The Wikipedia Education Program has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception last year, as part of the Public Policy Initiative. In 2011, the program ventured beyond the United States into Canada and India, making the measurements of the program’s impact even more important. We want to use these metrics (some of which are outlined below) as tools that help us understand and improve the Wikipedia Education Program as a whole, while also understanding individual pieces of the system better.
Public Policy Initiative
From My Dirty Little Secret to My Favorite Tool for E-Pedagogy: How One University Professor Learned to Love Wikipedia
I was never a fan of Wikipedia. In fact, I was quite skeptical when I first heard about the Wikipedia Global Education Program. How things have changed.
About a year ago, I remember hearing that some folks from the Wikimedia Foundation were planning to visit our College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University to try to recruit faculty for the Wikipedia Education Program. I remember walking to the meeting thinking, hmm, well I guess as a professor in a communication school it’ll be cool to meet some people who work for a major social media site. I’m not a fan of Wikipedia though, I don’t trust it… (puff up chest here) I’m an academic after all; my work is well-researched, credible, trustworthy, not like that amateurish stuff on Wikipedia. Just let me find one of my students citing Wikipedia in a paper so that I can write on their submission in big, red letters YOU DO NOT CITE WIKIPEDIA IN MY CLASS.
The dirty little secret of course was that I was using Wikipedia all the time. Whenever I would begin a research project I would type a concept into Google and of course a Wikipedia article would come up. I’d take a quick look, check out the references, begin to map the concept in my mind, all the while feeling unsure that I could trust what I was reading. I did this all the time. As an academic, this was my dirty little secret.
One year later and how things have changed. I am now a Wikipedia Teaching Fellow as well as a volunteer member of the Wikipedia Education Program’s outreach team helping to connect universities in Canada to the initiative, determined to change the minds of skeptics all over the world who see Wikipedia as I once did.
So what’s changed? Look, I’ve used Facebook in the classroom, I’ve used Twitter. I’ve used closed wikis, blogs and other new media technologies and I am convinced (and I don’t think I’m overstating things here) that Wikipedia is among the most innovative tools for e-pedagogy and e-learning currently available.
This “Wikipedia in the classroom” project begins where most “traditional” research assignments leave off. Students are still researching topics related to course content, they’re still synthesizing sources, they’re still writing; that’s where most “traditional” research projects leave off. What the Wikipedia project then adds is new media literacy development. Students learn the technical and social skills needed to work with wiki-technology, they’re pushed to collaborate and engage with Wikipedia’s social network, they are thrust into a thriving open-source movement, and they are exposed to a growing and increasingly relevant wiki-culture. Students experience all of this, while simultaneously learning course content.
That’s just the beginning.
As I teach my students about new media literacy, I often refer to new perspectives that I’ve been exposed to while working with the Wikimedia Foundation. Lessons about what it means to understand the nature of the evolving information source, how knowledge is generated through debate (some would go so far as to say that we’re working with a dialectic process here… perhaps an overstatement) and most importantly, how it is essential the we be critical of our information sources, no matter what they are or where we find them. You are not safe anywhere when it comes to information sources. There is bias everywhere. There are mistakes everywhere. No information source is the source. Research widely and research often. Be an informed consumer of information.
Wikipedia is so many things. It’s an encyclopedia, it’s a social network, and it’s also an idea. When I first began using Wikipedia in the classroom as a tool for innovative e-pedagogy, I quickly realized that not only was I teaching students new media literacy, not only would I be providing them with a unique opportunity to collaborate online and receive feedback from a multitude of individuals, forcing them to reflect on their work from a variety of perspectives. Not only would students be leaving something behind, contributing to the amount of information available online about their area of interest – have you heard about the Georgetown student’s Wikipedia article – National Democratic Party (Egypt) – that’s received more than 100,000 hits since the “paper” was turned in? Not bad for a term paper that would in years past end up in the file cabinet or the garbage, seemingly lost forever. When we introduce Wikipedia into the classroom as a teaching tool, not only do our students enjoy these benefits, we provide them with a space to reflect and learn about the nature of knowledge, how it is created, built, shaped, learned, and how it evolves. Taken a step further, perhaps we are also providing them with a place to question the normative ideals of participatory, direct democracy, and how our information sources contribute to our societal system of knowledge.
