Our very first Wikipedia Fellows cohort has finished! For the first three months of 2018, we piloted a new program in which nine academic experts completed rigorous training and contributed to more than sixty articles on Wikipedia. We are proud of their work and are excited to have new Wikipedians out in the world! From Race to Masculinity to Margaret Atwood, you can see their contributions here.
Many of Wikipedia’s readers look to information on the site to make political, behavioral, and even medical decisions in their life. The goal of the Wikipedia Fellows program is to have subject-matter experts improve the public’s access to reliable knowledge, especially in these highly-trafficked topic areas. Engaging professors and graduate students with expertise in these areas, who would have access to high-quality resources, seemed like a compelling approach to bridging academia and Wikipedia. We partnered with three academic associations – the National Women’s Studies Organization (NWSA), the American Sociological Association (ASA), and the Midwestern Political Science Association (MPSA) to help us identify participants for this program. The Fellows we selected from these associations excelled in our program.
With one Good Article (GA) nomination and one Did You Know (DYK) nomination, these Fellows went from being new to Wikipedia to confidently contributing new sections to articles, improving existing articles for clarity, and creating new articles entirely from scratch. They surpassed our projections of words added, page views, and number of articles edited. The Fellows reported in their exit survey that they found this program useful for anyone interested in explaining Wikipedia to students and colleagues, ensuring the public has access to accurate information, and addressing systematic bias.
The Fellows cohort and Wiki Education staff met once a week over Zoom, a video conferencing software, and explored different aspects of contributing to Wikipedia – policies, tools, verifiability, content gaps, sources, etc. To complement meetings, we used Slack, an instant message platform, to answer questions in real-time, troubleshoot issues, and allow for another channel of communication. To track Fellows’ efforts, we used the Dashboard, which is a platform we use in our Classroom Program and with Visiting Scholars. We track individual contributions, word count, articles, as well as several other data points through the Dashboard. Although multiple platforms bring their own sets of complications to any program, the Fellows appreciated how quickly they were able to build community virtually.
Since the Fellows were new to Wikipedia, we needed to introduce, unpack, and demonstrate the content contribution process clearly and quickly. We addressed the learning curve at the beginning of the pilot by assigning training modules through the Dashboard. We spent the early sessions discussing the trainings and how Wikipedia pages work as well as the various tools users can use to contribute to articles.
The pilot cohort of Wikipedia Fellows required a three month commitment to spend three hours per week working on Wikipedia. As they selected articles, we shifted away from policy discussions to teaching steps to start their first drafts. These later sessions yielded in-depth conversations about Talk Pages, controversial topics, and collaborating with the Wikipedia community.
We believe this program meets a need that our other programs do not: contributing subject-matter expertise, from the experts themselves and at a large scale. In addition to being a bridge between Wikipedia and academia, the pilot could also serve as a connector between our Visiting Scholars and Classroom Program. This summer, we will train several new experts beginning in June, July, August, and September. We are excited to experiment with the pilot’s successes and challenges by trying out new curricula, varied program durations, thematic cohorts, and accepting applicants from additional partners. We hope that by expanding the program we will be able to have a sustained and substantial impact on the content that Wikipedia’s readers use every day to make informed decisions.
Regarding the program’s impact, one participant said “I feel that the program helps me to be a better citizen.” This could have never happened without support from our association partners. We want to thank NWSA, MPSA, and ASA for supporting us as they encouraged their members to participate in this program. Another participant said “now, more than ever, partnerships like this are vital.” These sentiments demonstrate there is great deal of interest in improving and contributing to Wikipedia among academics. We also want to thank all of the Fellows for their amazing work and for participating. They are publishing blog posts about their experience, so please check back frequently to hear about what they learned. Each Fellow had a unique experience in this program, but there was one thing they all unanimously believed: all nine fellows strongly agreed that they want to continue to edit Wikipedia.
For more information about Wikipedia Fellows and how to get involved, visit our informational page. For more information about this cohort, click here. Also check out Fellows’ blog posts by ASA member Dr. Sine Anahita, ASA member Dr. Michael Ramirez, and MPSA member Dr. Royal G. Cravens, III.