Wikipedia Ambassador Program growing, adjusting
- User:Sross (Public Policy) is Sage Ross, the Online Facilitator for the Wikimedia Foundation's Public Policy Initiative. As a volunteer, he edits as User:Ragesoss.
- User:Sadads is organizing Wikipedia Ambassador activities at James Madison University and is a member of the Ambassador Program's Steering Committee.
The Wikipedia Ambassador Program—which started in July as part of the Public Policy Initiative—is wrapping up its first term of working with students and professors. Currently we are preparing for a much larger wave of classes in January, with as many as 500 students assigned to improve Wikipedia articles.
, highlighting articles that have been heavily edited by students recently
We began the first term of the Ambassador program working with 13 classes. The contributions of these classes, documented at the leaderboard Frank Schulenburg has been developing, have taught us many things and given us a glimmer of the potential of a Wikipedia Ambassador program. Across these classes, students have generated 20 "Did you know?" entries, started many other new articles, and made improvements to existing articles that range from minor additions to major overhauls. Overall, 207 students in these classes contributed more than 2 million bytes of new content to articles—an average of more than 10,000 bytes each to articles.
Each of these classes worked with two different sets of Wikipedia Ambassadors. The first set was the Campus Ambassadors, who provided in-person support to the professors and students consulting on the design of the Wikipedia writing assignments, presenting Wikipedia and its policies to the students, running workshops to help with Wikipedia editing, and providing office hours and feedback on the article content which the students developed. The second group was the Online Ambassadors, who provided online support via IRC and feedback on talk pages throughout the semester. These Online Ambassadors helped the students figure out the markup, provided support on navigating the various Wikipedia policies, reviewed new content, and generally welcomed them to the community. You can read more about how the first term went, and what the plans are for the second half of the Public Policy Initiative, in the November progress report for the Stanton Foundation.
Lessons learned and changes made
For the next term, we're giving much more guidance to instructors about how to create assignments and communicate with Wikipedians. We'll be granting the title of Wikipedia Teaching Fellow to instructors who commit to major assignments according to our new memorandum of understanding and whose plans meet the course design requirements.
We learned a lot in the first term about how to make Wikipedia assignments work for both instructors and Wikipedia. The major changes include requiring introductory exercises, spacing editing milestones throughout the term, and having students start small and move out of sandboxes into main space early on (rather than posting full articles all at once). Mentorship by Online Ambassadors will also be much more central; students will be matched with mentors early on and use on-wiki discussion, with mentors and other editors, as the first option when problems arise.
The Wikipedia Ambassador Program is also making the transition from an experimental Wikimedia Foundation-led project to a scalable volunteer-run project. The first major change to volunteer leadership has been the Wikipedia Ambassador Steering Committee. The Steering Committee is composed of a combination of Campus Ambassadors, Online Ambassadors, and Foundation staff; its role is to develop proposals for the future of the program. The Committee has also taken a central role in the recruitment and selection of future Ambassadors, as well as—with other Ambassadors and Wikimedia staff—developing training materials and teaching resources. For subsequent terms, the Steering Committee will be coordinating the recruitment of instructors as well.
The training program for Campus Ambassadors for next term is being revised to prepare Ambassadors to take multiple roles at their universities. In addition to facilitating Wikipedia writing assignments in university classrooms, Campus Ambassadors will be creating student clubs and conducting other outreach activities, such as workshops for the faculty and making connections with cultural institutions such as museums and libraries. In early January, five training events will happen across the United States: in San Francisco; Washington, DC; New York City; Baton Rouge; and Indianapolis.
What to expect and how you can help
The enthusiasm and goodwill on the part of both instructors and Wikipedia supporters who aren't regular editors is very strong. The challenge is how to apply it, and how to get the community looking outward enough to work with outsiders effectively. Next semester, we expect to work with about 500 students under primarily public policy professors in the United States; expanding the program to additional disciplines and geographies in the future will be a major scaling hurdle. But there are many topic areas where Wikipedia coverage is relatively weak, despite heavy representation in college and university courses: literature, non-military history topics, anthropology, sociology, etc. We expect to start recruiting in all of these disciplines for future semesters. Also, we have begun discussion with some volunteers from other Wikipedia language versions to begin developing Campus Ambassador Programs in their countries.
To effectively mentor the 500 students for this next term, we will need at least 100 Wikipedians, and ideally 175, who can help the students as Online Ambassadors. Currently there are about 30. These Ambassadors will need to be friendly and flexible, helping students adapt to the culture and processes of Wikipedia—helping students avoid having articles deleted as they are getting started, navigating the "Did you know" process, getting article suggestions and reviews, article formatting, and general good encyclopedic writing. If you're a friendly, active Wikipedian who is comfortable giving detailed feedback on articles in progress and you agree with the Ambassador Principles, you can fill out a short questionnaire to apply to be an Online Ambassador.
The program can continue only if Wikipedians creatively and energetically help build and maintain the program. To keep up with the Wikipedia Ambassadors program on a week-to-week basis, you can subscribe to the weekly email newsletter. And if you have ideas or would like to get involved in other ways, talk to an Ambassador or leave a message on a relevant talk page.
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