to browse Wikipedia offline (for example for institutions without internet connections)

Besides being able to discuss these topics informally, you will also be given material to help you present lectures and seminars similar to this one.

This web page covers the preparatory material that course attendees will be expected to cover in preparation for the course. It is not on Wikipedia: it's on the Wikimedia Foundation's "meta-wiki" - a community site used for Foundation projects, so you will not be able to edit it. All your editing will be done on the English Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons.

Introduction to Wikipedia and Wikimedia[edit]

Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our commitment.

— Wikimedia Foundation vision statement

The problem with Wikipedia is that it only works in practice. In theory, it's a total disaster

— Gareth Owen, 19:47, 20 January 2006

Wikipedia was started in 2001 by Jimmy Wales, but is now run by an international non-profit organisation called the Wikimedia Foundation. Wikipedia was never expected to be a high-quality reference work: just a feeder project for a “proper” internet encyclopedia, called "Nupedia", edited by experts. Shortly after Wikipedia's creation, it completely overtook its parent project in size and quality. Nupedia was shut down, and Wikipedia continued to grow from strength to strength. As of 2012, it is the top online news and information destination, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Its accuracy is similar to Brittanica according to academic research. It is the biggest encyclopedia ever – the top ten languages have more than 400 000 articles each. If you decided to read it, you would never be able to finish it: it’s growing faster than you can read!

Wikipedia is “Free as in freedom” – the information is free and open-source, and the project is wholly funded by donations. Some companies actually make a living by repackaging Wikipedia's material in book form and selling the books online. We don't care: that's the point of free knowledge. As long as you don't pretend it's your own work, you're pretty much free to use it as you like. That doesn't mean it's in the public domain, though. Wikipedia is covered by the GNU Free Documentation License.

Wikipedia is the “Free Encyclopedia that anyone can edit”, and in fact there are almost 80 thousand people across the world who edit Wikimedia projects regularly (5 or more times per month).

The Wikimedia Foundation was set up to run the "real-world" side of Wikipedia: getting donations, running the servers, paying the staff needed to handle the admin, etc., but over the years, more projects have been added to the foundation's program, and it is actively involved in supporting the activity of volunteers all over the world.

Pre-course exercises[edit]

In the pre-work leading up to the actual course, you will need to spend a short time each day familiarising yourself with Wikipedia, so that we can make the best possible progress during the actual two days of the course. You will probably have questions on some of this material. In that case, please contact me by editing my user talk page or (while you're still figuring that out) by email at .

Monday 15 Oct: The deep end[edit]

Today's goals:

  • Create a username on Wikipedia
  • Leave a note on my talk page

Although unregistered users can edit Wikipedia, there are some things you cannot do as an unregistered user; for example, you can't create a new page. For this course, you will need to create a username with a connected email address. Don't worry, you won't get spam through Wikipedia: no-one can even see your email address (but if you like, you can get notifications through the system).

Go to and read some more about this topic, and then click on "Create an account now". Fill in the form and provide an email address. You will get an informative email - read it, and take a look at the resources that it points you at.

Once your username is confirmed, go to and click on the tab (near the top) marked "New section". You will see an edit box marked "Subject/Headline" - here you can write something like "Hello" or "New Student" or whatever takes your fancy. In the larger edit window below that, type a message to me, and sign it by typing --~~~~ (that's two minus signs and four tildes - when you save the page, Wikipedia's software will turn that into a signature with your username and the time and date. You always should do that when editing talk pages on Wikipedia.) When you've typed your message, click on the "Show preview" button at the bottom of the page - this will show you what your post on my talk page will look like. If you're happy with what you see, click on "Save page", and I'll get a message on Wikipedia and by email to let me know you've arrived.

Tuesday 16 Oct: Take a look around![edit]

Go to the main page of the English Wikipedia: - this page is meant to showcase the best and the latest content on Wikipedia, but it's not an ordinary Wikipedia page, though, so don't spend too much time on it: you can't edit it unless you're an administrator, and it is full of special stuff. Let's first see a more normal Wikipedia page: Go to . Before we go into the content of the article, what do you notice about the website itself? What do you notice along the left side of the page? Along the top? Can you figure out what all those links and tabs do? Try and find the following:

  • The search box
  • Links to different language versions of the page
  • The talk page
  • The edit link
  • The history tab
  • The "Random page" link
  • Any evidence that you're actually logged in
  • Your own talk page

Now take a look at the actual content of the page. Imagine you'd been paging through a paper encyclopedia like Encyclopædia Britannica. What do you find surprising about the text? About the way it's presented? About the citations and footnotes? Anything else?

This is not one of the worst pages on Wikipedia, nor one of the best ones. It's rated as a "C-class" page in terms of quality on two Wikipedia projects (projects of people who work together to improve Wikipedia in a structured way), which means that the community thinks it could be substantially improved, but it's not terrible. For an example of the best content (a "featured article"), see - what would you think of this one if you saw it in a paper encyclopedia?

