Wikimedia blog

News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement

Posts by Frank Schulenburg

Let’s start talking about program evaluation

Most Wikipedians I know – myself included – care deeply about our mission. We are highly passionate about our vision to provide free knowledge to every single person on the planet. And many of us invest an incredible amount of our free time into making this vision come true. Even though I have been editing Wikipedia since 2005, I’m still amazed when I look at the daily stream of Wikipedia’s recent changes. And I have a deep respect for the volunteers who invest their precious time and energy into never letting this stream of small and big improvements run dry.

For many years now, Wikipedians have not only worked on increasing and improving the amount of free content available on the web. We have also launched a wide variety of programmatic activities that intend to strengthen free knowledge by rising the public awareness of Wikipedia through exhibitions and presentations, by recruiting new editors as part of Wikipedia workshops, and by starting programs like “Wiki Loves Monuments”, the popular Wikimedia Commons photo competition.

We have not, however, been very strong at measuring the impact of those programmatic activities. “Measuring impact” in this case refers to quantifying the long-term effects those programmatic activities have on Wikipedia and its sister projects. In practice, this means, for example, analyzing how many of the people who attended a specific Wikipedia workshop actually turned into Wikipedians. How many of them embarked on editing articles as a result of the workshop and how many of them continued doing so on a regular basis?

Here’s where program evaluation comes into play.

  • If you’re supporting programmatic work as a volunteer, you most likely want to know whether your activities are worth the effort. Whether you help running photo competitions or sign up as a speaker at workshops for Wikipedia beginners – you want to know whether you’re making a real difference with what you’re doing. Program evaluation will help you answer this question. By measuring the outcome of the programmatic activity you signed up for, you will know whether your photo competition was successful and whether the people who participated in your workshop really learned the skills they need to write great articles on Wikipedia. This knowledge will make your work as a volunteer more fulfilling.
  • If you’re helping to improve existing programs, you’re most likely eager to find out which changes will make your program more effective and efficient. Imagine you could achieve the same result with fewer volunteer hours being spent. And what if you could double the number of people who actually start contributing to Wikipedia after your workshop, with making your workshop more engaging and fun? Improving an existing program requires that you measure its effectiveness. Here’s where integrating evaluation into your program design can make a difference.
  • If you’re thinking about starting a new program, you will want to have some evidence that your new program is working. How else would you convince others to participate in your program? And how else would you convince a funder to provide you with a grant so you can eventually execute your program and grow it over time? Program evaluation will help you to make a strong case for your idea. And it will also prevent you from embarking on activities that have no impact.
  • If you’re serving on the board of a Wikimedia chapter or a thematic organization, you might want to know which kind of programmatic activities produce the “biggest bang for the buck”. You might ask whether it makes more sense to start putting money and efforts into in-person workshops as compared to spending resources on creating an online training. How many hours of volunteer or staff time are you going to need in order to produce a specific result? Are the in-person workshops going to be more effective than the online training? And which of the two options will be more efficient? Also, which one is going to have the bigger long-term impact? In this sense, program evaluation can be a decision-making tool that will help you to determine which programmatic activities you want to embark on.

Finally, with the Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC) being in place since last year, there’s also another reason why program evaluation will be more important than ever: after the first round of funding for 2012/2013, the FDC requested more information about program impact, so it has a better foundation for making recommendations on what to fund in the future. This means that from now on, funding decisions will rely heavily on the ability of grantees to demonstrate what impact their programmatic activities have. That means that grantees will have to start thinking about program evaluation, in case they plan to apply for movement funds through the FDC process.

I’ve started a series of documents on Meta (“Program evaluation basics”) aimed at providing program leaders with an introduction to the main terms and concepts. Currently, three documents are available:

I invite you to take a look at the documents and to share your thoughts with me. I will also be available for an IRC office hour on Thursday, March 21, at 17:00 UTC. Let’s start talking about program evaluation…

Frank Schulenburg
Senior Director of Programs, Wikimedia Foundation

Measuring and coordinating Wikipedia’s university outreach: the Wikipedia way

This month, we will embark on a new way of bringing the different parts of the Global Education Program together: We are going to host the first “Global Education Program Metrics and Activities Meeting”. The goal of this meeting will be to share our experiences in the field of university outreach and we invite all chapters representatives and interested volunteers to join us on October 25, 2011.

