This year I am participating in the Wikimedia Foundation's (WMF) Public Policy Initiative, which is an effort to expand and improve content in a single subject area on Wikipedia and systematically investigate the best ways to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool. Students from public policy classes at Georgetown, Harvard, Syracuse, George Mason, George Washington, James Madison, Lehigh, Berkeley, and Indiana Universities are participating in this first-of-its kind effort.
The variety of classes is exciting—everything from "Introduction to the Study of the Arab World" to "Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age" is part of the project. Professors met with representatives from the WMF at the beginning of the semester and were assigned "Campus Ambassadors"—real live people on campus who could train them in the ways of Wikipedia and offer advice about developing their assignments. There is also a group of "Online Ambassadors" that is helping students 24 hours a day on Wikipedia itself—there is nothing like one-on-one help for learning and Wikipedia has it in spades. In general, professors have asked students to research a topic and then add that information to a deficient Wikipedia article, or in some cases create articles that are missing, such as "Secure Federal File Sharing Act" or "Workforce development." The students are just starting to add material to Wikipedia and I'm excited to see how this project will develop (having been part of similar smaller-scale projects before, I have high hopes!). At the end of the semester, many of the students will be required to write about their experiences in a reflective essay or make a presentation about the construction of knowledge on Wikipedia.
One of my dreams for this project was that students and professors working on similar projects from different universities would be able to collaborate. So far that has not materialized, but perhaps it will later in the semester or we need to find a way to better connect those who are interested. I do find that groups of people who know each other offline tend to group together online as well, making it difficult to create a new online community in a space like Wikipedia.
In later posts, I will discuss the various successes and failures of this project as well as other ways to teach with Wikipedia.
And, of course, anyone interested in teaching with Wikipedia looking for advice should email me or leave a message at my Wikipedia talk page!