On July 13, 2012, I had the pleasure to present, “Translation and Transnational Scholarship” at Wikimania 2012 at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. In the presentation I spoke about my role as a Wikipedia Campus Ambassador in two of Professor Adel Iskandar’s graduate courses: New Media, Innovation, Community, & Dissidence (Fall 2011) and Media and Communications in the Arab World (Spring 2012) at Georgetown University through the U.S. Education Program (WP:USEP). Each course had two Wikipedia components: article creation and in-class group edits. I became involved with the USEP because I was eager to help students visualize news and history that had not been yet been represented as a part popular knowledge.
The U.S. Education Program came to Georgetown in the Fall 2010 term and has since been incorporated into 14 courses university wide. The program provides assistance to professors who want to integrate Wikipedia article creation and editing as part of a course. The support materials include not only wiki markup handouts and brochures, but also both online and offline points of contact. In the classroom, a Campus Ambassador (me, in this case) gives two tutorials, one that focuses on introducing the students to the culture of Wikipedia and one that focuses more on the technical aspects, such as how to contribute a photo and how to edit existing Wikipedia articles. In addition, the program includes the support of an Online Ambassador, who assists the students with more technical questions.
It was extremely enriching to watch the students become explorers during the course. They had to find and discover legitimate sources to not only support emerging social movements, but technologies as well. Students thus found creative ways of writing about technological phenomena as they unfolded in the Arab world, such as finding Arabic citations about the Rassd News Network (RNN), an Arabic Facebook feed, translating them, and making the topic notable for the Wikipedia community and public at large.
I would argue that the more interesting side of Wikipedia editing occurs on the article talk pages, where knowledge production takes place. It helps students think critically about who decides what is notable or worth adding to the article’s content. It is not one person producing content, but multiple people collaborating together to decide what and how it should be said (and cited!). It is this collaborative aspect of Wikipedia editing that indirectly creates an incentive for academic research offline: What was the process of creating a Wikipedia article? Why was one source rejected and one not? These questions help augment the following high impact learning outcomes: media and information literacy, critical thinking and research skills, and writing skills development. These outcomes help deepen student learning and engagement, both in and out of the classroom.