The future is interdisciplinary: addressing Wikipedia’s gender gap

By on November 1, 2017

The future is interdisciplinary: addressing Wikipedia’s gender gap

By on November 1, 2017

The future is interdisciplinary: addressing Wikipedia’s gender gap

We’ve discussed the proven importance of tackling gender gaps on Wikipedia in the past, specifically looking at women in STEM. And now, we look at how both students and instructors across disciplines have responded to this systemic issue.

The term “gender gap” refers to a few different aspects of Wikipedia that need improvement. Wikipedia even has its own article that touches upon these systemic issues, which can be summed up as gaps of two kinds:

1. Creators of knowledge on Wikipedia: While it’s difficult to accurately measure who exactly contributes regularly to Wikipedia, it’s estimated that about 80% of those volunteers are male.

2. Wikipedia content itself: A 2011 study shows a disproportionate amount of content about men on Wikipedia. Many articles about notable women are under-developed, or simply do not exist.

As contributors and consumers of one of the most popular sources of information online, we are committed to improving its content to more accurately reflect the world’s knowledge. And due to Wikipedia’s participatory nature, there exists a profound opportunity to do so. In the case of Wiki Education’s work, students and instructors have been addressing both of the aforementioned systemic problems on Wikipedia. First, Wiki Education programs train and engage many female editors. 68% of students who participate in Wiki Education supported programs are female. And work that students produce very often addresses content gaps. (For more about Wiki Education’s impact click here).

But how to find these gaps? The English Wikipedia has over 5 million articles. How do we know what’s missing? In a piece she wrote for our blog, Monika Sengul-Jones (Doctoral Candidate in Communication & Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and a Visiting Graduate Researcher at the University of Washington, Seattle) discusses her work with The Gap Finding Project, an initiative to identify systemic bias and content gaps on Wikipedia. Monika worked with five feminist academics, as well as Sage Ross of Wiki Education, to identify and address gaps pertaining to gender. Among the many outcomes of this project, Monika wrote a best practices guide for other instructors who wish to use Wikipedia gaps as feminist teaching tools. The methods discussed in the Gap Finding Project have been employed across disciplines, including at the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s annual meeting last year.

As part of their engagement with Wiki Education, instructors often write blog posts about their experiences with a Wikipedia assignment. Addressing the gender gap is an overwhelming sentiment found in many of them, regardless of the particular instructor’s discipline. These are just a few of those testimonials, written by both instructors and their students:

The goal to close the gender gap has also been discussed in blog posts by instructors who teach in Digital HumanitiesFeminist theory, and Gender studies.

Addressing the gender gap on Wikipedia is inherently interdisciplinary. Understanding the frameworks in which we live — how knowledge is formed and challenged, and who engages in that production — is an academic exercise that easily carries over into all disciplines when editing Wikipedia. While Monika Sengul-Jones’ approach to identifying systemic bias on Wikipedia was built within a feminist academic framework, the approach itself can be applied across courses and disciplines. As Alicia Pileggi, a student at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey, writes in her reflective blog post, contributing to Wikipedia is, in itself, an act of digital citizenship.

These assignments give students the opportunity both to put course theory into practice (in the case of Women, Gender, and Feminist theory studies), and to find empowerment in the larger implications of their work.

Liam Lair, an instructor in Women’s and Gender Studies at Louisiana State University, has always hoped to “promote a sense of community responsibility and a commitment to social justice” for his students, but found it difficult with a traditional research paper. Writing for Wikipedia “was an opportunity to produce knowledge for their communities, and for Wikipedia users across the world.”

Dr. Elizabeth De Wolfe, Professor of History at University of New England expresses a similar sentiment. She lauds a Wikipedia assignment as a way to “connect classroom knowledge to real-world action.”

“What I had not realized was the tremendous personal impact this project would have on my students’ sense of self,” she writes. “In addition to discovering for themselves the gendered nature of information, students came to understand — and use — their voices to enact change. This project empowered.”

Interested in teaching with Wikipedia? Find out more at

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