Note: This blog post is the fourth in a series of profiles of students’ experiences on Wikipedia when participating in the Public Policy Initiative during the fall term.

Scotland native Abbie Taylor hadn’t envisioned Wikipedia being part of her grad school curriculum at Georgetown University. But the first year Master of Arts in Arab Studies student found herself converted from a skeptic to a Wikipedian as she crafted an article on Women’s literary salons and societies in the Arab World for Professor Rochelle Davis’s “Introduction to the Study of the Arab World” class.

Abbie’s Campus Ambassadors, Rob Pongsajapan and Yonatan Moskowitz, gave her a copy of the “Welcome to Wikipedia” brochure, which opened her eyes to the extensive nature of the Wikipedia community and its guidelines. But it was her interaction with the Online Ambassadors that made Abbie’s experience on Wikipedia great.

“For me, the Online Ambassador mentors were a godsend,” Abbie says. “I was extremely impressed with their dedication, willingness, and ability to help – literally at all hours! There were times when I would be working at weekends, or very late at night, and yet there was always someone on hand to answer my questions and to review my article.”

Using IRC, Abbie contacted Online Ambassador Rock_drum, who provided great suggestions on her first draft of the article. Other Online Ambassadors chimed in with suggestions, including the key point that Abbie’s article was too academic — she took that advice to heart and says her revised version is much more readable.

“I thought the online chat with the Ambassadors was a great idea, and the Ambassadors deserve much praise for their patience, insight and commitment to the project,” Abbie says. “I greatly appreciated their technical advice, being a bit of a technophobe and new to Wikipedia. My mentor helped me with providing captions for my uploaded pictures from Wikimedia Commons, and another Ambassador made a couple of grammatical edits. When my article was nominated to appear on Wikipedia’s ‘Did You Know’ page, I logged on 24 hours later to find that there had been a problem with my article’s hook, which had been solved by one of the Online Ambassadors. For this, I was extremely grateful.”

Abbie says she liked the fact that she was writing for a global audience with her article. With traditional assignments, she says, she writes for one person (the professor), but the Wikipedia assignment forced her out of her academic comfort zone.

“It was difficult at first, but a great technique to master, and one that will no doubt help me in my future place of work,” Abbie says. “For example, in writing the ‘Intro’ section to my article, I had to consider its readership. What would be useful for someone doing some quick research on my topic?”

Abbie says she felt a larger sense of personal investment in her article than she does with traditional assignments. And she felt a duty to keep adding more information she thought people would find interesting and useful. “Making edits and additions did get quite addictive after a while!” she says.

She is looking forward to taking another course in the spring that will also have a Wikipedia assignment component, as she’ll be able to continue contributing to freely shared knowledge about the Arab World — an area that she feels has a wealth of culture and history, but has suffered from negative, and at times inaccurate, media coverage.

“Now that I feel like a fairly seasoned and competent Wikipedia user,” she explains, “I hope to contribute and edit articles on the Arab World, in order to promote objective, accessible, and well-sourced information on the politics, cultures, and societies within the region.”

LiAnna Davis
Communications Associate – Public Policy Initiative