Some background: a growing number of volunteers in different countries is engaged in getting students to share their knowledge with others on Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Foundation has supported the creation of education programs in the United States, in India, and in Canada so far. When I talked to Wikipedians at Wikimania this year, many of them told me that they were eager to start a program on their Wikipedia language version. And we know from conversations with professors in a couple of countries that they are interested in using Wikipedia in their classes as well.

But how do we prevent people from reinventing the wheel? How can we make sure that best practices and lessons learned get shared across different cultures?

I truly believe: It’s not only a good thing to have a diverse approach to how we set up the Education Program in different countries – it’s essential. At the same time it would be great to learn from each other’s experiences. So, here is what I propose: let’s do it the Wikipedia way: collaborative and transparent. Let’s get together in a monthly meeting.

I’ve started a page on the Outreach Wiki to collect your thoughts about what you’d be interested in hearing during this monthly meeting:

If you’re interested in joining this meeting, please add your name to the participants list. Anything else you think is important? Just let me know.

I look forward to your feedback.


It’s all about openness

In June, I travelled to India to kick off the Global Education Program‘s pilot in Pune. There, I met people who said: “I am a big fan of Wikipedia, but I am not good at writing. I always wondered if there are other ways I could help Wikipedia to improve.”

Ram Shankar Yadav

Ram Shankar Yadav volunteered to be the Campus Ambassador Coordinator in Pune.

We invited those people to become Wikipedia Ambassadors to teach others how to start editing. The beauty of the Wikipedia Ambassador Program is that it provides Wikipedia volunteer opportunities that don’t involve editing. People who aren’t article writers might be good at teaching others. They might have skills that we desperately need to get more people excited about Wikipedia and to fill the many gaps in content that still exist. Just look at the enthusiasm of the new Pune Campus Ambassadors that comes through in these video interviews.

Ram Shankar Yadav is a great example. Ram had never edited Wikipedia before. He was always a fan of the free encyclopedia, but he wasn’t drawn to editing the content. When he heard about the opportunity to become a Campus Ambassador, he jumped at the chance to volunteer his teaching skills in support of the encyclopedia he loved. Now, Ram has stepped into a leadership role in the India Education Program, serving as a key on-the-ground organizer of the Pune Ambassadors.

It was openness that made Wikipedia a success story. With a simple click on the edit button, you could change its content. That’s what distinguished Wikipedia from Nupedia back in 2001 and that’s how it became the biggest encyclopedia ever. Openness is critical for our future, too.

To stay successful, I firmly believe Wikipedia needs to be open and welcoming to newcomers who want to edit, but also to people who fill in other roles in our movement. People who are not part of the editing community, but who are eager to help Wikipedia in other ways – people like Ram.

Frank Schulenburg
Global Education Program Director

Is Wikipedia about being a member of a club, or is it about building an encyclopedia?

It’s good that some people (and I consider myself part of this group) get hooked on editing Wikipedia. We stay around for years, we become part of the community, we go to meetups, and most of all, we do an amazing amount of work to make Wikipedia better. Let’s get this out of the way first – Wikipedia can’t exist without those dedicated people.

Is this the only way of being a part of Wikipedia? My answer is no. I truly believe that there are also other ways of helping Wikipedia to get better.

Back in 2005, when I started to think about ways how to improve Wikipedia, I was asking myself: how can we encourage a larger number of knowledgeable people to edit articles? People who stick around, who become Wikipedians, people like me and all the others who spend endless hours on research and writing.

Over the years, we tried many different things to make this vision come true. We held workshops, organized Wikipedia Academies, gave presentations and offered prizes for outstanding articles. We reached out to academics as well as to senior citizens. Most of these things didn’t work as well as we initially thought.

