The Wikimedia Foundation’s program to get Wikipedia editing into university classrooms – the Public Policy Initiative – has wrapped up its first term of work, and we’re already working hard on the next term! Over the last two weeks, I’ve been posting profiles of students who participated in the Public Policy Initiative last fall: Peter Elliot, Nicole Anderson, Graham Rogers, Abbie Taylor, and Adrian Bien. Each of these five students wrote Wikipedia articles for a grade last term and really enjoyed the experience.
As I listened to their stories, common themes emerged: how the Campus Ambassadors and Online Ambassadors had eased their transitions into Wikipedia, how they felt much more invested in the assignment when writing for the global Wikipedia community rather than just for their professor, how honored they felt to share their knowledge with the world. We’ve seen these themes echoed across the students in all of the 14 classes we worked with last term.
“It was a good way to make our class-related research useful to the public,” Kristin Broughton, a master’s student at George Washington University, said.
“I love the idea that you do something that is actually real,” added a Harvard University student during an open forum.
“I feel a little silly being so excited,” wrote another student to her professor after learning her article would be featured on the Did You Know? section on Wikipedia’s front page.
Overall, the students were able to get 20 articles featured in Did You Know?, and our 207 participants combined to contribute more than 2 million bytes to Wikipedia — that’s the equivalent of more than six printed pages per student. We at the Wikimedia Foundation learned a lot in the process, too. Many of our biggest challenges and problems from the fall could have been ameliorated if interactions between students and Online Ambassadors had occurred sooner and more frequently; for the spring term, it’s now a requirement that every student be paired with an Online Ambassador “mentor” throughout the term. We’ve also worked more closely with professors on syllabus design to space milestones throughout the term, so students’ learning curve for Wikipedia-editing is smoother and so students have fewer opportunities for procrastination.
These changes are on display in our spring batch of classes. Twenty-nine courses – to date – are participating in the Public Policy Initiative in the spring, spread all across the United States. The Wikipedia Ambassador Program is growing rapidly, with 51 Campus Ambassadors and 59 Online Ambassadors supporting students this spring (all of these numbers are likely to go up in the coming months). We’re still recruiting more Online Ambassadors, and we encourage anyone with an interest in helping newcomers with content development to apply.
With every step of the way, we’re looking toward sustainability. The Wikipedia Ambassador Steering Committee is a volunteer-run group that ensures the continuity of our work in university classrooms. Already, Wikimedia chapters and volunteers around the globe are starting to form their own Ambassador programs, and we look forward to watching organic growth of Wikipedia’s use as a teaching tool.
Come be a part of our project! Join WikiProject United States Public Policy, help with the article quality assessment team that’s measuring our impact, become an Online Ambassador, sign up here if you’re interested in being a Campus Ambassador, or just subscribe to our weekly newsletter. We look forward to your ideas and contributions.
LiAnna Davis, Communications Associate – Public Policy Initiative