What do jambalaya, prairie dogs, henna tattoos and a drum kit have in common? All are featured subjects in student-made videos that appear on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

A ubiquitous and influential source of information, Wikipedia relies on user-generated content, meaning everyday users develop, correct and maintain information. As one can imagine, this opens the door to potential gaps and errors in coverage, which has sparked a movement to improve Wikipedia by involving academic experts and college students. Alverno students are leading the way in developing open video content for global audiences with their contributions.

In the last two years, videos produced for Wikipedia by Advanced Media Studies students have been viewed more than 68,000 times. Using new media technologies, the students not only improve the quality of the Web resource, they also hone their communication abilities. According to Professional Communication major Lynda Diaz, whose video about mehndi is viewed about 30 times each day, “It feels good to know that I was able to create something that can give others a glimpse into a tradition of cultural value.”

Advanced Media Studies is designed to promote critical media literacy and refine media production skills. Students learn media history, conduct research on today’s mass media industries and produce digital videos. From aspect ratio to zoom shot, video production overflows with technical jargon that students master quickly as they sketch storyboards, telescope tripod legs and capture digital files. Concurrently, students learn about Wikipedia as an influential social media platform with its own culture, ethos, protocols and quirks. And, as always, students develop their abilities. In this case, students practice and demonstrate problem-solving, aesthetic engagement and valuing in decision-making.

With the popularity of Web videos, preparing students to develop the strategic thinking and technical fluency needed to be contributors and leaders in this new media form is vital. Recent graduate Ilona Gonzalez reports learning “the importance of editing and staying on point not only with video, but all other communications as well.” With women comprising fewer than 15 percent of the encyclopedia’s contributors, Wikipedia benefits from Alverno involvement, too.

To date, more than 50 videos have been contributed by Alverno students with subjects ranging from Milwaukee’s favorite parks and public artworks to cultural traditions such as quinceañera and Christmas lights, as well as specific forms of crafts, cooking and sports.

Outside of Alverno, the project has attracted notice by the Wikimedia Foundation’s Global Education Program, which published the course syllabus, project assignment and recent graduate Katy Lederer’s video in its “How Professors are Teaching with Wikipedia” guide.

Click here to view videos by Alverno College Advanced Media Studies.

Jennifer Geigel Mikulay is pictured here with Kasey Lovicott and Katelyn Carrington.

Alverno students Rachel Molloy and Lindsey Johnson film fellow student Kasey Lovicott.