When we started reaching out to university students last year, we tried something different. It was explicitly not our goal to turn all those students into Wikipedians. We knew they would edit Wikipedia as part of their class and only a couple of them would stay. Because being a long-term member of the community requires a specific kind of mindset – and honestly: not everybody has that mindset. Some people just enjoy editing Wikipedia for a short time of their life and then carry on with other activities.

What we are attempting in our Global Education Program instead, is to institutionalize the use of Wikipedia in the classroom. Our goal is to explain to as many teachers as possible what the benefits of using Wikipedia of a teaching tool are. Students are much more motivated when they write for a global audience, instead of just writing for their professor. Some of the students participating in our program over the last year were so proud of their work that they sent links to the articles they improved to their grandparents. Amazing! When have you heard of students who sent their term papers to their grandparents? And not only are those students more motivated, they also improve their media literacy skills, they learn how to use a wiki, and they improve their research, writing, and critical thinking skills.

As we carry on with the Global Education Program, every semester a new cohort of students will learn how to edit. They will upload pictures, improve articles, and learn how to use talk pages. Some of them will come back later and apply those skills. They will help us to take another step on the way to make Wikipedia better. Most of them will never become members of the community. I believe that’s ok. Because Wikipedia is not only about being a member of the club – it’s about building the biggest and best encyclopedia ever.

Frank (club member)

Global Education Program A–Z

Our new Global Education Program brings with it a lot of new terminology. What better way to organize an overview than in A–Z?

Ambassadors: When we started thinking about how to involve universities in the improvement of Wikipedia articles back in 2009, it became clear that we won’t be successful without offering various kinds of support. We decided to create a new role for people who are both eager and qualified to help new contributors to get around the many difficulties of editing Wikipedia. The Wikipedia Ambassador Program started in the summer of 2010, when we recruited the first Campus and Online Ambassadors for the English Wikipedia. Today it’s a great way for people to become engaged even if they don’t have a long history of Wikipedia editing. All you need is an affinity to teaching, the willingness to help others and a friendly attitude. That opens the Wikipedia movement up for people who are eager to help and who had few opportunities for doing so in the past.

Bookshelf: Teaching students how to use Wikipedia is hard without instructional materials. Back in 2006 we only had the “Wikipedia Cheatsheet,” a one-pager that listed the most common wiki markup tags. That’s why we started the Bookshelf Project in 2009. Now, it contains a wide variety of brochures and videos that explain how to start editing. Most popular among teachers are the “Welcome to Wikipedia” and “Evaluating Wikipedia article quality” brochures. By the way: all printed materials have been created with Scribus, an open source desktop publishing application, so they can be translated and adapted by people all over the world.

Campus Ambassadors: Campus Ambassadors provide in-person support on the university campus. They get a 2-day training to learn all the nuts and bolts of what they have to teach. Our Campus Ambassadors come from a variety of different backgrounds. Some of them are librarians, some are students, and some are teachers. They all share a common goal: to help newcomers with their first steps on Wikipedia.

Fellows: We started a Wikipedia Teaching Fellows Program for educators participating in the Public Policy Initiative in 2011. Professors who fulfill the Teaching Fellow requirements are able to put the distinction on their C.V. to indicate the work they’ve done with Wikipedia in their classrooms. At our Wikipedia in Higher Education Summit in July 2011, we were able to honor the first 20 official Wikipedia Teaching Fellows.

Global Education Program: The class-based university program as explored in the Public Policy Initiative has been highly successful in turning students into Wikipedia contributors. We have built a strong knowledge base about running a class-based program as well as the tools needed to implement it (training handbooks, brochures on how to start editing, how-to videos, sample syllabi, etc.) We are now at a point to make these investments pay off. That’s why we are starting a Global Education Program. The Global Education Program will support the Foundation’s strategic goal to grow and strengthen the Wikipedia editor community.

