The Wikipedians at the University of Michigan

Students start arriving at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in a few weeks. Among the many choices of student clubs is a new group: The Wikipedians of the University of Michigan.

Started by Cheryl Moy, the Wikipedia club already has 25 committed members who are delving in to editing and helping other students become Wikipedians. Cheryl, a graduate student in Chemistry, teaches students how to edit Wikipedia through her work with advisor Anne McNeil, who has included creating and expanding articles into her coursework for several semesters. Cheryl wanted to continue encouraging students to become Wikipedia editors, so she came up with the idea of a student club. We believe Cheryl’s is the first Wikipedia student club in the United States. A McGill University club formed last year in Canada, and students at James Madison University in the United States are in the process of starting a Wikipedia club as well. Students at several universities have also formed Free Culture groups.

Cheryl began recruiting students through her department’s listserv and canvassing at a graduate student government event. She and her fellow Wikipedians at Michigan plan to recruit more members at a campus-wide student clubs event in the fall. The students want both undergraduate and graduate members from all academic disciplines to join their group; the only requirement is an interest in Wikipedia and free knowledge.

The Michigan club is in action already, teaching new members how to edit. They’re working on tutorials and other materials that help students learn Wikipedia basics, as well. That’s not all Cheryl has in mind, however.

“Long term, I hope that this club will be an opportunity for motivated students to gain experience in publishing, improve their communication skills and learn about the research process,” she explains. “As that happens, the credibility of Wikipedia will also improve and encourage experts to contribute. Eventually, by building the community of editors, I hope that contributing to Wikipedia will gain the same sort of recognition as publishing in a peer-reviewed journal.”

In the short term, Cheryl and her fellow Wikipedians are planning a campus-wide trivia night. She says similar events at local restaurants are popular, and they expect the trivia night will provide publicity, bring in new members, and help them with their fundraising goals for the semester.

We at the Wikimedia Foundation are thrilled that students like Cheryl are starting campus clubs. We hope many of our Campus Ambassadors for the Public Policy Initiative are similarly excited about editing Wikipedia – so much so that they’ll also start clubs. Interested in starting one on your campus? You don’t need to ask our permission; just be sure to let us know your group’s activities so we can spread the word!

Cheryl offers this advice for students interested in starting a club: “As from Wikipedia: be bold!”

“Although the Wikipedia community is very accepting of new editors, editing for the first time can seem daunting, but that is why I started a club,” she adds. “That way you have a tangible community that can encourage and learn from each other, and together contribute to the global knowledge.”

Do you know of students clubs around the world already in existence? Let us know by leaving a note in the comments!

Frank Schulenburg and LiAnna Davis, Public Outreach