Wiki Education Foundation/Wikipedia Fellows pilot evaluation update
In early 2018, the Wiki Education Foundation piloted a new program to train subject-matter experts to edit Wikipedia in a 12-week class. In our evaluation of the pilot, we determined the program had merit and we would pursue additional courses to test different variables. This document serves as an update to the initial evaluation, documenting our additional work and learnings. It was written by Wiki Education staff who worked on the program, primarily Will Kent and Ryan McGrady.
Since the pilot evaluation we have run eleven additional courses: six in the summer and five during the fall of 2018. We identified several variables to experiment with, testing recruitment methods, number of participants, length of the course, topic themes, scheduling, and curriculum. One of our top concerns was understanding how a program like this would scale. We wanted to take steps to grow this program in a way that would ensure the production of high-quality content, efficient use of staff time, and a positive experience for course participants.
Theory of change
Our Theory of Change is similar to that in our pilot evaluation. Our pilot confirmed that the training infrastructure, knowledge, and institutional connections we have built up through our Student Program could be adapted to support academics as they learn to contribute their expertise to Wikipedia. Subject-matter experts have the education, experience, and understanding to contribute high-quality information about specialized, complex, and important topics. We continue to develop and leverage relationships with academic associations and institutions to attract qualified, interested participants. In expanding the program and working with these partners, we saw an opportunity to try to target particular topic areas that need attention on Wikipedia or have a particularly high impact. Additionally, we view these relationships and this program in general as an opportunity for inclusivity, convening cohorts diverse not just in the content they produce, but also in terms of the identities of the participants. If successful, this round of the Wikipedia Fellows program would result in a diverse range of subject-matter experts contributing important information to public knowledge through Wikipedia. It would also indicate that the program is a repeatable model that can be used to target specific kinds of topics.
Several of our key questions from our pilot we sought to add additional data points to:
- Can we leverage relationships with associations?
- How do subject-matter experts specifically impact article quality?
- Can we retain subject-matter experts; will they remain active?
Other key questions we sought to answer in this phase of the pilot:
- Can we target particular topics for improvement?
- Is the model better suited to some topics than others?
- What effect does group size have on content or overall experience?
We again invited the three of our partners which joined us for the pilot program, the National Women's Studies Association (NWSA), the American Sociological Association (ASA), and the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA). We also included six new associations: the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM), the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the American Chemical Society (ACS), the Linguistic Society of America (LSA), and the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO). As with our pilot, these associations vary in membership size and discipline, giving us the opportunity to test whether membership size affects the level of interest and applicants for such a program. We believe that the mission of this program aligns with the missions of these academic associations and their members would find merit in and benefit from contributing to Wikipedia.
Similar to our pilot program, we collaborated with these organizations to develop communication strategies and establish requirements to participate in these Wikipedia Fellows courses. The participating partners saw value in training their members to make Wikipedia more accurate, as they understand that Wikipedia is where the public learns about topics related to their discipline. They believed members would communicate valuable knowledge about the discipline to the public, advancing the organizations' missions to educate the world and advance understanding of their respective disciplines.
Following the success of the pilot, we planned to experiment with several more instances of the program throughout 2018, testing multiple variables: cohort size, topic focus, course length, and scheduling. These variables were in part based on our existing relationships and in part affected our coordination with the participating associations.
We learned from our experience with the pilot that there are challenges and significant variations in the ability of associations to offer honoraria or other funding to Wikipedia Fellows, and as such we did not suggest they do so.
We used an application similar to the one we used for the pilot, although the selection based on those applications differed in several ways:
- In the pilot, we received nearly 90 applications for a single 9-person cohort. For the subsequent cohorts, we wanted to experiment with a number of variables which involved increasing the number of cohorts, varying the size of each cohort, and targeting particular topics or themes. This meant looking at different aspects of applications as well as varying the screening process to allow for more or fewer participants. In the pilot, for example, we were able to look for applicants who most clearly indicated an interest in making contributions to Wikipedia rather than just learning about Wikipedia. For these cohorts, elements like course size, topic, or scheduling sometimes necessitated prioritizing those elements.
