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Public Policy Initiative turns Syracuse junior into a Wikipedian

Note: This blog post is the first in a series of profiles of students’ experiences on Wikipedia when participating in the Public Policy Initiative during the fall term.

Syracuse University junior Peter Elliot had made a few edits to Wikipedia, but he became a Wikipedian after taking a class this fall from Professor Carol Dwyer. The class, “Wikipedia and Public Policy,” was one of 14 participating in the Wikimedia Foundation’s Public Policy Initiative. Students in these classes edited Wikipedia articles as an assignment from their professor, assisted by volunteer Wikipedia Ambassadors.

Peter, an economics major and global enterprise technology minor from Brooklyn, New York, admits he was initially indifferent when he learned his assignments for the semester would consist of writing articles for Wikipedia. But once he had some hands-on experience, he became more excited.

“The assignments were quite different [than a traditional assignment], and what made it invaluable was the practicality of it all,” Peter says. “I’m a strong believer that true education is education put into practice and that is what the assignments through the Wikimedia Foundation offered.”

Peter’s first Wikipedia article was Cyber ShockWave – a U.S. wargame conducted in early 2010 – which contained merely a short description and list of participants before he started working on it (see the version immediately before his first edit). Peter clarified the opening paragraph, added sections on background, the simulation, and the results, and added images and more references to the article (see the current version). Next, he took on the article Homeland Security Act, which was similarly short before he started editing. The current version, which Peter contributed a great deal to, explains the history, facets, and criticism of an important piece of U.S. policy.

Peter says he preferred writing for Wikipedia instead of a typical term paper, especially with the support of his Campus Ambassadors, Online Ambassadors, and the Wikipedia community.

“It gives me a voice box for others to view my work and become informed,” he explains. “A Wikipedia assignment provides greater motivation due to features such as ‘Did you know’ and the constant monitoring by Wikipedia administrators. It is sort of having the Professor or TA there all the time, which most students do not get the luxury of.”

Peter didn’t just write articles for class, however. He’s contributed to articles about non-profit organizations, famous people, and his school, Syracuse University, among other topics, and he’s still contributing to Wikipedia, even though the term is over.

“My favorite part about writing for Wikipedia was both the competition involved and the idea of people outside viewing your work,” he says. “I think the competition among schools motivated students to achieve their maximum potential in writing each article.”

Ultimately, Peter’s involvement in the Public Policy Initiative has led him to see Wikipedia in a new light – as a source that college students can use to to find sources about a topic by consulting the references section of any Wikipedia article. In an essay about his experiences, Peter says he hopes that more professors make use of Wikipedia as a teaching tool.

“Wikipedia along with the public policy class has not only improved my research and writing skills, but changed the way I make use of online information,” Peter wrote. “As a registered Wikipedia editor and contributor (username:SoAuthentic), I will continue to not only add to the wealth of knowledge, but make greater use of the knowledge that is already provided.”

LiAnna Davis
Communications Associate, Public Policy Initiative

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