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Improve quality content/Opportunities to expand content - education

From Strategic Planning

Important trends

According to an OECD report on the emergence of Open Educational Resources (OER), the most common definition of OER is "digitized materials offered freely and openly for educators, students, and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning, and research. OER includes learning content, software tools to develop, use and distribute content, and implementation resources such as open licenses." [1]

The movement to expand access to high quality OER is gaining momentum, as educators and policy members are beginning to recognize what the education space can gain from leveraging the internet and new open source and social media tools and technologies. As a report on open sourcing education from experts at UNU MERIT and the Shuttleworth Foundation (coming out of iSummit 2007)sums it up, "These ideas offer huge potential to transform and improve education. At the simplest level, open sourcing education can provide top quality textbooks, courseware, and learning aids to millions of people who have limited access to educational materials today." [2]

The OER movement has been in the news in the United States recently, as California called for the adoption of digitized math and science textbooks and President Obama proposed investing in free online courses as one way to improve community colleges. There have also been key media players making big plays intended to increase people's access to digitized published works. There are currently more than 7,000 free public domain books availble for the Amazon Kindle, and Google Books continues to push forward with its efforts to make available digitial copies of millions of books. Yet despite the growth in the number of organizations working to provide educators and students with easy access to free content, there are still many important barriers to the OER movement reaching full potential. Some of these barriers can be seen on the chart below, which shows the results of a United Nations and International Institute for Educational Planning survey of members of the international OER community:[3]

Figure 1 High priority issues for OER

A couple of points from this survey seem particularly relevant for the Wikimedia strategic planning process. The first is that, despite gains, there is clearly still a global lack of awareness among educators and students about what Open Educational Resources are and how they can be used. This would seem to be directly related to the second highest priority issue - a lack of support for communities of individuals and organizations collaborating around the development and use of open learning materials.

The differences in priorities between OER community members in developed and developing countries also seems to suggest that there is not going to be a "one size fits all" approach to developing the OER movement around the world. As the reports author, Susan D'Antoni, points out, "The diversity in the ranking of issues underlines the importance of developing regional and local communities and initiatives that will focus on local needs and conditions" [4]

Finally, it seems important to point out that there are still significant content gaps that prevent OER from becoming a a prominant and reliable tool for educators and students. As the authors of the iSummit Report explain simply, "There are still many subjects and languages for which no quality open content exists" [5]

Where does Wikimedia stand now?

Wikipedia was one of the first, and remains one of the largest, providers of open educational content. According to the iSummit report, "The initial sparks of the open education conversation probably seemed crazy when most people first saw them. In January 2001, Wikipedia was launched as an online encyclopedia that anyone could edit. Most people thought it would never work. During its first month it collected 17 articles, by April it had 1,000, in October more than 10,000 and by the end of 2002 it crossed the 100,000 article mark. It is now the largest encyclopedia in the world and a tremendous resource for students and lecturers . . . In the years since, dozens--or, more likely hundreds--of initiatives have emerged to promote the cause of open education. Looking across all of this, it is clear that there has been significant progress over the past five years. Wikipedia and MIT OpenCourseWare alone are revolutionary new tools for teachers and learners. They have been followed by a number of important platforms for producing and sharing open educational resources, including Connexions, Curriki, WikiEducator, and OER Commons" [6]

Yet despite the initial "spark" that it provided for the movement, and its impressive breadth of content, Wikipedia appears to have relatively low traction with educators, and is not among the first names mentioned (MIT OpenCourseware, OER Commons, Connexions) when it comes to organizations that are currently doing the most to advance the OER cause. Instead of serving as a "tremendous resource" for teachers and students, its use is often banned or restricted in classrooms. And other Wikimedia projects dedicated explicitely to providing educational resources (WikiBooks and Wikiversity) have failed to really catch fire with contributors and more casual users.

More research is required to understand why Wikipedia use has been banned or restricted in classrooms (e.g. perceptions of quality, student plagarism, etc.), as well as how it is currently viewed by educators and students. However, it may be possible to start the conversation by digging into some of the bigger challenges facing the OER movement, as well an individual organizations working to advance the OER cause. In particular, this fact page will explore Wikimedia's current position and potential opportunities relative to OER:

  • Content
  • Quality
  • Platform and tools

Analysis of OER content

Content breadth

Please see Opportunities to improve core reference content for a discussion of the Wikimedia's breadth of encyclopedic content.