- We placed greater emphasis in our selection process on research background. This was not just to ensure compatibility with themes, but also to cultivate, to the extent possible, a diverse set of academic backgrounds and thus more diverse contributions.
- Since we included several new partners in these new courses, we wanted to balance for background and interest. We deliberately mixed professions in some courses, while limiting others to a smaller range of fields.
One change we made to the application was to build scheduling into the application form itself. For the pilot, we accepted people and then tried to find a meeting time. As explained in the pilot evaluation, this proved a cumbersome process. For subsequent groups, we provided some available time/day combinations in the application, and could consider availability when forming cohorts.
The curriculum remained largely the same. There were many slight tweaks made based on notes from the pilot and earlier cohorts, but the milestones and tasks on the timeline were generally consistent. The additional resources provided and other details varied somewhat based on the themes of the cohorts (e.g. Women in Science cohorts contained more resources about writing biographies).
We tried different lengths for how long our cohorts would last (8-weeks, 12-weeks, and 16-weeks). We expanded and condensed our curriculum based on the time constraints, but while this changed the amount we covered each week, the actual content remained the same.
One new element was having a group of alumni to contact with specific questions. In one course, we invited three past Wikipedia Fellows to discuss the pressures around representing your area of expertise on Wikipedia. Participants were enthusiastic about this conversation and found it easier to contribute after hearing alumni stories. We may invite past participants back when there is interest, but we are not at this stage planning to make such engagement a formal part of the program.
Meeting length and format remained the same. We placed an emphasis on trying and testing variables, and some elements of the meetings and their structure varied according to changes in theme, length of cohort, and new association partners. We did alter the technology we used in the program. Whereas we used Slack in the pilot, for six cohorts we used an open-source chat client called Riot. After using Riot we switched back to Slack due to usability and familiarity with the platform.
Rate of attrition did not vary significantly with cohort size. The number of participants who dropped out roughly corresponded to the size of the cohort (our largest cohort, with 50 people, ultimately had about 30 people edit Wikipedia). We chose a general definition for participation, counting participants who did a combination of the following: edited Wikipedia, took trainings, and attended most of our meetings. Our rationale here was to have the largest pool of participants work through our courses in order to test other variables. Without participants there would be no way to test these variables.
Due to the difficulty in scheduling our early cohorts, we built scheduling into the application and considered it among other variables in the selection process.
Wiki Education staff roles
Roles were consistent with the pilot. In each course, a Program Manager facilitated the meetings while a Wikipedia Expert supported the sessions and provided help to participants in Slack and on Wikipedia. We alternated between two Program Managers and three Wikipedia Experts filling those roles. In one cohort, the Program Manager also played the role of Wikipedia Expert for experimentation purposes.
In 2018, we facilitated twelve courses, including the pilot, with 163 individuals participating. These participants added 265,000 words, and edited 572 articles. They created 65 articles, and uploaded 48 images to Wikimedia Commons.
- Feminist poetry is a new article created by a program participant. Creating a new article on a broad topic like this requires a broad understanding of the subject-matter, which is the kind of thing an expert can provide.
- Jennifer Doudna's article was simply a chronological account of what she had done, and it was told in relation to the men in her life. A participant was able to rework the article so that it showed the importance of her work — including her role in the discovery of CRISPR — and wrote about her as the main figure in her life's story. (See the blog post.)
- Bette Korber's biography, which was created by a program participant, successfully captures her achievements and puts them in the proper context. Again, it's easy to write a biography as a series of events that give little sense of the importance of their work. It's harder to put that in context, and show the most important aspects of their professional achievements. It's the kind of thing an expert, who understands the importance and can contextualize it, is better-equipped to do than someone with less breadth and depth of understanding.
