Wikipedia and teachers. Knowledge access in a multilingual country: the case of South Africa.

Botturi, Luca and Pensa, Iolanda and van Zyl, Izak and Pucciarelli, Marta (2018) Wikipedia and teachers. Knowledge access in a multilingual country: the case of South Africa. In: ECREA. Centres and Peripheries: Communication, Research, Translation, 31.10.2018 - 03.10.2018, Lugano.

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Wikipedia is currently one of the actual “centres” in the online world, both as a cluster of content and a hub of traffic: with over 400 millions readers, 280 linguistic editions and over 10 million articles, it is the largest and most used encyclopaedia globally. For the wealth of its content, its openness and accessibility Wikipedia reaches out to the peripheries of the world as a revolutionary educational tool, especially for countries with little availability of educational materials. Teachers from rural and small school can work with peer-reviewed, global-quality content – but do they actually do it? As a part of the larger project Wikipedia Primary School, funded by the Swiss National Foundation (Pensa, n.d.), we investigated how primary school teachers perceived, use and integrate Wikipedia in their practice in a multilingual country like South Africa. Do teachers use Wikipedia and how? What are its perceived affordances and drawbacks? What features or situations influence the integration of Wikipedia in teaching practices? What topics are relevant in relation to national curriculum standards? What is the approach of teachers with different home languages to the different language versions of Wikipedia? While many educational projects reference Wikipedia both for content learning (Schweizer, 2008) and for information literacy education (Jennings, 2008), research literature does not provide evidence about the impact of Wikipedia on education in general, and on compulsory education in particular. Some recent studies (Blikstad-Balas, 2016; Blikstad-Balas & Hvistendahl, 2013) include Wikipedia among the basic literacy tools of many students, often against the advice of their teachers – but evidence is limited to upper secondary and tertiary education. The study surveyed 30 primary education teachers in community schools in the Cape Town area, addressing their use of Wikipedia in both planning and in-class use, and crossed such information with personal and professional profiles. The analysis of teachers’ profiles between pre-service and in-service teachers was analysed, suggesting that in-service teachers, even if older than pre-service, use Wikipedia more often. Also, our results suggest that most tech-savvy teachers actually use Wikipedia less than the others. A relevant perspective of analysis concerned differenced among Wikipedia’s linguistic versions. Indeed, while Wikipedia hosts a wealth of linguistic versions, and strives to acquire a more and more intercultural perspective, it still remains a mainly Anglophone product, with 5.5 million English articles, against e.g. 45’000 in Afrikaans online 1’000 in Zulu. Is this a sign of the open and in-progress nature of Wikipedia or a feature of potential cultural hegemony? The data provide insights about differences between native speakers of English, Afrikaans and other native languages, revealing that those speaking minority languages think that Wikipedia is more useful, even if they have less content at their disposal. Despite being based on a small sample, the results help identify pathways for the further development and integration of Wikipedia as an educational tool.

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