Edit-a-thon bolsters representation of women and people of color on Wikipedia

The editing marathon took place in the ISE Lab where students, faculty, alumni and community members came together to create and expand Wikipedia pages as well as learn about Wikipedia editing procedures.

Courtesy of Tracy Jentzsch
Participants listen diligently as Mark Mark Ockerbloom explains the basics of editing an article on Wikipedia at the first ever Wikipedia Edit-a-thon.

Copy Desk Chief

Fingers typed, eyes scanned and articles expanded as people gathered Saturday morning for the university’s first Wikipedia Edit-a-thon.

The editing marathon took place in the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Lab where students, faculty, alumni and community members came together to create and expand Wikipedia pages, as well as learn about Wikipedia editing procedures.

The Edit-a-thon began with an “Intro to Wikipedia Editing Workshop” by Mary Mark Ockerbloom, Wikipedian in Residence at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Wikimedians are users of any Wikimedia project, and Wikipedians in Residence are Wikimedians who work in-house at a specific organization.

Ockerbloom discussed what makes a topic qualified to have a page on Wikipedia, best practices for creating or editing articles on Wikipedia and how Wikipedia pages are monitored by editors and computers.

“The goal of Wikipedia is to present all of human knowledge from a neutral point of view,” Ockerbloom says.

Not just anything can be on Wikipedia, Ockerbloom says. There is a concept called notability, where only topics that are deemed notable can be on Wikipedia.

“Wikipedia really doesn’t want to be Facebook,” Ockerbloom says. “On Facebook, anybody can create a page for a whole bunch of stuff and put it up and say pretty much anything they want. And Wikipedia just doesn’t want to be that.”

Ockerbloom says it can be hard to decide what’s a notable topic in fields like chemistry and astronomy because most Wikipedia editors do not know enough information about these topics.

“At the same time, there are people in Wikipedia, in many cases fairly substantial people in Wikipedia, who really do have the goal of bringing the sum of all human knowledge to everybody and who recognize that that can’t happen unless everybody’s at the table,” Ockerbloom says.

Media Specialist Tracy Jentzsch says she and a few others wanted to hold a Wikipedia meetup on campus and partner with other groups on campus.

“We were aware that the number of editors and the amount of content available on Wikipedia that has anything to do with women and people of color is lagging, to put it nicely,” Jentzsch says. “Our goal was to reach out to the campus community and the great community to see if we could bolster the number of women and people of color as both content contributors and the content that’s on Wikipedia.”

About 90 percent of Wikipedia editors are male, Ockerbloom says. In order to expand the content on Wikipedia about women and minorities, the Edit-a-thon used the Colored Conventions Project as a basis, Jentzsch says.

Jim Casey, a Ph.D candidate at the university, says the Colored Conventions Project spans departments on campus including the English department, art department, art history department and the library.

The Colored Conventions were a 19th century of African Americans holding conventions to discuss the political, legal, social and educational issues of their day, Casey says. The Conventions themselves tend to be forgotten about in history, he says, and the Colored Conventions Projects strives to transform teaching and learning about this topic.

Part of the project involved creating biographies about hundreds of people who were involved in the Colored Conventions, he says. The project has many rich resources students used to create these biographies, though many of these people do not appear on Wikipedia.

One of the goals of the event was to use these biographies to create Wikipedia pages for these forgotten conventions and important figures in history, Jentzsch says.

She says she received some backlash when she announced the event on Facebook because people do not think of Wikipedia as a real resource. She says there are misconceptions about the reliability of Wikipedia because people don’t understand Wikipedia is heavily edited and monitored. She says Wikipedia can be a great starting place for research.

“It’s kind of like McDonald’s,” Jentzsch says. “Nobody wants to admit they go to McDonald’s, right, but everybody does. I’m guilty of it. Nobody wants to say they use Wikipedia. But it’s the first thing that comes up with you Google something.”

Ultimately, Jentzsch says she wants to help gear Wikipedia involvement toward undergraduate students and have professors integrate it into their classrooms. For example, she says history professor Ritchie Garrison taught a course on the Emancipation Project where students wrote biographies of members of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first all black regiment army in the American Civil War. Jentzsch says they discussed Garrison’s assigning students to take those biographies and turn them into Wikipedia pages.

“We’re trying to help faculty members see ways that they can integrate things like Wikipedia into their classroom,” Jentzsch says. “You know, that’s more about bringing digital humanities into the classroom setting.”

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