Higher Education Summit: Our first Wikipedia in Higher Education Summit took place on July 7–9, 2011. More than 120 teachers, librarians, Wikipedia Ambassadors, and Foundation staff members came together in Boston to celebrate the successes of the Public Policy Initiative. For the participants, the three days were a great opportunity to share their skills, best practices and success stories with each other. We received a lot of positive feedback and we hope that this was the first of many Wikipedia Higher Education Summits to be held in different countries around the globe.

India Education Program: In June 2011, we started our India Education Program in Pune, Maharashtra. Pune is a vibrant university city with more than a hundred educational institutes. We quickly learned that the interest from Indian teachers in our program is as big as the interest in the U.S. That’s why we are estimating that more than 700 students will participate in Wikipedia-editing activities in the first semester. Most of them will edit the English Wikipedia, but some of them are also planning to write articles on the Maharati Wikipedia.

K-12: We know that university students make great contributors to Wikipedia. Some say, “students are the fuel of Wikipedia.” But what about high school students? We’ve received some inquiries from high school teachers who would like to adopt our model and let their students edit Wikipedia as part of the classroom activities. That’s why we will run a small pilot in the spring term 2012 to see whether this idea is worth further exploration.

Numbers: In the first two semesters of our educational program activities, more than 800 students contributed about 5,600 pages of high quality content to the English Wikipedia. Our research has shown that Wikipedia articles written by those students improved by an average of 140 percent. By 2013, we are planning to have more than 10,000 students enrolled in our Education Program.

Online Ambassadors: Whereas the Campus Ambassadors provide in-person support, the Online Ambassadors help students on wiki and on a dedicated IRC channel. Most of our Online Ambassadors are long-term Wikipedians who can answer almost every question related to the technical aspects of editing, Wikipedia culture and processes. Students have told us that the mentoring from Online Ambassadors has been “tremendously helpful” for understanding Wikipedia and for making the first edits.

Public Policy Initiative: A 17-month experimental pilot program that started in the summer of 2010. We decided to run our pilot with a narrow topical focus (“If we can do it with public policy, we will be able to do it with any other topic as well”) and limited to U.S. universities. Now, as we are flooded with requests from educators outside of public policy, and we have a model that works effectively, we are transitioning the Public Policy Initiative to the new Global Education Program. Our goal is to apply our learnings in the U.S. to other disciplines and countries and to expand the use of Wikipedia in higher education globally. We see this as a continuous effort to strengthen and diversify Wikipedia’s editing community.

Regional Ambassadors: When we started the Public Policy Initiative, one of our main goals was to make the program self-sustainable. That’s why we created the role of Regional Ambassadors. Whereas Foundation staff members recruited professors and Campus Ambassadors in the beginning, it’s now up to the volunteers. The Regional Ambassador role is a leadership role with great opportunities for developing team management, community organizing, and public outreach skills. It also provides participants with significant professional-networking opportunities, especially in the education community and the open-source community.

Student clubs: Wikipedia student clubs pretty much emerged without the Foundation being involved. The first student club in the U.S. started at the University of Michigan in June 2010. Most student clubs hold monthly meetings where students can have a place to both learn and teach each other how to edit Wikimedia projects, and to discuss their edits with each other.

Trainers: Some of our Campus Ambassadors get an additional 2-day training so they can train the next generation of Campus Ambassadors. Those Campus Ambassador Trainers play an important role in our program activities: as volunteers they organize and lead local training events to ensure that the next cohort of Ambassadors acquires the same skills as they did. They also provide valuable feedback that helps improve the training.

Women: One of our strategic goals is to encourage more women to start editing Wikipedia. Our activities at universities offer a great opportunity to do so: more than half of the students in the U.S. (as well as in a large number of other countries) are female. And, of course, we are proud that more than 45% of our Campus Ambassadors are women as well.

Join the discussion about Wikimedia and education by subscribing to the Education listserv.