I’ve gotten ahead of myself. What is this Wikipedia project anyways? How does it work? Well, for more information, have a look at the Wikimedia Foundation’s Wikipedia Global Education Program outreach page. To put it simply, professors replace “traditional” writing assignments with the Wikipedia assignment, requiring students to research and write material that then gets placed in Wikipedia articles. At the same time that students conduct research and edit Wikipedia (learning the social and technical components of the site), students also learn about wiki-culture as they connect to Wikipedia’s social network. This all happens while professors simultaneously teach course content. It’s two-courses in one in many respects.
Clearly I’m gushing, clearly my views have changed, and for good reason. As an educator I’m being given a tremendous opportunity to offer my students something relevant, cutting-edge, intellectually challenging and fun. Oh and by the way, did I mention that it’s free?
Come check out what the Wikimedia Foundation has put together, I promise that you’ll never feel dirty about your Wikipedia use again.
Michigan State University
The first generation of Wikipedia Ambassadors participated in a survey when the Public Policy Initiative wrapped up this summer. More than 80 respondents (over half of the 2010-2011 Ambassadors!) provided input about their experiences and how to improve the program. Many Wikimedia Foundation blog followers are probably familiar with the Initiative’s development of the Ambassador Program to open Wikipedia to the academic community. Ambassadors come in two flavors: Campus Ambassadors, who provide a face for Wikipedia on university campuses, and Online Ambassadors, who support the new student editors on wiki as they make their first contributions.
While both Campus and Online Ambassadors identified their role as helping newcomers, their motivations diverged. Online Ambassadors were strongly motivated by helping newcomers, and Campus Ambassadors were strongly motivated by increasing Wikipedia credibility and use on university campuses. Both Campus and Online Ambassadors felt responsible first to the students they were working with and second to the Wikipedia community. Ambassadors agreed on the Public Policy Initiative outcomes:
- Wikipedia content improved.
- Use of Wikipedia as a teaching tool increased.
- Ambassadors provided support for college-educated newcomers.
- There was an increase of Wikipedia’s credibility among academia.
Through the survey, many Ambassadors shared their most memorable experiences in the program. Some of the highlights include:
- “I showed a student how to check the page view statistics. Hundreds of people had seen his article since he created it. What an immediate impact he had! He was blown away.”
- “For me it was an honor to have a student participant who was also a US Congressman and to help improve his Wikipedia article.”
- “My favorite story is of a non-traditional age student telling me that her son’s 8th grade teacher told the class not to use Wikipedia because it can not be trusted. Our student told her son what she had learned about neutral-voice and verifiability and community scholarship. At the end of the semester her son told her that his middle-school teacher now says it’s okay to use Wikipedia as a place to start looking for information… I sure would like to know what that 8th grader told his teacher about his Mom’s academic Wikipedia experience.”
Research Analyst, Public Policy Initiative
As we make the transition from the Public Policy Initiative to the Global Education Program, we are relying more on volunteers to keep our project sustainable. In the United States, some of the Global Education Program’s most hard-working volunteers this summer are the Regional Ambassadors.
As we expand the U.S.-based offerings in the Global Education Program, the Regional Ambassadors play the critical role of recruiting for campus-based activities. They help instructors interested in having their students edit Wikipedia for class learn more about what the program can offer, and they work to recruit people for the Campus Ambassador role and also coordinate getting the Campus Ambassadors all adequately trained. At the moment, Regional Ambassadors are taking the main leadership role in planning nine different Campus Ambassador trainings that will happen across the United States over the next few weeks.
