Education/Theory of change
The Wikipedia Education Program team's theory of change
The Wikimedia Foundation's Wikipedia Education Program team believes that Wikipedia editors are born, not made. We believe that you can teach someone the skills required to contribute to Wikipedia, but can't teach someone to become a Wikipedian — if you're predisposed to contributing to Wikipedia, then exposure to Wikipedia editing as part of a class assignment will encourage you to transition from reader to editor. But we believe that if you're not already inclined to edit, you will never become a long-term contributor. Instead, we focus on generating significant high-quality content from student editors each term. A small fraction of these students will continue to edit, but recruiting them to become long-term Wikipedians is not the focus of our program.
We base this belief on our history of working with students. In the U.S. and Canada program, we've trained more than 5,000 students on how to edit Wikipedia. At the end of the term, we do surveys, and we ask students if they intend to keep editing; every term, around half of the students indicate their intentions to keep updating their articles, contributing copy edits, or adding additional articles. They have all contributed one article already and are well-versed in the wiki skills necessary to contribute productively. But the reality is that very few of them do; around 1-2 percent of students are actually still making edits six months after the end of the term. While we've seen a larger retention rate with our Arab World program, those numbers are still more in the 5-6% range, rather than the 50% range, despite the student editors' preparation for Wikipedia editing.
Focusing retention on professors
Rather than fruitlessly trying to convert students to become editors, then, we instead wish to recruit the instructors to be long-term users of Wikipedia as a teaching tool. Our theory goes: if we recruit and retain one instructor, that instructor will bring 20–30 students to Wikipedia up to two times each year and teach them how to edit Wikipedia.
A small fraction of those students may continue editing after the course is over because they are predisposed to editing Wikipedia, but the real value in the program comes from the fact that student editors come each term and add significant high-quality content to Wikipedia, with very little staff resources once the instructor is experienced.
Research we've done in 2010-11 and spring 2012 clearly demonstrated that students make a significant, positive impact on the quality of articles they work on. So having 20-30 students each term adding high-quality content to Wikipedia helps the encyclopedia.
Like with any new initiative, it takes a term or two for an instructor to really get a feel for doing a Wikipedia assignment with his or her class. The first term an instructor uses Wikipedia, it usually takes significant effort from a volunteer Ambassador to get everything running smoothly. But once a professor had used Wikipedia as a teaching tool a few terms, the volunteer time required to assist the class is minimal, and significant, high-quality content gets added to Wikipedia without much effort from education program staff or volunteer Ambassadors.