- The membrane curvature article had not been edited since January 2014, and it was written in a dense style that was difficult to understand. While the program participant did not re-write the entire article, their additions were well-written and more accessible to readers.
- The hometown association article was heavily tagged and poorly organized. It was the kind of article that accretes content over time, but lacks coherence. A program participant was able to put the pieces together and give it the coherence it was missing.
- The NARA-sponsored courses were able to improve a wide range of content related to women's suffrage. Participants created new articles for people like Mary McHenry Keith, Etta Haynie Maddox, and Caroline Katzenstein. They expanded existing biographies of people like Ida B. Wells and Sara Yorke Stevenson. And they created articles on related topics like the Prison Special.
In our intake and exit surveys, responses demonstrated increased confidence around editing Wikipedia, understanding Wikipedia policies, engaging with the community, and to a lesser extent, teaching with Wikipedia. Of 93 respondents, only one said that they were not interested in editing Wikipedia after taking this course; 73 responded with definitely or likely. However, we have seen a steep drop-off in participants actually editing. While many participants made edits in the month immediately after the course end, no participants appear to be retained as an active editor.
Participants also engaged in other ways:
- We have had eight volunteer blog posts submitted for our blog, in addition to the nine blog posts written by Fellows in the pilot program, for which a blog post was a requirement for participation.
- At least three participants have facilitated edit-a-thons at their respective institutions.
- Twelve participants in the summer and fall courses have gone on to teach with Wikipedia, either concurrently with their course (two) or after the course was done. Seven of these were new instructors, while the other five had taught with Wikipedia before taking part in the professional development program, and did so again after they completed it. One participant who withdrew from a course in the summer went on to teach with Wikipedia in the fall for the first time. In addition to these, four participants in the Pilot have taught with Wikipedia.
Facilitating these courses has revealed a series of significant findings for us:
- Recruiting, teaching, and working with new editors in a course like this is a successful model. It is also scalable, with limits, and customizable for a variety of themes, sizes, and other needs of our partners.
- If participants are in academia, scheduling with consideration of the academic calendar is important. If participants study the same discipline, it's important to consider any major conferences scheduled during the course, as any attendees will likely be unavailable during the event and busy preparing in the weeks prior.
- Themes are effective both for providing structure for the course and for targeted improvement of particular topics on Wikipedia.
- Editing Wikipedia is not for everyone, for better and for worse. Editing requires a specific set of skills, combining technical expertise, access to resources, and ability to adapt to an "encyclopedic style" of writing as well as an unusual, sometimes counter-intuitive collaborative model of writing. These elements are not for all researchers and it's worth remembering that there are additional ways to contribute to Wikipedia including smaller edits, uploading images, and organizing the community through WikiProjects, in-person activities, and conducting reviews of content or new edits.
- We want to make experience in our program as valuable as possible to participants. We know that many Fellows have included this program on their CV, in their tenure portfolio, or have otherwise made the experience relevant to their academic careers. Many Fellows have gone on to teach with Wikipedia. Many have used what they learned with us to help or teach their peers. A few have also used the experience to develop their own scholarship relating to Wikipedia or otherwise introduced Wikipedia as a potential object of study. Future instances may emphasize one or many of these, and may explore additional measures we can take to facilitate participants use of the course, such as issuing formal certificates.
- While we had hoped this program would encourage editor retention, our initial efforts have not panned out. In February 2019, we had the following numbers:
- 1/9 of the original pilot members made an edit in the article namespace, 10 months after completion of the course. The highest number of edits in the month was 1.
- 4/99 of the summer cohort members made an edit in the article namespace, 5 months after completion of the course. The highest number of edits in the month was 9.
- 10/75 of the fall cohort members made an edit in the article namespace, 2 months after completion of the course. The highest number of edits in the month was 4.
- These numbers suggest that the course trains people how to edit, and when they're inspired, they log on and make an edit. But they do not become super active editors of Wikipedia.