Frank Schulenburg
Global Education Program Director

For Wikipedia in Education, the future is now

In July 2006, Andy Carvin, host of the PBS blog, examined the attitude of teachers toward using Wikipedia in the classroom. [1] He asked: “Are educators hostile to Wikipedia?”. The answers ranged from one high school teacher who told Andy “Most colleagues had never seen Wikipedia, never intended to go there, and some had already warned their students that they were not to use Wikipedia for class projects” to another teacher who objected “I use Wikipedia all the time as a quick way to get a first pass on a subject I’m not familiar with, and I don’t see any reason why students shouldn’t be taught to use it the same way.” Most of the participants were arguing about whether their students should use Wikipedia as a source of information, not whether the students should contribute to it.

Carvin had already pointed out in 2005 that asking students to actively contribute to Wikipedia might be a model worth exploring [2]. Now, he stated: “It may be just a matter of time before we see highly organized educational activities, with teams of students from around the world working together to improve the quality of content on Wikipedia.” [1]

The past year

The past year has shown that those educational activities that Andy Carvin was envisioning in 2005 can be an effective means of improving Wikipedia’s quality. Building on the experiences of teachers like Jon Beasley-Murray (Was introducing Wikipedia to the classroom an act of madness leading only to mayhem if not murder?) and others, the Wikimedia Foundation started an experimental pilot project (the Public Policy Initiative) to explore the challenges and opportunities of student-based Wikipedia-editing on a larger scale. More than 800 students from 22 U.S. universities contributed about 5,600 pages of high quality content to the English Wikipedia. Articles written by those students improved by an average of 140 percent. Moreover, our pilot project sparked a high level of interest from media and teachers around the world.

Over the initial 12 months of the pilot project, we have built a strong knowledge base about running a class-based program as well as the tools needed to implement it (training handbooks, brochures on how to start editing, how-to videos, sample syllabi, etc.) We have also recruited and trained Wikipedia Ambassadors, whose role is to teach students about the basics of Wikipedia and to support them with their first edits. We are now at a point to make these investments pay off.

The Global Education Program and the year ahead

Beginning in 2011, we will expand Wikipedia editing in university classrooms to institutions around the world. That’s what we call the “Global Education Program”. It will support the Wikimedia Foundation’s strategic goal to grow, strengthen, and increase the Wikipedia editor community. It will also improve Wikipedia’s quality and increase Wikipedia’s credibility within academia.

Our priorities for expansion in year one will be India and Brazil, and we will also start activities in a couple of other countries. Whereas the Public Policy Initiative had a narrow topical focus, the new Global Education Program will encourage teachers from all disciplines to engage their students in Wikipedia editing.

What are the big challenges we are going to tackle in year one?

  • Scalability. Based on the current growth, we are planning to have more than 10,000 students enrolled in our program by 2013. That means that we will need a much larger number of Wikipedia Campus and Online Ambassadors to support teachers and students. Therefore, we are planning to move the Ambassador training online and explore new models of letting volunteers take ownership of the program.
  • Standards and guidelines. For a global volunteer-driven program like ours, it will be important that all participants have a shared understanding of what the goals are and how we are planning to achieve these goals. That’s where standards and guidelines come into play. The education systems and the culture of education varies from country to country, and we aim at being as flexible as possible in the implementation of our model. At the same time, we need to make sure that the quality of our support for teachers and students meets the same standards globally.
  • Communication. At the Wikipedia in Higher Education Summit last month, we have seen how powerful it can be when participants of our program share their experiences and learnings with each other. Our goal for the next year will be to give volunteers a stronger voice in storytelling and also to develop tools that enable participants to share their materials and best practices more effectively.

For me, the year ahead is the next step toward the vision that Andy Carvin outlined in 2005. Wikipedia belongs in Higher Education. And it’s not a matter of time anymore that students from around the world will work together to improve the quality of content on Wikipedia. The future of Wikipedia in Education is now.