Now let's see what a page looks like when it just starts out. Have a look at - the bottom half of this page has an enormous list of "stub pages". Click on one of them at random. What do you think of it? Would you be able to add information to it? Maybe after a bit of searching? Is it a worthwhile topic for Wikipedia?

Now, click on the "Random page" link at the left of any Wikipedia page (remember, not the one at the left of this page: it's on the meta-wiki, not Wikipedia!) - Try it a few times to get a feel for what kind of pages you find in the wilds of Wikipedia.

Please leave me some notes on my talk page to let me know how this went. Did you find what you were looking for? Did you find what you expected?

Wednesday 17 Oct: A deeper look: user pages, talk pages and history[edit]

If you've followed the instructions, you've already edited my talk page. It's the discussion page attached to my user page. You should be able to find my user page without much trouble, but if you don't want to bother with searching around, you can see it at . Your user page is a place for you to put a bit of information about yourself so that other Wikipedians can see who they're dealing with (or not, if you prefer to remain anonymous.) If you're logged in, you'll see the links to your user page and your talk page at the top righthand side of the screen. If someone edits your talk page, you'll see an orange banner the next time you log into Wikipedia, until you go to your talk page to see what's been posted.

Not only user pages have talk pages connected to them: every article also has a talk page. This is not a general discussion of the topic, but rather a place to discuss the process of writing the article. Take a look at . At the top of the talk page, you'll see a whole lot of brown boxes with information. There are links to archives of old discussion, a note that this used to be a featured article, but has been demoted, some links to WikiProjects that take an interest in the article, some links to media coverage of the article itself, a to-do list of things in the article that want fixing, and some places where it was featured on the main page of Wikipedia. Below this, you'll find the discussion itself, split up into sections.

Take a look at the comments. You'll see that most of them are signed by the people who made them, but some of them have a note after them saying "—Preceding unsigned comment added by " and an IP address or a username, and a date and time. This is added by a computer program (a "bot") whenever a user forgets to sign his or her own comment.

Enough about talk pages for now. Time for a history lesson: go back to , and click on the "View history" tab. Take a moment to look at the structure of this page. The main feature of this page is a list of every single version of the article from when it was created. Each of the edits has a link marked "cur" (the difference between the current version of the page and the text as edited at that moment) and one marked "prev" (the difference from the previous version of the page: i.e. the answer to the question "what did this edit change?"). Then there is the date and time of the edit, the username or IP address of the author, the size of the page after the edit was made, and on the far right, the edit summary that the editor wrote (if any).

This is really my favourite part of Wikipedia. By selecting any two edits and clicking the "Compare selected revisions" button, you can see exactly what was changed! Try it out. See if you can find a good edit and a bad edit. See if you can find two revisions that are exactly the same (for example, because someone vandalized the page, and someone else fixed it).

See if you can think about some ways people could use the revision history of a Wikipedia page to help them if they're using Wikipedia to find out about a topic, and if they're trying to improve a Wikipedia page. If you're interested, take a look at the history of the main page of Wikipedia. How far back does its history go?

Drop a note on my talk page if you have any comments or questions.

Thursday 18 Oct: Researching with Wikipedia[edit]

"Wikipedia is often the best place to start [your research], but the worst place to stop." - Dan Gillmor

Ever since Wikipedia started to become popular, students have been warned against using it in schools and universities all over the world. Many reasons are given for this advice, and I've tried to distil them down, coming up with these:

  • Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, so the current version of any page might contain inaccurate information, because of biased, misinformed or malicious editors.
  • Wikipedia presents an overview of each topic, trying to cover it comprehensively. That can tempt students to use it as the only source for their work, instead of learning how to research a topic properly.
  • Wikipedia is a tertiary source, so it should not be cited as a source in serious scholarship.
  • Because most Wikipedia editors are middle-to-upper income English-speaking intellectuals, Wikipedia has a systemic bias towards topics that are relevant to this audience.

These points are valid, but if Wikipedia is used carefully by students and academics, it can be a valuable resource. The key is that students need to be educated about its proper use, and should be taught how to find and interpret secondary and primary sources as appropriate. Brief answers to the objections listed above are:

  • By understanding that Wikipedia is not guaranteed to be accurate, students should read it with a healthy level of scepticism, questioning any points which are not self-evident.
    • Exercise: Which of the tools mentioned in yesterday's exercise can be used for this purpose? How? What other options do students have for fact-checking Wikipedia?
  • Instead of seeing Wikipedia as a source of answers, students should be taught to use it as one of many sources of further information.
    • Exercise: How can one make students aware that an encyclopedia is not the right place to end their research into a topic?
  • Although Wikipedia itself is not a suitable source to cite in most academic situations, it is official Wikipedia policy that everything on Wikipedia should ultimately be traced back to reliable sources.
    • This means that the Wikipedia article on a topic often has a very good list of citations, leading to a number of influential works on the topic.
    • Exercise: what can students who are taught to edit Wikipedia learn about inspecting and questioning the reliability of sources?
  • The fact that Wikipedia has poor coverage of African and non-English topics can be seen as an opportunity for students and academics in Africa.
    • Exercise: How can Wikipedia and Africa mutually benefit each other?

