Pilot shows student clubs enthusiastic about editing Wikipedia — but can they make the time?

This spring, we’ve been piloting a program with student clubs to encourage students to contribute text and images to Wikipedia articles as part of their extracurricular activities. Field trips and workshops at UC Berkeley and the University of Arizona were successful at bringing enthusiastic students together to edit, and in May, we brought workshops to four more student groups: University of California Santa Barbara’s Art, Design & Architecture Museum Club, Portland State University’s Lambda Pi Eta (National Communication Association undergraduate honor society) chapter, and Oregon State University’s Hydrophiles club and Pi Alpha Xi horticulture club.

One of the key learnings we’ve had from this pilot program is that students are enthusiastic about editing Wikipedia as part of their club activities, and they think the program is a good way to build skills for their members while providing more people access to information on topics they care about. In Wiki Ed-led workshops, members of these four clubs learned how to edit Wikipedia for the first time.

UCSB students
UCSB Art, Design, and Architecture Club students edit Wikipedia during a Wiki-Ed led workshop.

“Editing Wikipedia was surprisingly simple and gave me a sense of purpose,” says Kim Shearer-Lattier, interim president for Oregon State’s Pi Alpha Xi horticulture club. “It feels good to know that my students and I can provide free information to others that may not have access to the resources available to us.”

Kim’s views are echoed by other club members after we led workshops with them.

“There is satisfaction in getting feedback about how many people have read the article I edited,” says Oregon State Hydrophiles member Erica Kemp. “I really like knowing small edits and pictures can have a widespread impact. When I publish my thesis research, few people will read or cite my work (it’s very rare for a master’s thesis to make a scientific breakthrough) but I’m looking forward to editing more in Wikipedia because people will be exposed to new information without needing to purchase expensive peer-reviewed access. I can also lose a lot of unnecessary scientific jargon!”

And it’s not just text that students can add, but also images.

“I definitely see Wikipedia as a platform for our club members to engage with art and our community,” says UCSB’s Lauren Cain. “It is fun editing Wikipedia to gain more out of our field trips then simply going and snapping a few pictures for scrapbooks. I imagine I’ll be proud to see my photos where none existed on a Wikipedia page before and point out to my peers what difference I made.”

The Portland State Lambda Pi Eta club members also saw the impact that contributing content to Wikipedia could have on their careers, and cited that as a valuable skill that all students should get. In fact, the club president told us she encouraged other clubs to edit Wikipedia as well.

“While at a national conference I told a group of interested students about this educational experience and how it can enhance the resumes of members,” Amelia Hill of PSU says. “I wanted to let my fellow scholars know the power of Wikipedia and be able to understand the impacts that editing and creating pages can have with potential employers.”

Despite this enthusiasm, however, we’ve struggled to get students to continue editing Wikipedia content outside the context of our staff-led workshops. When our staff has arranged and led workshops, students in these clubs have added valuable information to Wikipedia articles related to club topics, and they’ve expressed excitement and enthusiasm at the prospect of continuing editing. But once we leave the campus, the editing seems to stop as well. Post-workshop surveys have suggested students struggle to find the time to continue editing, meaning a valuable learning for us in this pilot program is that initial enthusiasm doesn’t translate into content added to Wikipedia.

We’re currently evaluating the learnings from the pilot program, and will be publishing a more comprehensive final report on our experiences running the student clubs pilot this term later this month.


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