Wikibooks and Wikiversity provide content that is developed explicitly for educational use. However, researchers and Wikimedia observers have suggested several reasons why these projects have failed to really grow and gain traction with a large community of educators and learners. The effort required to contribute to the creation of a textbook is often cited as one of the main reasons Wikibooks hasn't been able to do for textbooks what Wikipedia did for encyclopedias. As the OECD report explains, "The possibility of contributing small modules of content has helped ensure the success of Wikipedia, while the Wikibook project has not had the same success. This may be because book chapters cannot be divided into small enough parts; if the bits are small, the process of compiling individual contributions into chapters is probably more time-consuming than writing the book oneself." [7] WikiBooks may be further hampered by the fact that textbooks have long been the exclusive domain of a small number of traditional textbook publishers, as well as by the fact that textbook and curriculum decisions are usually made at the state or district level, far from the individual teachers or subject matter experts who might be interested in contributing to an open source, collaborative project.

Wikiveristy aims to provide educators and learners with a wider variety of learning resources, including activities, lesson plans, lectures, and courses. Despite being one of the youngest Wikimedia initiatives (and having only 11 projects), it appears to have done a better job at building a solid community and content foundation. However, even a quick glance at the overview of potential resource types suggests that there are several content areas that still have nothing at all. In addition, Wikiversity appears to struggle with one of the main challenges facing the OER movement as a whole - a lack of relevant, diverse content. According to the OECD report, "The vast majority of OER is in English and based on Western culture, and this limits their relevance and risks consigning less developed countries to playing the role of consumers." [8] Perhaps it should not be surprising, then that the list of current Wikiversity projects looks like this: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portugese, Czech, Greek, Finnish, and Japanese.

Content structure and format

When it comes to learning resources, however, content relevance is about more than just breadth and language. Educators need materials that are structured and formatted for use in the classroom, with a specific group of students. Looking at the Wikiversity site starts to give a sense for the required structure and format - content is not only available in a variety of resource types, but is organized for preschool, primary, secondary, and tertiary education. In an ideal world, this structure would go even further, and teachers would be able to access a wide variety of materials that are aligned with the scope, sequence, and standards they are supposed to be teaching for a given subject and grade level. And they would be able to print out and use these materials with as little additional work required as possible.

At the broadest level, these structure and format hurdles represent another big challenge faced by the OER movement (Schmidt and Surman point out that "free educational content is rarely in a form that teachers and learners can just pick up and use" [9]). It seems like it would also present a challenge for Wikimedia, befcause the vast majority of available content currently exists on Wikipedia, in the sole form of a comprehensive encylopedia article, with a single level of detail and complexity.

Analysis of quality

Please visit the core reference content factbase for a broader discussion about article quality.

If quality is an issue for Wikimedia content in general, then it is potentially even more challenging for educational content, where the quality bar is higher and more nuanced. Confronted with a scarcity of time and an abundance of topics to be covered (and often dealing with students who are behind in the first place), teachers can rarely afford to experiment with materials that might not be good enough. Therefore, they want to know that a learning resource is more than just factually correct - they want to know that it is going to be effective in their classroom setting, with their specific group of students. There is a broad lack of quality control within the OER space, and previous Bridgespan Group focus groups demonstrated the extent to which a lack of trust is one of the main reasons that K-12 teachers do not go online to find curriculum and other classroom materials (as one teacher said, "I have high expectations for my class, so I can never take what I find online at face value. How can I trust something if I don’t know who made it or how well it works?”)

Much of this lack of trust stems from the fact that a lot of online content is actually not very good (according to another teacher, "You get pages and pages and a lot if just garbage"). Another driving factor, however, is that fact that, absent trusted colleagues or other familiar guideposts, many teachers find it difficult to identify high quality content when they see it. As Susan D'Antoni explains in the UN report, "Without the control processes of the publishing industry and the selection process of the library or research centre, users may be on their own in determing the quality of a resource. The very openness of access to OER means that the traditional structures of education systems which support and protect the (educator) may be absent" [10]

Other providers of OER have experimented with (or at least discussed the potential of) different ways of providing educators and learners with more quality guidance - from formal efficacy studies to expert reviews to ratings, reviews, and comments from teachers who have tried the resources in their own classrooms. These approaches vary in the degree to which they are evidence-based, feasible, and scalable. What they have in common, though, is an attempt to bring a consistent and transparent quality assurance engine to the world of online educational content. If Wikimedia wants to increase its presence in classrooms, it therefore might also need to further explore simpler and more efficient ways to compile and share feedback about content quality from the perspective of teachers and learners.

