L. Botturi1, I. Van Zyl2, I. Pensa1

1Scuola Universitaria Professionale della Svizzera Italiana (SWITZERLAND)
2Cape Peninsula University of Technology (SOUTH AFRICA)
Wikipedia is one of the major contemporary and mainstream sources of information: with over 400 millions readers, 280 linguistic editions and more than 10 million articles, it is the largest and most used encyclopaedia. Wikipedia is actually an online archipelago of websites, accessible via computers and mobiles phones, and available offline on CD, DVD and USB keys. Thanks to Wikipedia Zero (Wadhwa, 2012), it is currently available via mobile phones for free in 54 countries, including many African countries. Moreover, Wikipedia’s content can be freely used, reused and modified for both commercial and non commercial purposes: Wikipedia is an OER under Creative Commons license. For the wealth of its content, its openness and accessibility, Wikipedia is an potentially powerful educational tool, especially for countries with little availability of educational materials. But is it really so?

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. What happens in primary education, which is the focus of the UN Sustainable Development goal number 4?

On the other hand, detractors depict Wikipedia as a source of uncontrolled misinformation, a sort of hub of fake news, where quality is not sufficiently guaranteed by the “wisdom of the crowd” (Jaschnik, 2007; Garfinkel, 2008). Moreover, 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 cultural hegemony?

Against this background, we investigated how primary school teachers 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 situation influence the integration of Wikipedia in teaching practices? What topics are relevant in relation to national curriculum standards?

As a part of the larger project Wikipedia Primary School, funded by the Swiss National Foundation (Pensa, n.d.), this study surveyed 30 primary education teachers in community schools in the Cape Town area. The survey addressed their use of Wikipedia in both planning and in-class use, and crossed such information with personal and professional profiles. 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. The differences between pre-service and in-service teachers are also analysed, indicating that in-service teachers, even if older than pre-service, use Wikipedia more often. Despite being based on a small sample, the results help identify pathways for the further development and integration of Wikipedia as an educational tool.