Frank Schulenburg
Global Education Program Director


First U.S. Wikipedia student club starts at University of Michigan

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

Welcome Wikipedia Ambassadors

Wikipedia Ambassador LogoNext week, the first Wikipedia Campus Ambassador training will take place at the George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C. We invited about 20 Wikipedians, students, teaching assistants, librarians and professors to this three-day training event. The Trachtenberg School at GWU kindly offered to host the training, which includes a basic introduction to Wikipedia, a training in presentation skills and a walk-through of the specific tasks of Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors.

What is the idea behind Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors? When we initially reached out to university professors and asked them whether they were interested in using Wikipedia as a teaching tool in their classes, their feedback was very positive. Not only were we warmly received everywhere we visited, but nearly all the professors we met were interested in moving forward in some capacity.

The professors we met agreed that using Wikipedia as a teaching tool could have several benefits, including:

  • students improve their writing skills, specifically the difference between fact-based and persuasive writing styles
  • students gain a working understanding of how Wikipedia works, developing insights into the appropriate use of Wikipedia as a resource
  • students strengthen their ability to think critically and evaluate the quality of cited sources
  • students gain experience in both the collaborative and technical aspects of working on a wiki-based web site

Moreover, students who write for Wikipedia write for a global audience (rather than just for their professor) and thus feel more devoted to the assignment as a whole.

These are the potential benefits. But what about the challenges? Wouldn’t using Wikipedia in the classroom demand a lot of time from the professors, both in learning about Wikipedia and in working with students on the Wikipedia assignment?

To meet the challenge of effectively supporting teachers for the Public Policy Initiative, Wikimedia will provide:

  • Educational materials about Wikipedia: At the beginning of the fall semester, a slate of educational materials will be ready for distribution. These materials include videos, printed brochures about how to start editing, as well as a sample course syllabus and lesson plans;
  • Wikipedia Online Ambassadors: A team of experienced Wikipedians will support newcomers through their first 100 edits. Online Ambassadors will answer questions on the wiki, by email, on IRC and via other media. They will train students on the technical and cultural basics of editing Wikipedia;
  • Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors: Another team will provide face-to-face support on campus. Campus Ambassadors will train students in class on the basics of editing Wikipedia and provide face-to-face technical and informational support for new contributors. They will also engage people in real-life activities in support of free knowledge.

Today, after several months of preparation, the groundwork is done. The educational materials are about to be printed, a number of Online Ambassadors have been recruited and the first generation of Campus Ambassadors will meet in Washington, D.C. next week.

Annie Lin, the Public Policy Initiative’s Campus Team Coordinator, has done an amazing job in recruiting the first Campus Ambassadors. She advertised these volunteer opportunities both on Wikipedia and on several campuses. She conducted phone interviews with each candidate and organized in-person meetings. As a result, we have Campus Ambassadors at all five universities we will work with in the fall semester.

If this model works for the Public Policy Initiative, we’d love to find ways to scale it across hundreds of universities world-wide. We will discuss the scalability issue at our training event next week. Your comments are welcome: How can we best scale and sustain the efforts of Campus Ambassadors?

For more information on the role of the Campus Ambassador, click here.

Frank Schulenburg, Global Education Program Director

Wikipedia heads to school

Today we announced a new initiative to improve the quality of information on Wikipedia and broaden our group of contributors. This project, the first of its kind for the Foundation and for any of our projects, was made possible by a generous $1.2 million grant from a longtime Wikimedia Foundation supporter, the Stanton Foundation. The grant will support a pilot program to engage current volunteers, academic experts and students to help improve subject-specific articles on Wikipedia, initially focused on the topic area of public policy.

During the pilot program (which we’re calling the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative), we will work with volunteers, academics, and students at post-secondary educational institutions, and experiment with various ways to use Wikipedia in the classroom. Ultimately we’re aiming to improve the quality of articles, but this experiment will also help us learn more about the use and editing of Wikipedia in the classroom.

