Students to be motivated to write articles for the website

Last week, Pune etched its place in Wikimedia history by becoming the first city in India, and the first outside the United States, to host the Campus Ambassadors' Programme, launched by the Wikimedia Foundation.

The 22 Campus Ambassadors, who were chosen by the foundation, will be working towards promoting Wikipedia as a tool in education in institutions in Pune. Frank Schulenburg, Head of Public Outreach of the Wikimedia Foundation, and Hisham Mundol, Consultant, India National Programmes of the Wikimedia Foundation, who are now in Pune to train the ambassadors, spoke toThe Hinduon a variety of topics such as why Wikipedia is looking at India for its offshore expansion, plagiarism and the skewed sex ratio when it comes to contributors to Wikipedia.

Excerpts:

Why was India chosen for the programme?

Mr. Schulenburg:We sensed the biggest global opportunity in India. A lot needs to be written about India, and we need a lot more writers from here. India tops our priority list, and this was one way to increase our reach in the global south.

How did you zero in on Pune for the pilot?

Mr. Mundol:Pune has a strong heritage in education and a huge student body. So when we thought of piloting the program in India. Wikimedia Foundation's aim has also been to increase the number of Indian language pages. Pune, having a diverse population mix, can be of great use in that aspect as well.

How will the education programme work?

Mr. Schulenburg:We chose Campus Ambassadors who promote the use of Wikipedia in education on a day-to-day basis. 824 students participated in the program creating 5,605 pages on Wikipedia on a variety of subjects. While the programme was restricted to the topic of ‘Public Policy' in the U.S., in India it has opened its doors to include all the possible subjects.

The aim is to encourage educational institutions and professors to encourage students to write Wikipedia articles as course assignments. This, we believe, will enhance critical thinking abilities in students, and add to the knowledge pool that is Wikipedia. In the U.S., we have got the feedback that using Wikipedia has increased the level of motivation, and hence the quality of work among students.

Will this in any way put an end to plagiarism which is one of the main concerns in academic circles when it comes to using Wikipedia?

Mr. Mundol:Definitely. Imagine this. If a student has to create a Wikipedia page, he cannot copy from anywhere. He has to reference it to the source. So he has to research more, think of adding more aspects to the Wikipedia to enrich it. Once the assignment is done and its up on Wikipedia, the student can share it on the worldwide platform and keep working on it. He has the ownership, while knowing that millions of readers are adding value to it.

What is the goal for the programme apart from increasing the number of contributors to Wikipedia?

Mr. Mundol:We hope that someday the number of articles that a student or an institute has contributed will be regarded as a measure for academic excellence. Digital media literacy is a core skill for students in the 21{+s}{+t}century, and the contribution to Wikipedia can be a proof of it.

Is the skewed sex ratio among Wikipedia contributors an issue?

Mr. Schulenburg: It definitely is! Our research tells us that an average Wikipedia contributor is 25-year-old male. We are definitely looking to change this. This is where the Education Programme comes in. In the U.S., 46 per cent of the campus ambassadors were female. Among the students who used Wikipedia in education last year across universities, we had a 50:50 ratio. We are looking for the same kind of figures in India.

What else is in store for India?

Mr. Mundol:We are looking launching an India office of the Wikimedia Foundation in the national capital region this year. This will again be the first one outside of U.S. In India, we will be launching new initiatives. We will be targeting the millions of mobile phone-users in this country to promote the use of Wikipedia.