How to build a class-based university program

From Outreach Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This page aims at documenting and explaining the steps that are necessary to build a class-based university program. A class-based university program is a program where professors incorporate the editing of Wikipedia into their classroom activities. This model is being explored in the future target group for this page is all people who want to build a class-based Wikipedia university program.

Step-by-step guide[edit]

Step 1: Identify potential professors and begin to build a network[edit]

What: Start spreading the word that you're looking to start a class-based Wikipedia project.

Why: You need a handful of professors who express interest so you can work with them more to determine who your best candidates are.

How: There are a few suggestions of what is the most effective means of finding initial interest:

  1. Identify professors who are already using Wikipedia in their classrooms. Ask them to start spreading the word to colleagues who have been interested in what they're doing. Ask any professor who is interested to connect us with other colleagues who may also be interested.
  2. Use personal networks of anyone involved on the project -- do they know family members who are professors? Do they have relationships with professors from their university still?
  3. Send emails out to academic association listservs. Most disciplines have an association to which all professors in that field belong -- send an "are you interested?" email and provide an email address that people can reply to for more information.
  4. Reach out to teaching and learning centers at universities. Often teaching and learning center staff make good Campus Ambassadors, and they often know the professors on campus who are most interested in using technology and new pedagogical means in their classrooms.
  5. Register for an exhibit tabletop booth at a teaching and learning conference. Professors who are interested in new methods of instruction frequent these conferences, and they're the target audience of professors who would be interested in using it in their classroom.

Who: [Please do not fill out yet. The team working on Global expansion of university based program activities will work on recommendations for which level of support is required and who will provide that support.]

Step 2: Meet with professors[edit]

What: Talk more with professors to find out whether they are enthusiastic about the idea or not.

Why: There are three reasons why you want to reach out to professors and meet with them in person: first, you want to learn more about the feelings that professors have when you present this new idea (are they enthusiastic? what do they consider a problem?). Secondly, you will have to choose professors later. And you just want to choose those, who are most likely to be successful. You don't want to waste time and energy on professors who are not 100% committed to the idea. And finally, you need to start building a network. Some professors that you meet will be willing to give you the names of other faculty members who might be interested in the program as well.

How: (1) Do it face-to-face. You are asking the professor for a lot. Without a sufficient level of trust he won't want to risk this adventure. Nothing builds trust more than interacting face-to-face. (2) Don't try to convince people who are not convinced. If you have the feeling that the professor is not 100% open to the basic idea and eager to learn more, don't schedule a meeting. It will be wasted time for both of you. (3) Once you are in the meeting, make the conversation a dialogue. First, is important for you to understand where the professor is coming from. Which experiences did he make with his students using Wikipedia? Why did he agree to meet with you? What are his expectations? Have patience and use the active listening technique to understand what you hear and actively create trust. (4) Next, explain what the program is about. Be clear about the fact that you're not selling something. Talk about what the benefits for the students and for the professor are (see five buckets for more information). Highlight the level of support that we are offering. Also, mention the prior successes. Whenever possible, tell stories. Nothing is more convincing than case studies. Moreover, people like listening to a good story.  Pending: Where to find stories. (5) Ask for the names of other professors who might be interested in using Wikipedia in their classroom. Nothing is stronger than being recommended to another professor.

Who: [Please do not fill out yet. The team working on Global expansion of university based program activities will work on recommendations for which level of support is required and who will provide that support.]

Step 3: Analyze the feedback and select professors[edit]

Step 4: Recruit and select Campus Ambassadors[edit]

What: Actively recruit, screen, and select Campus Ambassadors based on particular agreed-upon criteria.

Why: The Campus Ambassador role is a highly important one that requires particular skillsets. Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors are leaders for carrying out outreach activities both on and off campus, crucial support resources for professors interested in using Wikipedia in their classes, and effective spokespeople in general for Wikipedia and Wikipedia's use in education. Experiences of past and current projects (such as the Public Policy Initiative, GLAM's Wikipedian-in-Residence idea, and various Schools & Universities Projects) make clear that Campus Ambassadors (or people doing similar work) are a critical factor in (1) whether or not a Wikipedia-editing assignment in class is successful; (2) how much enthusiasm there is at an university toward Wikipedia's educational value; and (3) how much institutional interest and resources are developed in a particular geographic region, that can support various on-campus Wikipedia activities. For all these reasons, it is very important that people in the Campus Ambassador role are reliable and enthusiastic - and have strong teaching, public speaking, leadership, and technological skills. This means that not everyone would be competent in this role, thereby necessitating a screening and selection process for the role.