We will connect current Wikipedia volunteers with academics and students in order to engage and encourage participation by new editors and subject matter experts. Thrhoughout this process the Wikimedia Foundation aims to develop models and best practices to share with Wikimedia chapters and volunteers all over the world. We are also interested in finding new ways to increase the quality of articles in additional subject areas and languages, and to find new ways to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool.

Wikimedia is now planning for and hiring the project team for the initiative, which will kick-off in the fall academic semester 2010 (keep an eye on our jobs page for the postings). We will be working with some of the most esteemed educational institutions and public policy schools in the United States.
We’ll continue to share updates and information on the Wikimedia Foundation blog, and you can also track our progress and plans on the Wikimedia Outreach wiki.

We’re grateful to the Stanton Foundation for its continued support of important programs that advance the Wikimedia mission.

Thanks for your interest,
Frank Schulenburg, Public outreach

Wikimedia launches Bookshelf Project

Maybe you’ve been editing Wikipedia for years. Or maybe you made your first edit a few days ago. Whatever your experience, you likely know at least one central fact about editing – that it can be difficult for newcomers to master the skills necessary for contributing to Wikipedia.

We want to change that, and we need your help. That’s why Wikimedia is kicking off a new project, the Bookshelf Project, developed to extend the reach and improve the quality of Wikipedia articles by increasing participation. We’re designing the Bookshelf Project to create a core set of public outreach materials designed to recruit new, high-value Wikipedia contributors. The idea is that by increasing potential contributor awareness, fostering excitement, and providing the training tools new editors need to get started, we’ll draw many more new editors than we do today. And we believe recruiting new high-value contributors to Wikipedia will necessarily increase the usefulness and quality of our encyclopedia.

Now we already know that many Wikipedia readers have never thought about editing the encyclopedia – even though there’s lots of information available about how to do so. Our goal is to reach out to those editors more actively – both to make them feel welcome and give them a great set of starting tools. We hope to seed the knowledge and enthusiasm about contributing to Wikipedia in such a way that it propagates itself.

We have lots of good reasons to believe this dream is achievable. Here’s one reason: we know anecdotally how easy it can be to inspire someone to edit and to share knowledge about editing. For example, during recent user testing for the Usability project, we interviewed a woman who uses Wikipedia daily, mainly to help her daughter with homework. She is an avid fan but had never edited. During the testing, she edited for the first time and immediately became excited about the possibilities of sharing what she knows and loves with others. She understood and was eager to implement Wikipedia’s core tenets of neutrality and verifiability. And she was eager to go home, share her excitement and recruit others to the effort.

Now, we can’t do one-on-one interviews with every possible new editor. But stories like this one suggest that we can leverage our experience with a few editors in ways that will benefit many more potential contributors. And that is the essence of the Bookshelf materials we plan to develop with your help.

We also plan to tap educational resources, since we know Wikipedia is a fact of life in many educational situations, usually as a reference tool. The Bookshelf Project will support additional educational applications by providing model lesson plans to show secondary school teachers and university professors how they can use writing, editing and collaboration in Wikipedia as core curriculum activities. In developing the Bookshelf Educational materials, we will work with subject matter experts to ensure the materials are relevant and applicable.

The Bookshelf Project will include materials to help journalists and other communications professionals do their jobs more easily, including techniques and information to help them be sure the information they use and the copy they write is accurate and up to date.

The Bookshelf materials will be developed in English and will be designed for translation, adaptation and use by volunteers, chapters and educational institutions such as schools and universities. We will use our new Outreach Wiki for the Bookshelf Project. This will be our place to give updates on the project and to get community feedback. There are lots of opportunities to help out, from acting as subject matter experts, to reviewing, and translation and localization.

We look forward to working together with our community on this initiative. If you’ve been in any way successful as a Wikipedia editor, we would value your input and feedback. There’s more than one way to contribute to Wikipedia’s success, but one major way to contribute has to be in the recruiting and training of new editors. The more we do to bring new, talented editors on board, the more comprehensive, reliable, and useful Wikipedia will be.

Marlita Kahn
Project Manager, Bookshelf Project