When we started thinking about how to involve universities in the improvement of Wikipedia articles back in 2009, it became clear that we wouldn't be successful without offering various kinds of support. We decided to create a new role for people who are both eager and qualified to help new contributors to get around the many difficulties of editing Wikipedia. The Wikipedia Ambassador Program started in the summer of 2010, when we recruited the first Campus and Online Ambassadors for the English Wikipedia. Today it's a great way for people to become engaged even if they don't have a long history of Wikipedia editing. All you need is an affinity for teaching, the willingness to help others and a friendly attitude. That opens the Wikipedia movement up for people who are eager to help and who had few opportunities for doing so in the past.
We mentioned Wikipedia Ambassadors — but what did we mean by that term? Generally, there are three types of Wikipedia Ambassadors, although the specific requirements and role descriptions vary in each program. Determining how your Ambassador program will work is an important step in creating your model.
Online Ambassadors are experienced editors on the language Wikipedia where your program is in operation who are able to assist students with any questions they have through online support channels — on-wiki, on IRC, in a Facebook group, etc. They do not need to be geographically located near your students, since the support is all online. Whereas the Campus Ambassadors provide in-person support, the Online Ambassadors help students on wiki and on a dedicated IRC channel. Most of our Online Ambassadors are long-term Wikipedians who can answer almost every question related to the technical aspects of editing, Wikipedia culture and processes. Students have told us that the mentoring from Online Ambassadors has been "tremendously helpful" for understanding Wikipedia and for making the first edits. Online Ambassadors assist students virtually as they encounter problems while writing Wikipedia articles for the first time. Online Ambassadors are available to answer basic questions about Wikipedia formatting, policies, and culture, and guide students through every step of the contribution process.
In contrast, Campus Ambassadors aren't necessarily Wikipedia editors — although if they are, that's great — but they are volunteers who can work with instructors and students in person. Campus Ambassadors are often existing staff members within the school system (such as librarians, teaching assistants, or teaching and learning center staff) who are available to help teach students editing basics, such as how to create user accounts, add references, etc. They can often help instructors with assignment planning as well. Campus Ambassadors provide in-person support on the university campus. They get a 2-day training to learn all the nuts and bolts of what they have to teach. Our Campus Ambassadors come from a variety of different backgrounds. Some of them are librarians, some are students, and some are teachers. They all share a common goal: to help newcomers with their first steps on Wikipedia. Campus Ambassadors do in-class presentations that introduce students to Wikipedia-editing, run labs/workshops on the technical and cultural aspects of Wikipedia, and in general offer in-person Wikipedia mentorship to students. They also lead outreach efforts at college/university campuses to spread the word about Wikipedia and recruit additional instructors and Ambassadors. They also help instructors who are interested in incorporating Wikipedia-editing in their teaching plans.
Regional Ambassadors coordinate recruiting, training, and support for instructors and students in a specific geographic area. Regional Ambassadors are specifically useful if you have a large geographic area that your program is trying to cover and once your program has expanded beyond an initial pilot. But the model isn't just for large geographic areas; a similar idea in the Egypt program is called "faculty leaders" and these individuals coordinate all the education program activity within a specific department at a university. While you might want to keep the idea of some kind of Regional Ambassador in mind when developing your pilot, don't worry about finding people to fill that role until your second or third term of your program. (Alternatively, you may find that it makes sense for experienced Ambassadors to serve as recruitment and training coordinators for specific subject areas rather than specific geographical areas.) When we started the Public Policy Initiative, one of our main goals was to make the program self-sustainable. That's why we created the role of Regional Ambassadors. Whereas Foundation staff members recruited professors and Campus Ambassadors in the beginning, it's now up to the volunteers. Regional Ambassadors will be responsible for mentoring professors during the assignment design process, assisting professors with Campus Ambassador recruitment, maintaining an advisory relationship with professors and Campus Ambassadors during the term, and facilitating communication among different stakeholders (professors, Campus Ambassadors, Online Ambassadors, Wikimedia staff, etc.). The Regional Ambassador role is a leadership role with great opportunities for developing team management, community organizing, and public outreach skills. It also provides participants with significant professional-networking opportunities, especially in the education community and the open-source community. Regional Ambassadors are crucial leaders in the Wikipedia Ambassador program.
Some smaller programs collapse the distinction between Campus and Online Ambassadors and just have Wikipedia Ambassadors who serve both roles simultaneously.
How many Ambassadors do you need?
After you determine which model will work best for you, it's time to determine how many volunteers in each role you need.
Finding the right balance can be tricky. You don't want to leave students and instructors unsupported, but you want to have enough work for each volunteer that they feel like their time is valued and worthwhile. You definitely want to start out with both academics and experienced Wikipedia editors in your volunteer pool, however. Academics will be able to navigate the work inside the educational institution that needs to be done prior to the start of a Wikipedia assignment. And experienced Wikipedia editors can help head off problems that academics might not see. One common problem is that instructors usually encourage students to draw conclusions from the research they've done, writing "thesis statements" in many cases. Such original thought has no place in an encyclopedia, however. When Wikipedia editors work closely with instructors, they're able to create assignment plans that both meet the instructors' learning objectives and add quality content to Wikipedia.
Generally, good ratios when you begin is one trained Wikipedia Ambassador for every 10-15 students, and it's useful for students to have multiple points of contact, in case an Ambassador gets busy with other activities and can't support students anymore.