Analysis of the Wikimedia platform and tools

Educator ownership, and the ability to choose, modify, and improve resources, is a critical component of the OER philosophy and value proposition. Therefore, the availability of high quality resources is not enough, and it is important to also understand the distribution platform required for teachers to find and adapt materials for classroom use. As Schmidt and Surman explain, "End users not only need to find useful content, they also need to compare it with similar content to see what's best, adapt it so it makes sense for their circumstances, and ensure that it fits with their curriculum or learning goals" [11]

There are a few places where it might be beneficial to dig deeper around how these functionalities do or do not align with the current Wikimedia platform and model:

Search functionality

How well does the current Wikimedia platform enable teachers want to find what they are looking for quickly? Are they able to search in a way that is intuitive and aligned with how they think about and organize curriculum (e.g. being able to find a specific type of material on a specific topic for a specific grade level)?

Please see the core reference factbase for a more in-depth discussion of Wikipedia and search functionality.

Reuse and mix/remix

1. Mix/remix - how well does the wiki platform facilitate teachers' ability to adapt resources or combine aspects of multiple resources into a new resource that is well-suited for their individual classrooms and goals?

2. Version control - how do mix/remix capabilities align or conflict with Wikimedia's current policies around having one evolving version of each article/resource? What would happen if a teacher wanted to adapt a resource for a specific classroom, or modify it for a different grade level and make that available for other teachers?

3. What restrictions, if any, are currently in place around teachers (or other curriculum designers and experts) reusing the content available on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects? What would need to happen to ensure that all content is available to be adapted for educational purposes?

For an outside perspective (from the OECD report) - "While information technology makes it possible to multiply and distribute content worldwide and at almost no cost, legal restrictions on the reuse of copyright materials haper its negotiability in the digital environment. Frustrated by this obstacle, academics worldwide have started to use open licenses to create a space in the Internet world - a creative commons - where people can share and reuse copyright material without fear of being sued. The Creative Commons is by far the best known license, the use of which is growing exponentially" [12]

For more on the potential benefits of Wikimedia's adoption of the Creative Commons license, please see notes from a recent related interview


How well can users share/combine resources across Wikimedia projects (e.g. Wikipedia and Wikiversity)? Is it valuable (or even possible) for users to import or use other open educational content on the Wikimedia platform? How about to reuse Wikimedia content through other platforms?

For an outside perspective (from the OECD report) - "Since the concept of OER builds on the idea of reusing and repurposing materials, interoperabiliy is a key issue. Learning resources need to be searchable across repositories and possible to download, integrate, and adapt across platforms" [13]

Potential areas of focus

  • Expanding the supply of high quality non-English, non-Western learning resources

  • Partnering with other content institutions to increase access to, and reuse of, quality content

  • Leveraging the Wikipedia brand to raise awareness of the educational uses of open source content

  • Providing a platform and community infrastructure to support regional, linguistic, and topic-specific communities working to advance the OER movement


  1. [1]
  2. J. Philipp Schmidt and Mark Surman, "Open sourcing education: Learning and wisdom from iSummit 2007" [2]
  3. Susan D'Antoni, "Open Educational Resources: The Way Forward" [3]
  4. Susan D'Antoni, "Open Educational Resources: The Way Forward" [4]
  5. J. Philipp Schmidt and Mark Surman, "Open sourcing education: Learning and wisdom from iSummit 2007" [5]
  6. J. Philipp Schmidt and Mark Surman, "Open sourcing education: Learning and wisdom from iSummit 2007" [6]
  7. [7]
  8. [8]
  9. J. Philipp Schmidt and Mark Surman, "Open sourcing education: Learning and wisdom from iSummit 2007" [9]
  10. Susan D'Antoni, "Open Educational Resources: The Way Forward" [10]
  11. J. Philipp Schmidt and Mark Surman, "Open sourcing education: Learning and wisdom from iSummit 2007" [11]
  12. [12]
  13. [13]