Becoming a Wikipedia Campus Ambassador

In Fall 2011, I collaborated with Professor Michael Mandiberg, a faculty member in the Media Culture Department at the College. He asked me to provide research assistance for his students in COM 232 (History of Design and Digital Media). Although the course was delivered “face to face,” Professor Mandiberg decided to use Wikipedia as a platform for students to access his syllabus, class handouts, assignments, and class discussions.  Wikipedia, in a sense, was used to manage the course, in the same way Blackboard is used to manage other courses at the College of Staten Island.

Both Mandiberg, one of his students, and I, were appointed as Wikipedia Ambassadors by the Regional Wikipedia Ambassador in New York City. We attended a 2 hour training session given by a regional Wikipedia Ambassador in Manhattan.  We were both responsible for promoting Wikipedia and teaching students how to properly edit Wikipedia articles and cite the sources to those articles. For the class, students and Wikipedia Ambassadors created their own Wikipedia accounts using a pseudonym of their choice.

The most interesting part was Professor Mandiberg’s final research paper assignment. Instead of handing in a traditional research paper, Professor Mandiberg asked students to select a designer of their choice on Wikipedia. Students were asked select a Wikipedia “stub” article (incomplete and brief) and improve its overall quality.  The final product would be an academic-level Wikipedia article with proper grammar and cited references.

Students were responsible for conducting library research to improve the Wikipedia “stub”.  Over the course of the semester, I provided five hours of in-class instruction to research resources and showed them the value of Wikipedia as a research tool.

After my formal visits to the class, each student met with me for a  30-45 minute consultation to discuss their research.  At the end of the semester, Professor Mandiberg asked his students whether my presence made an impact on their research experience. With a 90% response rate, 87% of students reported that my presence made a significant impact on their research and learning experience.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

I must admit that I was at first uncomfortable promoting Wikipedia as a research tool.  For many years, I have been utilizing (and teaching) reliable subscription databases. However, Professor Mandiberg’s premise for his class convinced me of the value in teaching students how to use Wikipedia for research.

This was not my first time teaching students how to use Wikis for research. Prior to this class, I provided a “Wikis 101” tutorial for Professor Irina Sekerina’s PSY 201 class in the Fall of 2010. Professor Sekerina’s class was responsible conducting library research and creating their own private “Wiki textbook” using PBWorks, a free tool for creating Wikis.

Upon reflection, I did have a positive experience working with Professor Mandiberg and his students. My feelings about Wikipedia have changed.  I no longer take a prohibitive approach to it.    I now think it can be a wonderful starting point for any kind of research.

As in the traditional print editions of encyclopedias, I still believe that students need to verify the information they find (on Wikipedia) by checking the cited references at the end of most Wikipedia pages.  Most of us know that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia where anyone can edit the pages. When doing academic research, we need to ensure that the information is credible, accurate, and unbiased.  I constantly reminded students the value of checking the references  at the end of each Wikipedia page.  Unlike other information sources where the author’s identity is known Wikipedia pages are anonymous as we don’t really know the author’s identity.

In sum it was a positive experience and I would certainly be happy to work with other faculty members who wish to use Wikipedia in their courses in the future.

For more information about my experience participating in the Wikipedia Campus Ambassador Program, please contact:

Professor Mark Aaron Polger
Instruction / Reference Librarian
(718) 982-4065