Overcoming imposter syndrome by editing Wikipedia

Trudi Jacobson, MLS, MA, holds the rank of Distinguished Librarian and is the Head of the Information Literacy Department at the University at Albany. She has taught using the WikiEdu program since the spring of 2019. She has twice served as a mentor to those newly teaching with it, and is happy to talk with others who might be interested in the conjunction of metaliteracy, information literacy, and Wikipedia. She can be reached at tjacobson@albany.edu. She would like to thank Helaine Blumenthal and all the others who have provided support for her students and herself.

Corrin Baker is a senior at the University at Albany graduating with her B.A. in English and Educational Studies in May, 2021. She is beginning a teaching residency with New York University in June, 2021, where she will start her career in education. She hopes to utilize the Wiki Education program again as a professor for her own future students. She would like to thank Professor Trudi Jacobson for her involvement, instruction, and support.

Trudi Jacobson:

Trudi Jacobson
Trudi Jacobson

The following is a reflection from a student in an information literacy course I teach each semester. The students who enroll in the course are upper-level undergraduates, predominantly seniors. Two majors on campus, Philosophy and East Asian Studies, use this course to enable their students to fulfill the University at Albany’s second information literacy requirement, which is based in the major. Therefore, it is critical that students have the opportunity to engage with topics connected to their majors. I also feel it is vital that students come away from the course understanding far more than they would from a course that mistakenly equates information literacy with “how to do research.” This course weaves together three major focuses: a conceptual understanding of information literacy using the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, a broader conception of one’s engagement with information as developed in the metaliteracy (www.metaliteracy.org) framework, and the application of these frameworks by editing in Wikipedia. Metaliteracy emphasizes learning domains (metacognitive and affective, as well as cognitive and behavioral) and learner roles, such as information producer, author, and researcher, making it the ideal scaffolding as students ease themselves into their role of Wikipedia editor. Metaliteracy has four goals, each with a number of learning objectives, and Corrin references them in her post. From the Information Literacy Framework, the Information Has Value and Information Creation as a Process frames are highlighted. The course, which lasts just seven weeks, is challenging for students, but my goal is to have a lasting effect on their understanding of information and their roles in producing and sharing it. Corrin’s reflection testifies to the incredible impact that the blend of metaliteracy, information literacy, and the wonderful Wiki Education program can have.

Corrin Baker:

Corrin Baker
Corrin Baker

I am a Senior at the University at Albany majoring in English and minoring in Educational Studies; this course was not a requirement for my program, but I was one credit short of the university requirement to graduate with honors. I thought I would take a chance on this course and believed it would be, as Professor Jacobson explains, “how to do research.” I expected the course to be easy and act as nothing more than a ticket to graduating with honors. However, the seven weeks spent engaging with information literacy proved to be far more challenging but equally as rewarding.

When I realized that the work I would do in this course would be made visible to the public, I felt a gut instinct to run away to a class where my writing and thoughts would remain safely hidden between the professor and me. It turns out that the feeling in my gut was less of an instinct and more of a reaction to my sense of imposter syndrome and the gnawing fear that I was not smart enough. I believe I am a good student and that I’m capable of performing well in my courses, but I wasn’t sure that this amounted to any substantial or “real” knowledge. I didn’t want to stay in the class because I was afraid I would be exposed as someone who didn’t belong in academic conversations. However, once I realized that Wikipedia was not reserved for the elite or the strongest minds in the world, my feelings started to change. Anyone could make edits, and anyone could challenge those edits. It seemed to be a perfect example of socially constructed meaning—something I had valued in my English classes and tutoring sessions. This helped me feel less like an outsider trying to fit into a conversation and more like one of a million voices that were working together towards a shared goal of information creation and consumption.

Part of confronting my imposter syndrome was considering my role as an author, and the largest change in my understanding of this role was a new consideration of the audience. In my English classes, I wrote like a scholar guarding a secret that was shared only among those in my field of study. I wrote as if my department dressed in long velvet robes and met privately to talk in hushed tones about literary criticism. I enjoyed participating in my secret society because I felt that I had mastered the jargon, and that I could get away with never addressing the sense that I did not really belong. When I began this course, my anxiety was relieved when I understood the domain I was writing in and the audience I was writing for. I began to understand that the work I was doing had value beyond what grade I would receive, and the pressure was on for me to take the work and myself seriously. There wasn’t room for me to be wondering if I was smart enough—I just had to try to be. This is the most critically engaged with the research process I have ever been, and I believe this to be a symptom of my new awareness of a world-wide audience. I owed them my best, especially as I understood that Wikipedia may be the most accessible source for many people.

In regards to the objectives, I want to primarily reflect on metaliteracy’s Goal 3, “Produce and share information in collaborative and participatory environments” (Jacobson et al., 2018). The shared roles of producer and consumer were present in every step of the course. I was fully engaged in locating and evaluating sources, and then finding ways to make that information both understandable and accessible. I felt a great sense of responsibility to the audience and to the authors whose work I was using. I was also far more aware of diversity in a global audience, especially as I found myself struggling to find non-male authors to cite. I do not feel that these roles were incredibly distinct, which is something I believed in the beginning of the course. I think the roles of producer and consumer could be written as producer/consumer. They are necessary to one another, and I think working in both domains is necessary for respecting and understanding each. As a consumer, I knew what I would want to read in an article about something I was not familiar with. So, as a producer, I tried to display the information in the way I felt to be most understandable.

My favorite objective by far falls under metaliteracy’s Goal 4, Objective 1, “Recognize that learning is a process and that reflecting on errors or mistakes leads to new insights and discoveries.”  I will be honest and say I am not someone who has always responded well to failure. I take mistakes personally and place a lot of value in “doing it right the first time.” Yet, this is not realistic. My imposter syndrome was flaring during my first public attempt to make an edit on Wikipedia as I saw my mistakes being immortalized under “View History.” I felt the heat of embarrassment as I fumbled with formatting and struggled to remember how to properly use the tools available to me. A week later, in my own Sandbox, I was not thinking about these minor things. I had since figured it out. My mistakes made understanding how to make edits much easier. Now that my article is live, I’ve taken a moment to compare my first and final edits. I once struggled to add a citation, but now I know how to create entire sections and format them accordingly. The “View History” section no longer appears to me as proof of my failures; it has documented how much I have grown and learned.

I value mistakes more as a result of this course, and it feels much less shameful to admit that I make them. I did not expect a one-credit seven week course to be this impactful, and I did not expect it to become a domain where I could address my own intellectual insecurity. The Wiki Education program is a powerful and engaging experience, and I would highly recommend that everyone participate in it if given the chance.


Jacobson, T., Mackey, T., O’Brien, K., Forte, M., & O’Keeffe, E. (2018). 2018 metaliteracy goals and learning objectives. Metaliteracy. https://metaliteracy.org/learning-objectives/2018-metaliteracy-goals-and-learning-objectives/

Image credits: Jfhughesus, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; CorrinBaker, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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