This past August I was trained as a Wikipedia Campus Ambassador at Georgetown University. The Wikipedia Campus Ambassador Program at Georgetown is a part of the Wikipedia Global Education Program, which is designed to help fill in the knowledge gaps within the largest and most referenced encyclopedia in the world, Wikipedia. The program is partnered between the Wikimedia Foundation and Universities in the US and across the globe. Similarly to HASTAC, the Wikipedia Global Education Program encourages scholars to interact and contribute to a digital voluntary and decentralized interface. In an interview on participatory learning, Cathy Davidson, founder of HASTAC, notes, “What happens if you put all those people in conversation? What new insights emerge from interactions where the protocols for success are not scripted in advance?” Wikipedia edits are live and take place all over the world. Wikistream has created a visualization that reveals edits as they happen in real time. From this stream, you can see that new knowledge emerges at an unprecedented rate. Indeed, as users of Wikipedia, we expect that Wikipedia will have an article on just about anything. But what if there isn’t? This is what the Wikipedia Campus Ambassador program is designed for; to create a face to face meeting point between scholars and Wikipedia to discuss opportunities for knowledge growth.
This Fall Theresa Schlafly, my fellow co-worker at CNDLS and I are the Campus Ambassador’s for Adel’s Iskandar’s class New Media: Dissidence, Innovation, and Community in the Communication, Culture, and Technology department at Georgetown. The class is designed for graduate students to engage and participate with the Wikipedia community by contributing to an existing Wikpedia article of interest or creating their own Wikipedia article about a topic that has not been created yet. One way in which students can find articles or topic to contribute to is through the Wikipedia Project Directory. Wikiprojects are divided into broad categories, such as “Culture and the Arts” and “Geography,” and designed to bring editors with similar interests together.
Wikipedia editors follow the five pillars: (i) Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, a reference guide that list summaries of information, (ii) Wikipedia has a neutral point of view, (iii) Wikipedia is free content that anyone can edit and distribute, (iv) Wikipedians should interact in a respectful manner and assume good faith, (v) Wikipedia does not have firm rules besides the general principles here. Despite the loose rules that allow Wikipedia to function, there still remains a significant lack of diversity in the Wikipedia editing field. Jemima Kiss, writer at the Guardian, notes that “90% of editors are male.” Thus, one of the Wikipedia Global Education Program’s goals is to help bring more female editors and minorities into the Wikipedia world. I also believe that it is important to make sure that the topics and articles that are being highlighted or actively referenced are diverse as well.
There have been questions about whether or not the citation format of Wikipedia should be expanded to incorporate citations that are not written, such as oral storytelling. The question is, how can a “notable,” and worthy topic be written about if there is no “written” citation to “prove” its existence? This is a question that the Wikipedia Global Education Program is addressing. The program encourages students to communicate with other Wikipedia articles about their topics of interest and collaborate in order to bring about new discourse and new ways of citing important phenomena. Even if you are not apart of the Wikipedia Global Education Program, I encourage you to contribute to Wikipedia -- as we all need to be mindful about who and how information is getting edited and created before our eyes. As Cathy Davidson notes, “This is not the age of technology. It is the age of information. We educators, we human and social scientists, need to accept that this is our age and take up the challenge.”