When higher ed students write papers for a chemistry class, they’re typically writing for an audience of one: their instructor. If students put any thought into communicating science, it gets lost in the fact that they’ll be communicating science with the exact same person they learned it from.
But what happens when you’re one of the students in Dr. Freda Kleiman’s course at Hunter College? Those students had a rare opportunity to communicate science with more than one reader. By writing for Wikipedia instead, their articles have been seen by 1.1 million readers. Suddenly, students get some skin in the game: they want to make sure they’re writing something that people can understand.
Even just putting students into that position is a win for developing science communications skills. They start thinking about their audience. Wikipedia’s rules for citations rely on a critical assessment of information sources. It also requires students to carefully integrate information from many sources into their own words.
Writing about chemistry for Wikipedia helps student editors explore the context of a topic they otherwise might ignore. Articles from the class include Phosphorylation, which is when phosphourous groups bond to a molecule — a process that turns enzymes on or off. There’s a thorough overview including the history of the concept and a description of its function. It’s written in a way that an audience reading texts where they’d encounter the term can come to Wikipedia and quickly understand the article. The same is true for other articles, such as Ion chromatography or Alkaline phosphatase.
This isn’t a science communications course per se, and these articles aren’t expected to be accessible to a layman. But by positioning these articles to be understood exactly by the people who’d be most likely to encounter them, students begin to think about how to best express their knowledge across contexts.
For Wiki Ed’s Year of Science initiative, we’re helping students think about how they structure and share knowledge with the world through Wikipedia. Participants in our Classroom Program have access to training materials for students that help them get started on Wikipedia, including a specific guidebook for editing chemistry articles. If you’re interested in providing a unique science communication experience to your students, we’d love to hear from you. Together, we can inspire students and expand the world’s access to knowledge about chemistry. Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.