Meet the current crop of Regional Ambassadors:
- Chanitra Bishop (User:Etlib) is the Instruction & Emerging Technologies Librarian at Indiana University Bloomington and an experienced Campus Ambassador who has helped with two terms of classes at Indiana University Bloomington. She is a co-leader of the Great Lakes region.
- Tom Cloyd (User:Tomcloyd) is an experienced Wikipedian with professional training in human psychology (which he has found highly useful in his recruitment efforts!). He leads the Great West region.
- Derrick Coetzee (User:Dcoetzee) is an experienced Wikimedian, a Campus Ambassador who supports San Francisco Bay Area classes, and the unofficial photographer for recent Wikipedia Global Education Program events. He is a co-leader of the Pacifica region.
- Bryan Cox (User:Manumitany) is a law student with extensive experience in community/political organizing and in coordinating volunteers. Bryan leads the Skyplains region.
- Max Klein (User:Maximilianklein) participated in the Public Policy Initiative as both a course instructor and a Campus Ambassador in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has contributed many creative ideas to the program. He leads the New England region.
- Richard Knipel (User:Pharos) is actively involved with the Wikimedia New York chapter, and served as a Campus Ambassador to New York University in spring 2011. He leads the Metropolis region.
- Rob Pongsajapan (User:Pongr) is a new media designer at the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) at Georgetown University, where he has also been a Campus Ambassador for two terms. He leads the Nation’s Capital region.
- Rob Schnautz (User:Bob_the_Wikipedian) is an experienced Wikipedian with stunning organization abilities. He’s a co-leader of the Great Lakes region.
- Matt Senate (User:Mattsenate) has, like Max, served as both a course instructor and a Campus Ambassador in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is very active in the free culture movement. Matt co-leads the Pacifica region.
- Dylan Staley (User:Dylanstaley) is a peer mentor at Louisiana State University’s Communication Across the Curriculum office, while also serving as a Campus Ambassador at that university. Dylan leads the Texarkana region and is serving as the interim Regional Ambassador for the South as well.
- Alex Stinson (User:Sadads) is an experienced Campus Ambassador at James Madison University, a longtime Wikipedian, an Online Ambassador, the founder of a Wikipedia student club at James Madison University, and a key player in outreach activities to universities in the U.K. He leads the Greater Chesapeake region.
We honestly couldn’t do it without them, so a HUGE round of thanks to our Regional Ambassadors!
The Regional Ambassador model is debuting with the United States, but as we start to grow our programs in Canada, India, Germany, Brazil, the U.K., and other countries around the globe, we anticipate developing Regional Ambassadors for those locations as well. In the U.S., the plan is to gradually reduce the size of each region so that activities in each region are more local and less time-intensive.
If you’re interested in learning more about using Wikipedia in higher education classrooms, fill out this interest form and the appropriate Regional Ambassador will get in touch. Fill out the form, too, if you’re interested in becoming a Regional Ambassador yourself.
Global Education Program Communications Manager
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.
Global Education Program Director
In July 2006, Andy Carvin, host of the PBS blog learning.now, examined the attitude of teachers toward using Wikipedia in the classroom.  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 . 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.” 
- 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.
Global Education Program Director
Joseph Lapka was unsure what to expect when he signed up for Professor Sheldon Gen’s Environmental Policy course at San Francisco State University. The course description indicated that Joseph, who is a graduate of the University of Michigan’s civil and environmental engineering program and who is currently in the master of public administration program at SF State, would be writing a Wikipedia article as part of his coursework. Joseph is also working full time as an environmental engineer, so he is familiar with policy briefs, but he wasn’t quite sure how Wikipedia would fit in the classroom.
“A lot of the policy work I do professionally involves applying existing policies to new or unique situations and that is in some ways different than the encyclopedic type of writing that is appropriate for Wikipedia,” Joseph says. “Having completed the course, I think the overall experience was a good one. The Wikipedia project fit well with the structure and content of the course and I think that contributed to the positive experience.”
