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Labour of love: why do people contribute (or not contribute) to Wikipedia articles about OER?

Monday 14:00-15:30 (3), Darwin Suite

Type: Short paper

Theme: Building and linking communities of open practice

#oer14 #abs82


Mrs Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester, [email protected]
Ms Sara Frank Bristow, Educational Researcher, Salient Research, [email protected]
Mr Peter Forsyth, Principal, Wiki Strategies, [email protected]
Dr Robert Cummings, Director of Center for Writing and Rhetoric, University of Mississippi, [email protected]



What motivates people to invest in public communication about OER within a community of practice, in a way that is consistent with the values of the OER movement? As a freely licensed and peer-produced resource, Wikipedia is aligned with the OER movement. It is constructed and maintained by the world's largest online peer production community, yet few OER practitioners actively contribute. We seek to identify barriers inhibiting OER practitioners from improving OER articles, as well as the motivators compelling others to contribute.


Communicate OER (CommOER)[1] is a collaborative effort to improve Wikipedia articles relating to OER, funded by the Hewlett Foundation. CommOER has offered face-to-face workshops, webinars, and four online School of Open (WIKISOO) classes teaching OER practitioners to contribute to Wikipedia (with one integrated into a University of Mississippi postgraduate course). CommOER ultimately led to formation of WikiProject Open,[2] which aims to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of openness.

Those expressing engaging with CommOER and WIKISOO were the focus of one case study, and generally active Wikipedia editors of OER articles the focus of another. CommOER participants were surveyed, and information about their attitudes and behaviours compiled and analysed. The most active editors of key OER-related articles were contacted for a similar survey.


Results are preliminary as the study is ongoing at the time of writing.

1. Communicate OER and WIKISOO Study

• Wikipedia writing can be difficult, both technically and in terms of operational/social dynamics, i.e. the frustration of arguing with anonymous editors.
• WIKISOO participants learned to edit Wikipedia with increased confidence, and had a positive experience when working jointly in ‘teams’. Numerous OER articles were improved as a direct outcome of the course.

2. Active Wikipedians Study

• Most editors work on OER articles out of a combination of personal interest and a sense of duty to inform the public.
• Many editors have joined WikiProjects (communities of practice around a particular topic).
• Wikipedia becomes integrated into editors’ routine consumption and production of knowledge.


Active Wikipedians edit articles on topics about which they are impassioned. They learn about the articles’ subject matter; get to know others with similar interests; and find personal satisfaction in creating something useful. In the process, they form a sense of community with other Wikipedians.

Before one can realise those benefits, though, one must overcome significant hurdles. Both the technical challenges of Wikipedia and the social dynamics of online peer production require acclimation, and feeling confident in a community of practice encourages motivation. The formation of WikiProject Open presents OER practitioners with an opportunity to build and work within such a community.

As a related research project, how do the OER community’s dynamics compare to those of Wikipedia? To what extent does the community centre on practice, vs. intellectual debate or other activities?


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:COMMOER [Accessed 20 November 2013].
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:OPEN [Accessed 20 November 2013].

Funding acknowledgements

Communicate OER is funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Recap recording

A recording of this presentation is available at https://campus.recap.ncl.ac.uk/Panopto/Pages/Viewer/Default.aspx?id=9d75c955-4a37-409f-aa50-0e8fc8f1abb7 ©University of Leicester 2014 Terese Bird cc-by 4.0.

Further details

Keywords: online peer production, collaborative, WikiProject Open, WIKISOO, School of Open, Communicate OER, CommOER

Mrs Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester

Twitter: @tbirdcymru

Twitter abstract: What motivates people to invest in public communication about OER within a community of practice?