Developing metaliterate and information literate Wikipedians in the classroom

Trudi Jacobson is Head of the Information Literacy Department at the University at Albany, SUNY. Here, she explains how she wove a Wikipedia writing assignment together with the six frameworks of information literacy.

Trudi Jacobson.
Photo by Jfhughesus, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

This course not only taught me how to write on Wikipedia, which by the way I always thought was the coolest concept, but it also taught me about myself.

This online class…really made me learn a lot about writing. Not only that, but this class also helped me learn about myself. [It] helped me see my true potential as a writer and gave me lessons that I will take with me in all of my writing going forward. The Wiki Education Dashboard really helped me organize my work and showed me how to write the way Wikipedians do. The Information Literacy and Metaliteracy frames really made me think about what I was writing, how I was writing it, and who I was writing it for.  

Without a doubt this has been the best course I have taken at SUNY [Albany].

For a number of years I have taught a one-credit information literacy course that has relied heavily on various active learning techniques. This spring I was moving the course online to encourage increased enrollment, which demanded that I reconceptualize it. However, I was struggling to find a way to do this effectively.  LiAnna Davis’s chapter, “Wikipedia and Education: A Natural Collaboration, Supported by Libraries” (from Leveraging Wikipedia, edited by Merrilee Proffitt, ALA Editions, 2018), sparked a course design idea that came to me full-blown and full of potential. I would blend the Wiki Education course framework mentioned in the chapter with the study of both metaliteracy and information literacy. Based on the comments that began this post, it worked. The course generated the excitement that is evident in these and similar student reflective writings and unsolicited email messages.

Working with Wikipedia has been an interesting, exciting and challenging task. However, all of the information that was presented beforehand helped a lot. Both the metaliteracy and information literacy frameworks aligned with the process of the Wikipedia article creation/editing.

So what did students learn about these frameworks? How do information literacy and metaliteracy compare? Metaliteracy is an overarching literacy that focuses on the knowledge, abilities, and attitudes needed to be a responsible producer and consumer of information in individual and collaborative environments. It acknowledges the impact that the web and social media have on learning and literacy, as well as the increased opportunities for collaboration they provide. Metaliteracy emphasizes four learning domains: affective, behavioral, cognitive, and metacognitive, as well as a number of active learner roles. Information literacy is built around six conceptual frames, including Information Has Value, Information Creation as a Process, and Scholarship as Conversation. Being information literate includes, but extends beyond, the ability to do scholarly research. It promotes learners’ understanding of the foundations that support academic and lifelong learning.

After a module in which students were introduced to the two literacies, they started to grapple with applying their learning. They read Kelly Doyle’s “Minding the Gaps,” also from Leveraging Wikipedia. This chapter explores the gender imbalances of editors, and therefore of content, in Wikipedia. The reading resonated with students and was an effective way to start a conversation about the information literacy frame, Information Has Value.

The next framework, Information Has Value, I think is the most important framework. I believe this because information is a means of understanding the world around you and recognizing that fact is quite significant. While compiling the information needed to edit my Wikipedia article, it was important to remember who was the consumer and what information is going to be the most valuable to this consumer. It was also essential to cite sources properly in order to credit the original author.

“Minding the Gaps,” as well as a reading on metaliteracy, informed students’ recognition of themselves as authors, one of the metaliterate learner roles. Thinking of themselves as authors was empowering for students, as was the fact that some of these students were bringing content to a resource that would enhance its diversity and therefore its value.

A piece of the information literacy framework that I know will continue to shape my thinking is Information Has Value. I will now view all the information or content I consume or create as a commodity that influences people. Even though information isn’t always tangible, it’s the idea and message that hold value.

While students worked through the Wiki Education training modules, they were also brushing up on and extending their research abilities through online tutorials and activities contained in a metaliteracy badging system. There were what appeared to be close connections in some areas, such as avoiding plagiarism. But as students reviewed the rules about working from and citing sources in Wikipedia, the gulf between those standards and use of sources in academic writing began to widen.  

As students began to write their content, they found themselves increasingly uncomfortable with Wikipedia’s unfamiliar writing model. Some were uneasy about writing for a public audience. It was the perfect time to return to the four learning domains of metaliteracy, with an emphasis on the affective, or how they felt about this learning experience.

I really think it is crazy that I have been learning since I was born, and I haven’t considered how learning the things I have learned have made me feel…. I like how it feels to check in with myself and get more in touch with my emotions when learning, I think this will leave me feeling more confident and proud of myself after completing new tasks and learning objectives.

The occasions for making meaningful connections between the very active research and writing processes the students were engaged in and the metaliteracy and information literacy frameworks were frequent. The peer review process built into the Wikipedia writing assignment program inspired high quality, engaged work by many students. It was one of several points in the course at which students considered the Scholarship as Conversation frame, which then led to an opportunity to consider the more extensive feedback they may receive from readers. The metaliteracy learner roles came to the fore near the end of the course, when I asked students to read and reflect on the author and participant roles. The author role in particular excited students:

Lastly, my favorite thing that I took from this class that I never expected, was that yes indeed, I am an author! Allowing myself to become a metaliterate learner allowed me to come to this point. This included me being a communicator and author at once. A translator, teacher, producer, collaborator etc… it didn’t have to be one or the other.

The course was ambitious in its scope and technological platforms. It certainly wasn’t what students planned for in a one credit course, yet based on their reflective essays, it provided learning opportunities on a number of fronts. I was delighted that it met the course and personal attributes laid out in the syllabus:

  • Cultivating a growth (rather than a fixed) mindset
  • Enhancing curiosity, inquiry, and perseverance,
  • Accepting challenges
  • Encouraging “not-yetness

After just one run-though, it is hard to imagine the course without the well-designed Wiki Education program scaffolding and the mission of writing for Wikipedia. I will be making adjustments for the fall on a strong foundation.

Let me end with one more student quote, which highlights the students’ newly informed opinions about Wikipedia:

One key thing that I got from the course that may not be common amongst my peers is the respect and…trust that I have gained for Wikipedia articles.

Interested in incorporating a Wikipedia writing assignment into your course? Check out our free tools and systems of support to help you do it:


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