Another positive part of Joseph’s experience was the presence of his Wikipedia Ambassadors. The face time with his Campus Ambassadors, Derrick Coetzee and Max Klein, made them his first point of contact whenever he had a question.
“My Campus Ambassadors regularly visited my class to guide us through the technical aspects of preparing and posting our articles,” Joseph explains. “Both of the ambassadors were very knowledgeable and eager to help with what was a new experience for many of us. I think our Campus Ambassadors are another aspect of this project that made the experience a positive one.”
Joseph chose to write his article on the regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. It’s a topic of considerable current public policy debate, and Wikipedia’s coverage was limited. Joseph says he saw the assignment as a chance to use his knowledge as an environmental engineer to make Wikipedia better.
“I always give all of my assignments my best effort,” he says. “However, knowing that my article would be posted online for others to read gave me an even greater incentive to seek out differing points of view, be more critical of my sources of information, and document those sources more thoroughly.”
Joseph says this is the first course assignment that hasn’t ended with the end of term. Instead, other Wikipedia editors are making contributions to the article, and Joseph is watching to see what changes get made. He says he’s very interested in seeing how the article evolves over time.
“With a traditional assignment, your only audience is often your professor, or at most your professor and your classmates,” Joseph says. “I really liked the fact that this assignment gave me an opportunity to write for a broader audience and make a valuable contribution to a resource that I often use myself.”
Communications Associate – Public Policy Initiative
The first Wikipedia in Higher Education Summit was held last week on the campus of Simmons College, a women’s college that participated in the Public Policy Initiative in the spring. More than 125 professors, students, and Wikipedia Ambassadors gathered for 2 1/2 days to talk about their experiences and plans going forward for using Wikipedia in the classroom.
The Public Policy Initiative is a 18-month pilot program to bring Wikipedia editing into university classrooms. Participating professors assign their students to write articles in place of a paper for the course, with assistance from Wikimedia Foundation-trained Campus Ambassadors (in class) and Online Ambassadors (virtually). In the 2010-11 academic year, we worked with 47 classes whose 821 students added more than 8.8 million characters of quality content to the English Wikipedia.
The conference brought together 33 Campus Ambassadors, 11 Online Ambassadors, 49 professors, 9 students, 15 local professors, and 12 WMF staff/board members. About half of the professors had used Wikipedia in their class in the past, and the other half were interested in using it in the future.
It would be hard to underestimate the energy in each session for the use of Wikipedia in higher education. We even scrapped a planned icebreaker in the agenda because everyone was already excitedly chatting with their new Wikimedia friends.
The full agenda is available online, but sessions at the Summit focused on making connections among attendees and documenting our learnings from the pilot academic year. Speakers included Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, Public Policy Initiative team members, and Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner. Chief Global Development Officer Barry Newstead talked about plans for the global expansion of the higher education program, and our Regional Ambassadors led sessions with attendees from their region.
We at WMF learned a lot about the experiences of the various participants in our program. You can read more about the event in The Signpost, Inside Higher Ed, and one attendee’s blog, or check out photos at Wikimedia Commons. Full documentation, including links to photos, videos, and presentation slides are also available.
The Wikipedia in Higher Education Summit really crystalized for the team that all the work we’ve put in to making Wikipedia and academia blend has been incredibly useful. We’d invited representatives from Canada, the U.K, Germany, Brazil, and India, who were all there to talk about how they will be using Wikipedia in classrooms in their countries in the next term. But while we were there, we also had professors approach us and say they wanted to be the liaison between the WMF’s global university program and other parts of the world, including the Middle East, North Africa and Chile.
If you’re interested in using Wikipedia in your classroom or joining the program as an Ambassador, reach out to a Regional Ambassador in the United States or consult the Education Portal for more information. The whole team is very excited to see where the global university program heads — one thing is for certain, there is a lot of enthusiasm for Wikipedia in higher education!
