Eleanor Gibson was a psychologist who contributed to the understanding of childhood perception. Most notably, she designed the “visual cliff” experiment, which gave psychology textbooks the ubiquitous and horrifying image of a baby crawling off the edge of a tabletop. Her experiment showed that newborns of many species have an instinctual understanding of depth. (It’s OK, no babies were harmed: There was a sheet of plexiglass just over the edge of the cliff.)
Gibson’s contribution to psychology is a major one, taught in many introductory childhood development courses. She won the National Medal of Science in 1992. And yet, her Wikipedia biography was quite thin.
That was until a student from North Dakota State University’s PSYC 480 History and Systems of Psychology course, led by Dr. Jim Council, took it on. The article now has seven sections and details many of her major works and contributions to psychology.
It’s only one example of the knowledge those students are sharing with the world by writing material that goes to Wikipedia instead of writing that goes into a filing cabinet.
Another student expanded the biography of Florence Denmark, the former president of the American Psychological Association and a notable psychologist. Her work has contributed to the understanding of gender effects on experimental psychology.
It’s fitting, then, that her article was expanded as part of our Year of Science efforts to encourage more coverage of women scientists on Wikipedia. A student in that course took what had been a nine-sentence biography and fleshed it out into a multi-section history of her career, including her various honors.
Students have expanded biographies of important women psychologists, but also created important information aimed at improving psychology articles on Wikipedia. These articles require a careful consideration of medical sources, and benefit from small courses with careful supervision from an expert in the field.
For example, a student contributed information about Minor depressive disorder, in which at least two depressive symptoms are present for two weeks. The article had only been a few sentences. After that student’s involvement, it is a deep, informative article about symptoms, their treatment, and even the history of diagnosis.
Psychology articles are a tricky subject. When the public wants to find information about these topics, they often go online. It’s in the best interest of trained experts in the field to make sure the information people find is accurate and up to date. While some bemoan Wikipedia’s presence in the field, others, such as Dr. Jim Council and his students, are working to make sure the information they find is useful and accurate.
Wiki Ed is dedicated to improving medical, science, and psychology topics. Small classes with students capable of contextualizing their knowledge make excellent candidates for improving these topics. They get experience in the public communication aspect of their field, and flex the knowledge they’ve learned by comparing it to what’s presented on Wikipedia.
But as we’ve seen, even students new to their field can make an impact by expanding biographies and historical information about psychologists on Wikipedia, especially women. Women scientists are underrepresented on Wikipedia, and when articles are present, they often just aren’t as detailed as articles about men.
We’d love to talk to more instructors who see a role for their students on Wikipedia, and show you how straightforward a Wikipedia portion of your class can be. Send us an email to start the conversation: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: I can see my house! by D’Arcy Norman from Calgary, Canada, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.