Expanding Wikipedia's Education Program: Key learnings from the pilot programs

From Outreach Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Note: This is the second version of this document, updated on December 10, 2011. The different points are not listed in a specific order.

  1. Listen carefully and develop an understanding of the specific academic culture
    Teachers from different countries have different incentives for participating in the program. Also, their perception of Wikipedia might differ widely. Make sure that you listen carefully during your first meetings with professors in a new country. Then, iteratively develop an understanding of what works and what doesn't. Both cultural sensitivity and the involvement of local advisors are key for expansion to other parts of the world.
  2. Be upfront about the additional workload for teachers
    Teaching with Wikipedia adds additional workload on the teachers. Make sure that professors who participate in the pilot are aware of that fact. At the same time highlight the different ways of support provided by the Wikimedia Foundation and the local team.
  3. Start the pilot in a geographically confined area
    Face to face interaction is important for building communities. Focusing on a geographically small area enables Campus Ambassadors to meet in person and to build strong interpersonal relationships. Keeping the pilot confined to one big university hub will help you to keep the transaction costs low.
  4. Investigate the writing skills of students from different disciplines thouroughly
    Writing skills are key for a student to be successful on Wikipedia. In general, Wikipedians get very easily upset about newcomers who are not able to write articles on a proper language level. Ask yourself and your partners on the ground which disciplines require their students to hand in the largest number (or the longest) written papers. We've found that student from disciplines like journalism, political sciences, history, philosophy and languages have far better writing skills than students that are enrolled in mechanical engineering, medicine, and computer sciences courses.
  5. Start with a higher percentage of graduate students
    In some countries, undergraduate students don't have the required research and analytical skills for contributing to Wikipedia in a meaningful way. Start with a higher number of graduate students and add more undergraduate classes once you see that it is safe to work with students at an earlier stage of the university lifecycle.
  6. In the beginning, keep the number of students low
    A large number of students can add a lot of pressure on the existing community. Especially if you work with a Wikipedia language version that has high standards for articles, you want to see whether the students can do the job, before flooding the community with new editors who might be perceived as disruptive.
  7. Have one experienced Wikipedian on staff
    It is beneficial to have an experienced Wikipedian on staff who provides guidance to both professors, students and other staff members.
  8. Make sure that you have enough experienced Wikipedians among your Ambassadors
    Experienced Wikipedians know the rules and policies in depth. Involving a large enough number of Wikipedians in the pilot can mitigate the risk that something is going wrong.
  9. Train Ambassadors on how to deal with copyright violations
    Students from regions other than North America or Europe might have a different attitude toward the concept of copyrights. Make sure that the Ambassadors in the country for expansion know exactly why copyright violations are not acceptable on Wikipedia. Add a module to the training that explains the concept of free knowledge and how to deal with copyright violations on Wikipedia. Also explain why keeping Wikipedia free of copyright violations is important.
  10. Let students work in sandboxes in the first semester of the pilot
    Letting students work in sandboxes in the first semester of the pilot minimizes the risk that the existing community perceives the students' work as disruptive. Once you know that students are able to contribute in a meaningful way, encourage students to work in the article namespace earlier in the semester.
  11. Work closely with WikiProjects
    The participants of the WikiProject are a great resource for additional help. At the same time, WikiProjects on larger Wikipedia language versions have established quality standards for articles in their topic area. The members of the WikiProjects usually want to know what's going on and it is best to notify them early of students who will work in their area.
  12. Set up A/B-tests
    Particularly in the first semester, you don't know which approach will work and which does not. You could let students do their own research based on books and journal articles (“traditional approach”) or let them translate articles from a different Wikipedia language version (“translation approach”). There are many different ways newcomers can contribute to Wikipedia. They could also upload photos or videos to Wikipedia or add maps or diagrams to existing articles. Never start a pilot that focuses on just one approach. Instead, let two classes do the traditional approach, another two classes do translations and the last group of students focus on uploading images to Wikipedia. Before the second semester starts, measure the outcome and adapt your program accordingly.
  13. The documentation of your learnings, future plans as well as large parts of your communication needs to happen on Wikipedia
    Be as open as possible when it comes to documenting your work and your plans for the future. Neither use closed wikis or Google Docs. It is mandatory that you share as much information with the existing community and to embrace their feedback.
  14. Localize your training and outreach materials as soon as possible
    Work closely with the existing community and your advisors on the ground to localize your written materials and the structure of your training. Don't use rules and guidelines that only exist on the English Wikipedia. Also make sure that you adapt the language of your materials (e.g. no-one in India knows, what a “soap box” is. Don't explain the five pillars of Wikipedia with sentences like “Wikipedia is not a soap box.”)
  15. Don't always ask teachers to make the assignment mandatory
    In some countries of the world, the skill gap between the the best and the worst student in a class is very high. If that's the case, ask the instructors to just choose the students who have the best skills that are needed for successfully contributing to Wikipedia. Also: students in classes with a high student-to-teacher ratio usually don't get enough attention from their instructor.
  16. Think about which place “relationship building” plays in the local culture
    In some countries of the world, “relationship building” is more important than the transfer of technical skills or learning points. In those countries (e.g. Egypt), it is particularly important to build strong ties and trust between all stakeholders (local community members, instructors, deans, staff members and local advisors), before you do anything else.
  17. Be aware of the local communication preferences
    E.g. people in Egypt prefer phone calls over emails. You've sent 30 emails to different professors and only 1 or 2 got back to you? Don't be surprised, because email is by far not such as common way of communicating with each other in Egypt, than phone calls are.
  18. Don't talk to local people as if you knew the answers to every question. Let them find the right answers themselves.
    It cannot be overstated enough how important it is to listen carefully to both the existing community and the other local stakeholders in the project. Don't go into a meeting saying: “Hi, we're from the Wikimedia Foundation, here's what we've done in the U.S. and now we're going to implement this in your country. Think about if this approach would work in your own country. Instead (in case you talk to local Wikipedians), start with questions like “What is the biggest and most active group in your community?” (answer: “students”) – “And if we wanted to recruit students as new contributors, what would be the biggest obstacles?” (answers vary from “not enough writeen sources in our language”, “the editing interface is difficult to handle”, to “students don't know much about our specific Wikipedia culture”). Each of these answers gives you an opportunity to follow up with a suggestion, e.g. “What if some of you – as experienced Wikipedians – would help us to teach the students the required skills?” (introducing the Campus Ambassador role), etc. Show true interest in the experiences and knowledge of the people on the ground.