Communications Associate – Public Policy Initiative
As part of his Master of Public Administration coursework at Western Carolina University, Kasey Baker enrolled in Professor Christopher Cooper’s “Policy Analysis” course – one of 33 courses to participate in the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative in the spring term. Kasey was surprised to hear that his work for the course included writing a Wikipedia article on a course-related topic.
One of Kasey’s first tasks was to select a mentor from the available Online Ambassadors.
“Let me sum up my online mentor, Alex Dunkel (AKA VisionHolder), in two words: ‘Amazing Rockstar,’” Kasey says of his choice. “With 26 GA articles and 16 Featured articles under his belt, there was almost nothing he did not know about Wikipedia. From the onset, we realized we both were huge nerds that liked HTML formatting and well-cited materials. After spending what was close to 30+ hours on Skype, we not only produced a fantastic article, but we became friends as well. Without his help, my article would have not been anywhere near the quality it is currently nor would I have enjoyed the experience as much as I did.”
Kasey’s focus in grad school is on environmental policy, and he’d recently become interested the United States’ nuclear policy. After extensive research on Wikipedia, he discovered that there was no unifying article that summed up U.S. policy; instead, there were several smaller articles that often carried neutrality warnings at the top of the page. Alex, in his role as online mentor, warned Kasey that it would be a difficult undertaking – but Kasey wanted to ensure that this important facet of U.S. policy had a Wikipedia article, so he accepted the challenge.
“This assignment was probably the most intense and heavily researched assignment I have ever done,” he says. “When I was looking at my graduate writing on the nuclear policy history, I realized that many sources were biased or did not meet the quality standard that Wikipedia expected. This was not saying they were unreliable sources, I simply felt that they might not pass the scrutiny of all those who would be looking at them. Moreover, properly citing the materials on my Wikipedia page was far more extensive than that of any other academic writings I’ve ever produced.”
As Kasey began to work on his article, the Fukishima nuclear disaster struck, bringing increased attention to Kasey’s fledgling article. His submission to the Did You Know process brought more attention to his article – including more than 3,000 views on the day his article appeared on Wikipeda’s main page. And Kasey started understanding more and more why so many of the nuclear articles had that neutrality tag applied.
“At every step of the process, I’ve had people fight my article in some way,” he laments. “Fortunately, it has usually been over the title and other minor details that people blew out of proportion. Because I kept my information strictly about policy and made sure it was 100% accurate from reputable sources, no one could accuse the information in my article as being inaccurate or biased.”
He feels some more recent additions to the article’s current events section have the potential to detract from the article’s quality, if other authors do not refine the changes and improve the updates, but it hasn’t caused Kasey to stop working on Wikipedia. Part of that is thanks to his mentor, Alex, who helped him every step of the way. And Kasey realizes that the next topic he tackles on Wikipedia will be one that is less controversial – and he hopes to have another class where the course assignment is to write Wikipedia articles.
“I wholeheartedly prefer writing a Wikipedia article to a traditional paper,” Kasey says. “Most papers, even in graduate school, are almost never shared with the academic community, much less with the general public. With this project, I feel that I am not only able to share my research, but can have a real conversation with others about nuclear policy. Not to mention by creating a Wikipedia article, it expands the information available to anyone curious about the topic. I honestly wish that other classes would involve the submission of Wikipedia articles like this more often.”
Communications Associate, Public Policy Initiative
With two Public Policy Initiative classes completed, Georgetown University’s Patrick Friedel is one of the most experienced student participants in the Wikimedia Foundation’s education program – and Patrick’s experiences have taught him a lot about how Wikipedia works, especially on articles that receive thousands of visitors.
Patrick, a master’s student in Arab Studies, began his Wikipedia editing career in the fall of 2010 in Professor Rochelle Davis’s class, “Introduction to the Study of the Arab World.” Having lived and studied in Cairo, Egypt, for two years, Patrick was surprised to discover that the article on the National Democratic Party of Egypt was only a start class article.
