In the Wikipedia Education Program, professors assign their students to edit Wikipedia articles as a grade for class, assisted by volunteer Wikipedia Ambassadors. In fall 2011, 55 courses participated in the program in the United States, with students editing articles on the English Wikipedia. On average, these students added 1855 bytes of content that stayed on Wikipedia, compared to only 491 for a randomly chosen sample of new users who joined English Wikipedia in September 2011. These numbers establish that students who participate in the Wikipedia Education Program contribute significantly more quality content that stays on Wikipedia than other new users.
Examining the distribution of content that survived on Wikipedia for both of these groups, we found that almost half of the Wikipedia Education Program participants added 1,000 or more bytes that stayed on Wikipedia in the first six months. In contrast, more than half of the random sample of new editors added no content that stayed on Wikipedia in the first six months. The targeted recruitment of students, combined with the support provided by the Ambassador Program and instructors, results in a much larger percentage of new editors who contribute quality content to Wikipedia.
To understand the collective impact of the Wikipedia Education Program in fall 2011, we compared the amount of content students added to Wikipedia to the content added by the random sample of new editors. The numbers show that the 920 student editors who participated in the program in fall 2011 added the same amount of content as 2250 typical new editors (editors are defined as users who made at least one edit to an article). In terms of new content, students have twice the impact as typical new editors.
An important consideration for any outreach project is editor retention. Data showed that students who are introduced to editing Wikipedia through the U.S. Education Program are just as likely to continue editing as any other newcomer.
The Wikipedia Education Program has now grown to Egypt, Brazil and other regions beyond North America. With an increased global presence, measuring and understanding the contributions of new student editors (and how they differ from other new users that join Wikipedia) has gained importance. Establishing a common metric for measuring the impact of the Wikipedia Education Program on various Wikipedias is another key motivation for a quantitative study.
There’s a lot more work to be done on measuring the program’s impact. So, stay tuned for more information about these metrics.
Methodology for this research can be found at: http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Research:Wikipedia_Education_Program_evaluation#Methods
(with input from Mani Pande, Head of Global Development Research)