How: Here are the steps that have worked well in the past...

  • 1. Depending on the model(s) emphasized in this particular country/region (classroom? club? something else?), determine what the main responsibilities of the Campus Ambassadors will be (teaching students in class how to edit Wikipedia? starting student clubs? organizing workshops/lectures on campus? all of the above? something else?).
  • 2. Based on the responsibilities determined in the step above, decide what character traits and skillsets are especially important (teaching skills? community organizing skills? already having a wide personal network of academics? etc.). Prioritize the traits/skillsets: which ones are required for the role, and which ones would be a plus?
  • 3. Recruit! This includes publicizing the Campus Ambassador role by: researching and contacting relevant student clubs (e.g. "Students for Free Culture" clubs), researching and contacting relevant university centers (e.g. teaching & learning centers), posting geonotices on Wikipedia for the relevant locations, and asking existing allies to recommend people.
  • 4. Screen the candidates! This could be done via a traditional application, phone/Skype interviews (Skype interviews are preferred over phone ones because the interviewer can usually "see" the candidate.), in-person interviews, or - ideally - all of the above (it might not be possible to do all of these).
  • 5. Select! Using the role qualifications determined in Step 2 above, decide which candidates would make good Campus Ambassadors.

Who: [See note above]

Step 5: Train the first generation of Campus Ambassadors[edit]


What: Organize a two-day training at a central location; make sure that the attendees get to know each other and start to build a community



Who: [See note above]

Step 6: Build infrastructure on Wikipedia[edit]


Step 7: Monitor quality of support: perform regular check-ins with professors and Campus Ambassadors[edit]

What: periodically check in with professors and Campus Ambassadors, via email and/or phone

Why: The national - and global - reach of the university program means that how a class is doing on a weekly basis may not be clearly visible to people who are not frequently on campus. Furthermore, professors and Ambassadors may not publicly voice their concerns or share in-class experiences due to a variety of factors, including the desire to maintain good rapport with one another and simple forgetfulness. Regular check-in's with professors and Campus Ambassadors throughout the semester are therefore crucial for the (Wikimedia Foundation / Ambassador Steering Committee / Regional Ambassadors... depends on who goes in the WHO bullet point) to find out how classes are progressing - flagging problems before it's too late, facilitating good relations between professors and Ambassadors, documenting success stories, and ensuring the smooth progression of the courses. Having one entity checking-in and collecting these information also allows it to identity patterns and themes in what works well and doesn't work well in the class-based model, extract overall learning points that are crucial for the continuous improvement of the program, and facilitate communication among different interested parties.

How: What has worked effectively is a combination of email and phone check-in's. Two check-in's with each professor during a semester - ideally over the phone - is generally sufficient, unless special issues come up that require particular attention. About five email or phone check-in's with each Campus Ambassador pod (and at least one check-in with each individual Campus Ambassador) is a good number, unless special issues arise. Some topics to cover during check-in's are: how the in-class presentations/labs went, students' reactions to and difficulties with the assignment, working relationship with the professor and other Ambassadors (if the person being asked is an Ambassador), working relationship with the Ambassadors (if the person being asked is a professor), outreach activities, other support materials needed, miscellaneous questions or concerns.

Who: [See note above]

Step 8: Reach out to journalists and university newspapers and get news coverage[edit]


Step 9: Build an Ambassador Steering Committee[edit]

What: Gradually increase volunteer ownership of the program by setting up a governance board - made up mostly or entirely of volunteers - that discusses high-level strategic questions related to the Ambassador program and then proposes plans/ideas to other Ambassadors.