Wiki Scholars & Scientists
In Fall 2018, we launched our Scholars & Scientists program, a professional development course model built on what we've learned running Wikipedia Fellows. It follows a similar structure and curriculum, but with a new orientation, and a built-in flexibility to operate on a variety of themes and with a variety of partners and outreach strategies. As a professional development course, participants receive a formally issued certificate, and we are exploring additional ways to better integrate the experience into the professional lives of the scholars.
We are exploring two models: one with a set topic or set of association partners, and one with a single dedicated partner. The former is open for anyone to apply, or to anyone within particular fields. For the latter, we will work closely with a particular partner, tailoring aspects of our outreach or curriculum to their needs, as well as drawing on their resources in a more nuanced way. We are excited to explore this more. One reason it is appealing is that it resolves some challenges we've faced in recruitment and scheduling.
Our collaborator for the first Scholars & Scientists course is the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In May 2019, NARA is launching an exhibit, Rightfully Hers, commemorating the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We will run four courses to train academics and professionals how to improve Wikipedia articles related to women's suffrage before and in tandem with the exhibition. We led the first two courses in Fall 2018, the third in early Spring 2019, and the fourth in late Spring 2019.
The Wikipedia Fellows program was offered at no cost to participants, subsidized by generous funders while we proved that we could immerse experts in Wikipedia and train them how to make substantial contributions. Moving forward, we will seek funding for the courses so we can sustain this valuable program. We will cover the cost of the courses via the following models:
- Individual payer: Individual participants pay a tuition fee for the 3-month professional development course. Most participants do not pay out of pocket, but draw on professional development funds provided by their employer. (This was the model we followed with the NARA courses, which worked well.)
- Institutional payer: Institutions will fund a full course, creating the opportunity for their faculty or members to participate in the course without worrying about seeking individual funding or reimbursement.
We are looking forward to experimenting in a number of ways, equipped with the knowledge that we can do so while still scaling and improving our program.
- Themes: We facilitated courses with the following themes: US Midterm elections, Communicating Science, Women in Science, and General Topics (an interdisciplinary course). Then, with the Wiki Scholars model, we added women's suffrage. Most participants appreciated the structure that a theme brought to the course. Given this feedback, building future courses with specific themes is worth pursuing.
- Advanced courses: At the end of our courses, we asked participants what else they would have liked to cover in a course or future course. Several desired additional conversations about conceptual aspects of Wikipedia: policy, crowdsourcing, notability, veracity, administration, cultural impact, bias, etc. Several expressed interest in the academic research conducted with Wikipedia, and the possibility of developing original scholarship during such a course. Others requested more conversation around improving articles to meet a higher level of quality, such as applying Good Article criteria. Lastly, there were requests for community-oriented courses (e.g., having a course affiliated with WikiProject Women in Red, that more closely connects participants to active Wikipedians looking to engage a specific issue within the community).
- New course models: We believe we can adapt our curriculum and have the training competencies to experiment with alternative styles of courses. Whereas the others all involve individuals learning to edit Wikipedia and then making substantial improvements to one or two articles, we would also like to run courses that are more collaborative, that focus on images, that work with Wikidata, or that emphasize scholarship regarding Wikipedia. Though we have limited experience as an organization in running these sorts of courses, our staff has extensive experience with all of them.
- New partners: Having worked with seven academic associations, branching out to additional associations or institutions would make for an even more diverse set of course offerings with a larger pool of potential participants. We are currently exploring more options and are confident that we will be able to adapt this course model to meet the needs of a diverse set of partners.
- Embedding courses into a college/university: Several barriers we encountered during this last round of courses revolved around finding participants, scheduling, and timing. We suspect embedding a course more seamlessly into an institution's schedule would mitigate or fully address all of these issues.
As we engage in additional Scholars & Scientists courses in the coming year, we are eager to test our assumptions, create a new revenue stream for our organization, and continue to improve Wikipedia content by empowering subject-matter experts to contribute.