Education and Wikipedia: A chemical reaction

Adam Hyland
Adam Hyland

In mid-August, I joined 17,000 chemists in Boston for the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Among sessions ranging from phytochemistry to nanomaterials, the ACS chemical information division hosted a symposium on Wikipedia, collaboration, and education. That symposium attracted speakers from the Wikipedia community, academia, and government.

Dr. Ye Li is the chemistry librarian at the University of Michigan, and has been supporting and teaching Wikipedia assignments there. Together, we presented a workshop on contributing to Wikipedia through classrooms. ​Dr. Li presented lessons from her experience with courses at the University of Michigan.

In particular, she outlined how Wikipedia assignments helped her students read source material more critically. Students working with Dr. Li reported that writing articles for public review and feedback was a great motivating factor during the assignment. She found that giving students time to respond to volunteer feedback during the course of the assignment was a crucial part of the Wikipedia assignment for students.

Other presentations covered collaboration between volunteers and chemical databases like PubChem and CAS to add and validate information on chemical structures and reactions. Elsa Alvaro from Northwestern University measured the scope and scale of Wikipedia’s coverage of chemistry, exploring nearly 22,000 articles to show the distribution of contributions and contributors. Jian Zhang from the National Institute of Health went into greater detail on the means by which outside organizations can check the validity of information on Wikipedia. The verification fields on chemical infoboxes help ensure that Wikipedia points to the right information in the publicly available databases. Martin Walker from SUNY Potsdam gave a survey of the tools and projects developed by volunteer editors to support that collaboration.

Later in the week, Dr. Li (User:ChemLibrarian), Martin Walker (User:Walkerma), and Keith Lindblom of the ACS facilitated an edit-a-thon, creating new Chemistry-related articles on the English Wikipedia, such as Römpp and a biographical page about Charles P. Casey.

Adam Hyland
Content Expert, Humanities

Photo:Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge – Boston, MA” by WsvanOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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