Why: One of the main measures of success for university programs is the degree of volunteer leadership and ownership. Active participation and support from (Wikimedia / whoever goes in the [Who] bullet point) is necessary in the beginning to build a solid infrastructure and generate momentum, but a major goal is to gradually make the program more and more volunteer-run. Experiences from the Public Policy Initiative show that setting up an Ambassador Steering Committee is an important and effective way to transition more leadership roles to volunteers. The Steering Committee members meet frequently (once every other week) to discuss high-level issues important to the Ambassador program - such as how to recruit and select the next batch of Ambassadors, how to support professors in areas without Ambassadors, how to adapt the support infrastructure as the program expands to new regions - and then the Steering Committee proposes its ideas/plans to the entire Ambassador program for either adoption or revision.

How: (1) In each country (or other appropriate geographic unit), identify about five Ambassadors who have demonstrated commitment to the program, leadership inside and outside the classroom, and good strategic-thinking capacity. Approach and ask these Ambassadors to sit on the Steering Committee. Ensure that a diverse range of perspectives and interests are represented in the committee. For that purpose, also identify and approach two or three people who are in different roles to be on the committee - for example: Wikimedia staff, professors, other interested and experienced stakeholders, and Ambassadors from other programs. (2) Call a first meeting with the full Steering Committee. During this meeting, members should discuss what exactly the responsibilities of the committee are, how often they will meet, and when/where they will meet. (3) As early as possible, the Steering Committee should designate roles within the committee, through a pre-determined process (such as consensus or election). There should be a "chairperson" who puts together the agenda before each meeting and facilitates the meeting. It would be helpful to have a "treasurer" who handles money-related issues, and someone who is the liaison with Wikimedia staff.

Who: [see note above]

Step 10: Analyse results of the first semester and work on improving the program[edit]

What: (1) Count the number of articles that have been created or significantly improved. (2) Count the number of students who created a new user account and started to contribute to Wikipedia. (3) Evaluate the quality of the support provided by Campus Ambassadors. (4) Evaluate the interaction of the students with the Wikipedia community. (5) Get feedback from professors and students and evaluate the level of satisfaction with the program. (6) Analyse the news coverage. (7) Based on the results, develop recommendations for improving the program. (8) Communicate the results to the Ambassadors and other stakeholders.

Why: Measuring the success of the program is key. You won't be able to learn from your mistakes if you don't know how the participants perceived the program. Having a better picture of your successes will also help you to communicate success stories for the next round of the program and create more interest around it.

How: (1) Conduct surveys among the participants. (2) Use focus groups to analyse the perception of the program and attitudes of the participants towards the program. (3) Contact individual participants and ask them to share their personal Wikipedia stories with you.

Who: [See note above]

Step 11: Train first generation of Ambassador Trainers[edit]


Step 12: Let trainers execute regional trainings[edit]


Useful tools[edit]

Decision log[edit]

Create a decision log page on your internal wiki (or some other wiki that works best for you). Whenever you make an important decision, document it on that page. Add information about why you made the decision. Later, this page will help all your team members to understand why this decision has been made, by whom and when.


  • Recruitment of schools and professors: 7/2010 – Reaffirmed that going through personal networks is vastly more effectively than sending cold emails! In practice, this means if at all possible, ask someone already affiliated with an university/program to send out the recruitment message. People are immensely more likely to read emails from people they know even indirectly.
  • Campus Ambassadors: 10/12/2010 – Decided to decentralize the Ambassador training for the spring semester 2011. Decision is based on recommendations on how to reach sustainability, developed by the Ambassador Program Steering Committee.

Open questions[edit]

  • Are there more steps?
  • Online Ambassadors are really important too, particularly for the assignment-in-class model! One of the learning points from the Public Policy Initiative is that classes that paired students up with Online Ambassador mentors tend to do better - because the students received personalized, detailed, micro-level Wikipedia feedback and support. The Online Ambassadors certainly have varying levels of competency when it comes to providing timely useful help (some are amazing, some could be seen as abrasive), but as a whole the Online Ambassador group is crucial for ensuring that most students don't fall through cracks. In classes with Wikipedia-editing assignments, the Online Ambassadors and Campus Ambassadors are at their optimal performance when they work together.