A key piece of Wikimedia’s strategic plan is to close the gender gap by encouraging more women to participate in projects. One area where we already see progress is the Wikipedia Ambassadors program, developed in conjunction with the Public Policy Initiative. During the 2010-11 academic year, university students across the United States are writing Wikipedia articles as part of their coursework, and they learn the Wikipedia basics from trained Campus Ambassadors who come into the classroom to teach students how to start contributing.
These Campus Ambassadors are the first face of the Wikimedia movement that most students have seen, and 27 of the 59 Campus Ambassadors this term (that’s 46%) are women. At Indiana University Bloomington, for example, six Campus Ambassadors assist three classes of students — and five of them are women.
“I think I am putting a face on Wikipedia instead of it just being a web site that people use,” says Chanitra Bishop, a librarian at IU and one of the five female Campus Ambassadors there. “Hopefully, if students and professors have thought about becoming involved, they will see that they can and that they have unique knowledge to contribute.” Likewise, Indiana Library and Information Science master’s student Beth Brockman was drawn to becoming a Campus Ambassador because of her desire to make Wikipedia a better resource for anyone to use, but she thinks seeing women teaching about Wikipedia in university classrooms can be an inspiration to the female students in the class.
Chanitra’s and Beth’s views are echoed across their cohort. They don’t focus on being role models for female students. Instead, they try to ease all students into the joys of editing Wikipedia — and closing the gender gap is a nice side effect of their work.
“I would hope that I am providing a model for any new editor, not just women, and I would hope that I am contributing to making Wikipedia a professional and respectful environment,” says Adrianne Wadewitz, a longtime Wikipedian. “Being a Campus Ambassador allows me to join together two things about which I’m passionate: Wikipedia and teaching. It allows me to show professors how useful Wikipedia can be as a teaching tool and it allows me to learn, in turn, from students and other teachers about a variety of subject matters and techniques for communicating.”
Ellie Dahlgren is a staff member at the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at Indiana, and she agrees with Adrianne that her primary focus as a Campus Ambassador is on what the students get out of the Wikipedia assignment.
“I like challenging instructors to think about teaching and learning in different ways,” Ellie says. “I like being part of a team that creates unique and practical (i.e., real-world) experiences for students.”
And it’s not just Campus Ambassadors closing the gender gap. More than half of the 600 students contributing to Wikipedia through the Public Policy Initiative this term are women. Two classes feature an all-women roster: women’s college Simmons’ “Public Relations Seminar” and Georgetown University’s “Women and Human Rights.”
Brenda Burk is a librarian at nearby Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), and she travels to Bloomington to assist in the classrooms there. Becoming a Campus Ambassador has given Brenda a new way to connect with students, she says. Brenda says the principles librarians support — understanding resources, determining source reliability, and verifiability — complement Wikipedia well. And she’s particularly excited to see the students in her class continue contributing to such an important resource.
“Seeing me use Wikipedia and edit encourages them to jump in,” Brenda says of her students. “In the class, the women are a bit more cautious starting to edit and create articles. Once they start and become comfortable in this environment they get excited about it. Hopefully the enthusiasm continues.”
Learn more about the Public Policy Initiative, the Wikipedia Ambassador program, and the classes involved so far at WikiProject United States Public Policy.
Communications Associate, Public Policy Initiative