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