Hundreds of Czech university students have had a “different” homework during the past two years. Instead of writing essays that end up in the teacher’s drawer (or worse, garbage bin), they took part in the Czech program “Students Write Wikipedia” and made a Wikipedia entry which will last and serve as a source for thousands of Internet users. Similar university programs are running essentially worldwide and notable initiatives have grown in the United States, Canada, and Brazil. However, smaller Wikipedia communities (i.e., those writing in a less common language, such as Czech with 12 million native speakers) sometimes still struggle to develop a “Wikipedia education program” of their own. This article is meant to be a guide for Wikimedians from all those small communities, explaining the most important steps in the way toward a representative, yet organisationally simple education programs.
I originally intended to name this post something like “Education program in 10 days” or “10 steps toward your own education program”. Then I decided to go for a less cheesy heading – but the essence remains that this light-hearted post should present a simple and straightforward way towards cooperation with universities in your country.
Be modest in the beginning
I remember how excited I was when I decided to start the Czech education program. The important thing, however, is not to overdo the whole process. Easily, you may end up as a tired Wikimedian who replies to dozens of e-mails every day and motivated teachers haunt him/her in dreams. Really, start by running one or two pilot projects. Choose teachers in which you have a high confidence (e.g., your own ex-professors) and assist them as much as possible. Not only will it guarantee a successful project, but the teachers will feel good about the cooperation and will tip off their colleagues.
Learn to be a teacher of Wikipedia
One of your key duties is to be able to explain what Wikipedia is, how you can edit existing articles and how to add new. This is not as easy as it may sound. In your first lecture, you will try hard to say everything that can be said about Wikipedia. The students will, naturally, feel very confused. Over time, you will find out that there is really LITTLE that your students have to know in order to become Wikipedians:
- Everyone can edit Wikipedia. You do not own or sign your articles. Everything is released under a free licence.
- Every article must not plagiarize, must cite sources, must be neutral and deal with a “notable” topic.
- This is the edit button, this is the editing window. Here you have buttons to add hypertext links, images and citations. Be bold!
And give them places to ask questions – as many as possible: Wikipedia environment, chat, social sites, e-mail, … be thoughtful of students’ preferences.