Further reading:

Friday 19 Oct: How to evaluate a Wikipedia page[edit]

We've already taken a look at the history tab and the discusion tab in Wikipedia. How can we use these and other tools to quickly get a hint about how likely a Wikipedia page is to be accurate?

To answer this question, it's helpful to build an idea of what would contribute to an article's reliability. It would be great if we knew that the article had been written by experts in the field, but because of the way Wikipedia works, that's not an option: even if someone claims to be an expert, we can't be sure who we're dealing with. Without that possibility, the next best thing would be:

  • A large number of people from different backgrounds have contributed to it, helping to build a neutral, unbiased article.
  • It is under constant review, with new information added, errors being spotted and corrected, and malicious edits being undone promptly.
  • The editors discuss the topic seriously to achieve consensus.
  • It is part of a network of articles, helping link in people who are interested in related topics.
  • It is based on reliable, independent secondary sources, so that it's easy to check the facts.

So how do we check this?

The history tab will tell us whether most of the edits come from one person (for example ) or from a wide variety of people (for example ). If you're willing to invest some time, you can see whether the people editing the article have a good track record: in the article history, you'll see logged-in users (with usernames) and unregistered users (identified by their IP addresses). Next to a logged-in user's name, you'll see the word "contribs" - click on that and you'll see that user's editing history. Click on an IP address and you'll see the editing history from that IP address (although this could be shared between many users).

You'll also be able to see from the history how quickly the edits follow each other. You'll see from the edit summaries that some of the edits clean up vandalism and fix errors. How long after the vandalism do those edits take place?

The discussion tab tells you what level of debate is going on around the content of the article. If you look at you'll see that some very bright people are seriously debating about whether "kilo" is an acceptable synonym for "kilogram". You'll also see that there are seven archives full of similar discussion. There is some serious peer review going on!

If there is a link to a WikiProject on the discussion tab, that's a good sign: it shows that it's been noticed by people who are interested in the topic. It will be rated according to its quality, and added to to-do lists. Often, you'll find that an important page is represented on a number of projects. For example, how many WikiProjects does the Kilogram article belong to? How many does the article on Walter Sisulu belong to?

Then, to see the actual sources, take a look at the footnotes in the article. Do many of the sentences in the article have footnotes? What kind of sources are linked? Newspaper articles? Websites? Scientific articles and patents? Books? Are they relevant? Are there lots of statements with [citation needed] tags?

Exercise: Get five random articles. Rate them in terms of how much you trust them, based on the criteria mentioned in this section. Post the results on your own user page. (Remember, if you're having trouble with this, drop a note on my talk page!)

Monday 22 Oct: Back to the deep end! Make your first real Wikipedia edit[edit]

Exercise: Read Help:Five pillars.

These are some very good rules, but we can't always agree on how to apply them, and we sometimes forget them. For those cases, there is a dispute resolution process. But the bottom line is that whatever happens on Wikipedia, it's not the end of the world. You won't break Wikipedia. If people are rude to you, or disagree with you, you can safely ignore them.

So now, why not start your week by improving the world a tiny bit?


Option 1: for those of you who only speak English:

At there is a list of over 300 articles that Wikipedia editors flagged for copy-editing. Some of these articles need more help than others. Click on a few of them at random, and see whether you can see anything that you could write better. If you can, click "edit" and change the text. Then fill in the "edit summary" at the bottom of the page to explain what you changed, and click "save". If you did this all right, you can now count yourself in the list of people who have edited Wikipedia!

Option 2: for those of you who know a second language:

Go to a Wikipedia in a language of your choice. Here are some options in alphabetical order:

Now click on "random page" a few times - you're guaranteed to find an article that you can easily improve. Click edit, change it for the better, no matter how slightly, fill in the edit summary and click the button corresponding to "Save page".

How did that go? Did you find something you could do? Drop me a note, and pat yourself on the back.

Tuesday 23 Oct: Getting help on Wikipedia[edit]

Wikipedia is famous for being an unfriendly place, and hard to use. As educators and information scientists in education, however, you're not supposed to be Wikipedia guides. This is a job that is handled by Wikipedians, if you can just figure out how to find the right people!

