Centre for Internet & Society

Since Wikipedia is considered as the go-to source for different kinds of knowledge by anyone starting off in a particular field of study, and since Indian languages (IL) are often the default languages of the classroom in India, strengthening the quality of the material available on IL Wikipedias is certain to have widespread tangible and intangible impact.

While there is a need to improve the editor count on IL Wikipedias, it cannot substitute for efforts aimed at enhancing the quality of Wikipedia contributions. Here is an account of an initiative geared towards enriching the IL digital domain and in particular Wikipedia through partnerships with universities.

In collaboration with CIS-A2K, the Centre for Indian Languages in Higher Education (CILHE) at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, has been conducting workshops with post graduate and undergraduate students in humanities and social sciences on developing digital open knowledge resources using IL Wikipedias.

These workshops, which are conducted by a resource person from CILHE and anchored by faculty members in partner institutions, are aimed at (a) integrating open knowledge resources into classroom teaching, (b) involving students in developing content relevant to their research interests, and (c) developing the skills to produce well-referenced academic writing.

Besides Wikipedia editing, the workshop process involves exercises that allow students to engage closely with major social science concepts and their meanings. The workshops also include collaborative digital annotation exercises.

This effort is the only one of its kind in the country where both students and teachers participate in creating open knowledge resources that are of use to them and the larger academic and non-academic audience.

Achievements thus far

Workshops are conducted bilingually, across several geographies, with English being the common factor. The Indian languages in question are Marathi, Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam, Bangla and Kannada.

Here is a brief account of two such partnerships. The first is with Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre (KSPWSC) at Pune University, Pune, and the second with the Departments of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) in Hyderabad.

At KSPWSC, around 20 researchers since 2015 have collaboratively annotated 100 key women’s studies texts in Marathi and have written articles on these texts on the Marathi Wikipedia. This is the first part of a larger project called Sau Dhuni Teen (100 x 3), which aims to also cover 100 notable persons and 100 key concepts in women’s studies in addition to the 100 key texts.

This has been a year-long process involving, prior to the workshop,

(a)   selection of 100 key texts through a survey of existing women’s studies curricula across the state of Maharashtra in the universities of all 6 major areas of the state;

(b)   close reading and analysis of the texts led by faculty.

During the workshop, students learn how to

(a)   annotate digitally and for an encyclopedia; how to create concept clusters and clouds of annotation;

(b)   overcome translation challenges (English into Marathi, and Marathi into English) through the cultivation of linguistic attentiveness and sensitivity to the cultural contexts involved; and through the use of online and offline dictionaries and other writings on the subjects covered in the 100 key texts. The exposure to the existing literature helps students absorb the necessary vocabulary which is already in use and familiar to readers.

At EFLU, Hyderabad, 25 students speaking a number of Indian languages -Telugu, Malayalam, Tamil, and Hindi - have come together to create articles of relevance to social sciences and humanities teaching and learning. The entries include: the concept of the public sphere, movements for political autonomy, leading Indian scholars, and major contemporary academic and literary works.

Ensuring success and sustainability: Key Factors

Consistent faculty participation coupled with regular meet-ups to develop existing articles and create new ones ensures the success and sustainability of these workshops. Prior to the workshops, the faculty members engage intensively with students in identifying concepts or texts about which writing in Indian languages is limited or inadequate.

Finding a thematic focus has been crucial for retaining interest and participation of the students in different locations, for example - women’s studies in Pune University, rural development at TISS Tuljapur, literary and cultural studies at EFLU.

Measurable outputs for student assessment are important for those faculty seeking to make Wikipedia editing part of internal assessment. These outputs include articles written, information added, references used, and links made, which can be easily computed from the View History pages.

Understanding Quality Enhancement

Participatory knowledge production: The Indian language articles on notable academicians, theorists, phenomena, events, and places written as part of the workshop are accessed, used, and further developed by students as well as Wikipedians other than the original authors.

Changing the pedagogic culture through open access resources: The articles become a strong pedagogic resource in Indian languages which is publicly accessible, generated by users themselves, used to supplement classroom teaching, and open to editing and revision.

Context sensitivity: The success of these workshops may also be assessed in terms of the variety of concept descriptions generated, the relevance of articles to context, and the integration of local experience onto digital knowledge platforms.

In addition to Wikipedia’s criteria for a good article, which include clarity, coherence, focussed development of the article, comprehensive references, use of inter-links and hyperlinks, the Indian language resources developed through our initiative have the significant additional feature of being contextually and culturally sensitive. We believe this is a crucial criterion for Wikipedia to be able to take root in the Indian knowledge domain.

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