Common misconceptions about the Wikipedia Education Program
The following are several common misconceptions about the Wikipedia Education Program in the United States and Canada, and an explanation about why this misconception is false in the experience of Wikipedia Education Program staff so far.
Campus Ambassadors must be experienced Wikipedians
In the Public Policy Initiative pilot, we experimented with courses where Campus Ambassadors were Wikipedians, where they were newbies, and where there was one of each helping students. We found that pairing someone who's never edited Wikipedia but who has been trained as a Campus Ambassador with a longterm Wikipedian provided the best learning environment for students and professors. Feedback from instructors and students shows us that Campus Ambassadors who are not long-term Wikipedians make a meaningful contribution in the classroom because they can relate better to the problems a new user is facing, but it's also important to have Wikipedians present on the Ambassador team to ensure the course assignment sets students up for success on-wiki and doesn't accidentally violate any Wikipedia policies.
Professors must be experienced Wikipedians
There's no doubt that professors who contribute to Wikipedia themselves are good at setting their students up for success on-wiki. But we've also seen that many professors who've never edited Wikipedia are still able to, with Ambassadors' help, guide their students to making positive contributions to Wikipedia. After some consultation with community members, we've created a new professor orientation that we require professors to go through prior to the start of the semester. This orientation helps them learn Wikipedia basics and avoid common pitfalls in their syllabus construction.
Students should (or shouldn't) write Featured Articles
We hear both sides of this argument, and we firmly believe this should be up to the professor and Ambassadors to determine prior to the start of the term. Some professors have had great success with whole class projects to bring articles up to Good Article or Featured Article requirements, but it requires a lot of dedicated class time to achieve this goal. If the professor wants to invest a significant percentage of course time to getting Featured Articles or Good Articles, we believe the students should be able to strive for those goals.
But many professors don't have the class time to devote to such an assignment. Very few Wikipedia editors get started by writing a Featured or Good Article; instead, most editors gradually work up to these requirements. Our data show that students are making a positive contribution to Wikipedia regardless of whether their work goes through the Good Article or Featured Article process, and we firmly believe any contributions that improve Wikipedia while meeting course goals should be welcomed.
The program is failing in its goal to recruit new editors
The goal of the Wikipedia Education Program is to improve the quality of Wikipedia articles. We are glad when students stick around to continue editing after the term is over, but turning every student into a long-term editor is not and has never been our primary goal. Our research shows that students add more quality content than other new editors, and the retention rate is as high as it is for typical new editors.
That one class in Canada unleashed 1,500 terrible students on Wikipedia!
The class had 1,500 students, but only 318 of them chose the Wikipedia assignment. We wanted to experiment to see if we could support a large class. The results were that we couldn't, and that we didn't have enough Ambassador resources to support the class. In response to the problems with this class, we created a new set of Participation Requirements, including an Ambassador:student ratio.
We are firm believers in experimentation. We are willing to try things to see if they work, but when we discover they don't, we are firmly committed to ensuring we don't make the same mistake twice.
The Foundation doesn't care about the workload students bring to existing editors
Any new contributors add workload to the existing editor base, but there's no way to expand the existing editor base without bringing new contributors on board. Wikipedia Ambassadors working with each class and also a wide variety of support materials that we built prior to the Education Program help alleviate some of the workload by helping students.
Students only make like 5 edits in the mainspace!
Edit counts don't tell the whole story. Many students work offline or in sandboxes, and move articles to the mainspace in one edit. We encourage students to work in the mainspace as soon as possible, but many students are more comfortable figuring out wiki code in sandboxes.
Learning to edit Wikipedia does not improve a student's understanding of the curriculum
Classes are generally not about Wikipedia, they're about an academic topic, and Wikipedia is simply a pedagogical tool professors can use to reinforce course topics.
Students in this program deserve preferential treatment on Wikipedia
Students are new editors, and as such they will not know the ins and outs of every Wikipedia policy when they begin editing. But their goal is to improve the content. Please assume good faith in working with students, and understand that they are trying their best.
The Education Program is only beneficial to academia
Our data shows that students improve Wikipedia articles substantially. Not every student adds quality content, of course, but the overall effect of the program is positive to Wikipedia due to the high numbers of students contributing quality content.
The Education Program is only beneficial to Wikipedia
Professors report that students gain a lot of key writing, research, source evaluation, and media literacy skills through Wikipedia assignments, and that students are a lot more motivated by a Wikipedia assignment. Professors who have coupled the Wikipedia assignment with an analytical paper on the topic have repeatedly found that the analytical papers they receive after students have written Wikipedia articles are among the best they've ever received.
Education Program staff doesn't listen to Wikipedians
We read every talk page post, and we take community views very seriously. Unlike Wikipedia, however, there are two times when we can make changes to our program: immediately prior to the fall term and immediately prior to the spring term, when we can inform Ambassadors and professors about changes in time for them to adjust their syllabi accordingly. Feedback we get while students are editing is taken into account when we determine what changes we're making to the program each term — and we are continuously making changes each term. Our team is experiment-driven, and we are continually trying new things, evaluating their success, replicating what works, and trying something new for what fails every term. It's hard to see at a Wikipedia pace because changes can happen only twice a year, though.
Education Program staff should be experienced Wikipedians
Understanding how Wikipedia works is really critical for any job at the Wikimedia Foundation, and we highly value the experiences of members of our team who volunteer to edit. All of our team members spend countless hours on-wiki each week, reading threads on talk pages, replying to comments, and watching what students are doing. We understand Wikipedia enough to explain the difference between, say, AFD and AGF. Understanding policies and procedures and respecting the work community members do — and having the skills required to do our jobs — is more important than volunteering to contribute content in our free time, but we encourage all members of our team to contribute volunteer hours to Wikipedia if they so choose.
Online Ambassadors should not review or edit student content
While this has not been an explicit requirement of the Online Ambassador role in the past, this is still Wikipedia, and any contributor should feel encouraged to engage in discussion and editing of student work. All contributors are encouraged to give feedback on talk pages so students are given the chance to make edits themselves, but editors should feel free to make edits to student articles as they see fit.
Student editors have more copyvios than editors outside of the program
Copyright violations are a huge issue on any crowdsourced content development project. We have seen no indication that U.S. and Canada Education Program students are more likely to add copyvio material to Wikipedia than any other new editors are. Plagiarism is taken very seriously by students' academic institutions, and editors are encouraged to report copyright violations to the professor if they come across them so the professor can take it up with the academic honor code board on campus.
The India Education Program proved all education programs are bad
The Pune Pilot of the India Education Program had major issues and was shut down before the end of the term. But the only connection the U.S. and Canada programs have with the India program is that they were all operating on the English Wikipedia. The roles of the Ambassadors were different between the programs, the course sizes were different, and the staff running the program were different. Please evaluate the merits of the U.S. and Canada Education Programs on the history of those programs, and not the history of a pilot with a different setup.