Finding good Online Ambassadors can be a challenge. But think about your language Wikipedia's current mentoring structure. Is there an adopt-a-user program? Something like the Teahouse, a central, friendly place for newbies to ask question? Where do newbies on your language Wikipedia get the most help? Reaching out to the editors who already provide assistance to newbies can be a great way to recruit Online Ambassadors. You can also reach out individually to good editors who work in the same subject area as your classes; many Wikipedians will be willing to help students and instructors to improve their areas of interest. For small wikis, you might also want to post a message to the Village Pump or other central discussion area to recruit interested editors.
Look to the current on-campus help structure to find the best Campus Ambassadors. Where do students already go for help on campus? The library? Teaching assistants? Where do instructors already go for help in assignment design? Is there some sort of teaching and learning staff? These people make great Campus Ambassadors. You can also reach out to local Wikipedians, either through a meet-up, a geonotice targeting a specific city, or through a chapter in the area.
The most important thing to cover in an Ambassador training is what the expectations you have for them are. Because Ambassadors are the first point of contact for both instructors and students, it's important for them to know what your expectations are for what they will do, what the instructor will do, and what students will do. If the Ambassadors aren't interested in a particular facet of the role description you've created, then you'll need to find additional support for the classes that particular Ambassador is supporting. Having clear expectations up-front for all participants will make your pilot go more smooth.
Campus Ambassadors who are not experienced Wikipedia editors will need an overview of core Wikipedia policies and the basics of editing. All Ambassadors will need an orientation to how you anticipate instructors using Wikipedia as a teaching tool in the classroom, as very few of them will have information on best practices in assignment design.
If you're in one city, it might be worthwhile to do an in-person Ambassador training for your first term of your pilot. Bringing Ambassadors together establishes a group camaraderie that can be useful in helping resolve challenges as the term goes on. But these in-person trainings can get costly quickly; you might also want to translate the on-wiki Ambassador training into your language to send Ambassadors through on their own time.
How will you support Ambassadors throughout the term? Part of the answer to this question depends on the structure you've established, but it's important to have a point of contact for all Ambassadors for when they have questions. Ensure Campus Ambassadors who are new to Wikipedia have a point of contact for a more experienced editor who they can escalate questions they don't know the answer to. But all Ambassadors need to have a point of contact for someone they can raise questions with.
Some suggestions of ways to support Ambassadors:
- introduce Ambassadors and professors to each other—offer suggestions for the roles they can play together
- provide guidance through conflict, especially when it involves a Wikipedia editor and a student/professor
- help newer Ambassadors find their answers about editing on-wiki and learn where to look for help, so they can help students do the same thing
- share relevant resources and materials/give feedback on presentations or workshops the Ambassador is running
- provide tips when possible about the work you see them doing (e.g. offer advice on communication on-wiki)
Most programs have some form of Wikipedia Ambassadors who support the instructors throughout the term. Remember, your education program's goal (likely) isn't to turn instructors into Wikipedians; but instead, you're supporting their students to contribute — and helping them develop enough expertise about Wikipedia to guide their students to contribute effectively. So how can you make it easier for instructors to interact as they need to without requiring them to be Wikipedia editors?
One of the most important ways that you can plan to support instructors is to have a designated contact to whom they can escalate problems. For most situations, this can be a Wikipedia Ambassador who is working with their class, but in cases in which the Ambassador is the problem, having another point of contact is always a good idea. Remember, you want to make sure the instructor feels supported throughout the process. This will increase their odds of success as well as instructor retention for future terms.
Models currently in use
Some programs use a more centralized hierarchy, others choose a more decentralized model. Here's an example of each:
In the United States and Canada program, efforts are run by one paid staff member who serves as the Program Manager and makes strategic decisions about the direction of the program, the assignments instructors are encouraged to use, and support resources available for students and instructors. The Program Manager works closely with a group of Regional Ambassadors, who are each responsible for a specific geographic region in the United States and Canada. The Regional Ambassadors work to support Instructors and Campus Ambassadors, providing training and support for them to ensure in-person support for students works well. The Program Manger also coordinates the work of Online Ambassadors, who support students on-wiki. This program currently supports about 75 classes each term. Read more about this Ambassador program on English Wikipedia. (note: inactive since May 2013)
In the Czech Republic program, efforts are more decentralized. Wikipedia Ambassadors pair with Instructors. Chapter members serve as central resources for the program, but many of the decisions about what direction the assignments should take get made at the class level, rather than the program level. This program currently supports about 6 classes each term. Read more about this Ambassador program on Czech Wikipedia and in this blog post.
Other Ambassador programs:
- Argentina's Wikiembajadores (noted in their 2015 "memorial" (in Spanish))
- Arab World (Campus Ambassadors) (Online Ambassadors)
- Brazil (Ambassador Feedback)
- Dutch Wikipedia
- Egypt (Final Report)
- French Wikipedia
- India (FAQ) (Campus Ambassadors) (Online Ambassadors)
- Serbia (University of Belgrade, through Wikimedia Serbia)
- United Kingdom (through Wikimedia UK)
Slidedecks and presentations
Consider how you envision the role and responsibilities for your program's Ambassadors, their motivations, how you will recruit them, how you will train them, how you will support them during the term, and what your goal is for number of Ambassadors. If you aren't using the Ambassador model, or you're using both Online and Campus Ambassadors, adjust this section as needed.
- Roles and responsibilities
- Numeric goal
This orientation—for new Wikipedia Ambassadors who will help courses that use Wikipedia editing as a class assignment—consists of four main modules:
- Start the training
- Welcome — a short introduction
- Core principles — an overview of Wikipedia's core principles
- Editing — a tutorial on the basic mechanics of editing pages and communicating with others
- Classroom — a walkthrough of best practices and examples for using Wikipedia assignments in the classroom
- Course pages — instructions for requesting user rights, setting up course pages, and using them