Open a Wikipedia page, and look at the left. Carefully hidden under "Interaction", there's the word "Help". Click on it, and you'll find over 20 places to find help, each of them tailored to a specific question. Sometimes you'll find what you were looking for, sometimes not.

If you can't find what you want on the Help page, there are ways to get to talk to someone who will know how to help you. The simplest is to edit your own user talk page, and type this: {{Help me}} and type your question - you'll get a reply within minutes.

Exercise: Find three different help topics that you would recommend to your students.

If the question you need to answer is not so much about how to use Wikipedia, but how to get some specific information, you can try - this is just like a reference desk in a library, staffed by librarians, but in this case, it's for Wikipedia! The level of answers is quite impressive, and there is a lot of patience for new users.

Wednesday 24 Oct: Free as in "Freedom"[edit]

Wikipedia is "The Free Encyclopedia". It's written under our logo, so we're obviously serious about it. What does that mean?

Well, the most obvious answer is that you don't have to pay for it. You can go online and read as much as you like, and you don't have to pay for access. In fact, in some countries, you don't even have to pay for the data transfer if you're reading Wikipedia on a mobile phone! See for more information.

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, and what follows is not legal advice. If you want contribute to Wikimedia projects, or re-use Wikimedia content, make sure you read and understand the Wikimedia Terms of Use

OK, with that out of the way, let's move on. The fact that you don't pay for Wikipedia is not really what "free" means to us. Much more importantly, the data you get from Wikipedia is free in the sense of "freedom". This means that you can use it in any way you see fit, bound only by the terms of the Creative Commons Share-Alike and Gnu Free Documentation licenses. Basically, you have to say that the content comes from Wikipedia, and if you modify the content that you got from Wikipedia, you have to release it under the same license. Roughly speaking, the same goes for the other Wikimedia Foundation projects.

What that means is quite revolutionary. One of the largest reference works ever is purely free information. If a student copies a whole handbook in a university library, that's a crime. If a group of students were to print out Wikipedia articles until their money and time ran out, that would be 100% completely legal. Even binding them and selling the resulting books is legal.

How do we do that? Very simply by not paying our authors. When I contribute text to a Wikipedia article, I expect nothing in return. I do it so that I can have a better encyclopedia, and so that everyone else can have a better encyclopedia.

Exercise: Go to Wikipedia and click on "Edit". This time, look at the text under the Edit Summary box. What rights are you giving away? How do you feel about this?

Thursday 25 Oct: More freedom[edit]

So now you know your rights as a Wikipedia user. We've also started touching on what you do when you contribute material to Wikipedia. Let's explore that some more.

When you submit text or images to Wikipedia, you're asserting that:

  • It's your own work OR,
  • It's work which is in the public domain or available under a compatible, free license.

If this is not true, and we find out, Wikipedians will just delete it. And be sad and disappointed. There is a whole team of eagle-eyed Wikimedians who will seek out and get rid of copyrighted material that finds its way onto Wikimedia projects. If you're curious to see how that works "at the coal-face", take a look at - a more useful page for you and anyone you'll be training, however, is - that's a kind of reference desk for copyright questions.

Exercise: Do you know the answer to this question?

Hello. Yesterday I was trying to upload some photographs of Richard Sanderson. On the Internet there are lots and lots of photos of him, but nobody can really know where they come from, or who is the owner of them. The problem is that I uploaded just one photo of him and then I got a message telling me the license wasn't correct, or something like that (because I really don't understand anything about licenses, I just chosed Creative Commons) and that unless I sent a prove that the owner gave me permission, Wikipedia would delete the photograph on 14, September. I want to know how to upload a photo of Sanderson without having problems, because it would be impossible to know who has the rights of those images, and because that owner doesn't seem to have any problem with his photos on the Internet, in every single website. I cannot go with Sanderson and take a picture of him now. I wanted to upload a photo of him in the eighties, and that's my problem. Could you help me? Thank you!

Friday 26 Oct: Wikipedia and young people[edit]

Wikipedia isn't censored.

This is a particularly sticky topic. Many articles in Wikipedia contain text and pictures which would shock, disgust and disturb certain people. There is nudity, sexual content, and discussion of secrets that certain religious organisations would rather keep hidden.

Child pornography is not tolerated on Wikimedia projects, but pretty much anything else goes, no matter how gross or offensive. So how do we handle this? How can Wikipedia ever be a suitable encyclopedia for schools and schoolchildren?

The answer is here: - The SOS Children's Villages charity has assembled a selection of material that can be used safely by young people, and put it up for download at . For teachers with younger learners, some of the advice in is probably also useful.

Exercise: What is the difference between the Simple English wikipedia and the schools selection?

I hope to see you all on Monday in Centurion! In the mean time, if you're bored, take a look at Wikipedia's list of common misconceptions. I guarantee you'll learn something.