He started making significant changes to the National Democratic Party of Egypt (NDP) article in late October 2010, and had finished the changes required for his class by mid-November.
“The previous NDP article provided precious little historical data on the party as well as no context for the environment in which the party operated. Both, in my opinion, were crucial to fully understanding the NDP,” Patrick says. “In writing the article, I learned a great deal about the leadership, government, and corruption in modern Egypt, and how single-party politics had been so successful at stifling democratic reforms.”
Patrick’s article was receiving an average of about 100 views a day, although that spiked when it was featured on Wikipedia’s main page in the “Did you know?” section. But then things in the Arab world started to change. People in Tunisia hit the streets in December, and Egypt began its own revolution on January 25. As people around the world started searching for information on President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling political party, they landed on the article Patrick had, two months earlier, taken from a little more than a stub to a fully developed article. On the “Day of Anger” on January 28, when the National Democratic Party Headquarters in Cairo burned, his article received more than 5,000 views.
“As the revolution continued over the weeks, thousands continued to visit the article each day,” Patrick says. “I truly felt like I had contributed something meaningful — a resource for understanding the roots of the revolution. Additionally, the article was well cited, therefore assisting interested readers in researching the subject more thoroughly.”
As more and more people visited the page, Patrick’s article began to receive edits from other Wikipedians. Many editors made suggestions on the talk page, and some wanted to remove sections in the article. Patrick sought out help from Online Ambassador mentors, who helped him navigate the attention from many voices.
“One detractor was insistent that I remove the contextual information I had included in the article. He contended that the ‘Electoral System in Egypt’ was erroneous to the scope of the article. Of course, I disagreed. I argued that it was impossible to understand the motives and operations of the NDP without understanding the dynamics of the political system. For example, the only way to comprehend how the NDP won supermajorities in parliament for decades is to know that competing parties are tightly regulated, censored, and often banned,” Patrick explains. “But I did not have to worry, because like all things on Wikipedia, things worked themselves out. Other editors stepped in, including an Online Ambassador, on my behalf, and reiterated the value of the section.”
As Patrick continued to make edits to his article long after the end of his class, keeping it up to date as events unfolded in Egypt, he also started working on another article for a course he was enrolled in for the spring term, Professor Adel Iskander’s “Arab Media” class.
Patrick created the article on Dream TV, a satellite network that hosts a television show called “10:00 p.m.” which would also play a role in the Egypt revolution: Wael Ghonim, the Google executive and internet democracy activist, was interviewed on the show immediately after his detention by Egyptian authorities. The emotional interview prompted hundreds of thousands of Cairenes to again flood Midan Tahrir in downtown Cairo. Two days later, Mubarak resigned.
“Compared to other assignments, our participation in the Wikimedia Public Policy Initiative felt especially significant,” Patrick says. “Not only were we learning how to contribute effectively to the Wikipedia community, skills which I believe are transferable outside the classroom, but our articles were being presented to a community outside our immediate academic circle. Typically, we write for ourselves and our professors. Writing for Wikipedia means that anyone can consume our research, which is exhilarating. One of my peers likened it to being peer-reviewed by thousands of people.”
Although Patrick was initially skeptical of the value of a Wikipedia assignment, he’s now a firm believer in integrating Wikipedia into university curricula. Although he doesn’t seek out articles to make broad changes to beyond the ones in his class, he has been making minor edits to correct errors or add missing facts to articles he reads.
“It is odd. My peers and I knew that Wikipedia was a collaborative encyclopedia — anyone can edit articles. However, it was not until we took a class with a Wikipedia component that we began making edits ourselves. This is not only a skill, but it offers a new outlook on Wikipedia — one that places Wikipedia into a space where we are all much more comfortable building it,” Patrick says. “The courses with Wikipedia components are really game changers. Aside from the Wikipedia content produced by the students for the class, the Wikimedia Public Policy Initiative introduced us to the idea that we can and should contribute to Wikipedia articles.”
Communications Associate, Public Policy Initiative