As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the United States, residents are seeking information about their local governments’ responses. Local newspapers are often a great source for the most recent news, but it’s hard to get a big picture of the pandemic’s impact on states, cities, and regions from reading a daily newspaper. Wikipedia, however, provides that overview — assuming you live in a region where Wikipedia’s volunteers have expanded the article.
Sadly, however, that’s not every region of the country. That’s why Wiki Education launched a series of courses in our Wiki Scholars program devoted to improving the quality of content on articles related to state and regional responses to COVID-19. To date, we’ve wrapped up two courses, have a third ongoing, and are actively recruiting for more. Course fees for these courses have been paid by a generous sponsor who is supporting the improvement of COVID-19-related articles on Wikipedia.
The two courses that have wrapped up demonstrate the benefits of the Wiki Scholars model. Wiki Education staff recruits experts in public policy, political science, journalism, and other related topic areas to take a 6-week course where we teach the participants how to edit Wikipedia articles related to the pandemic. In our first two courses, 36 subject matter experts have added content to articles that have been viewed millions of times.
Many of the participants improved the “timeline” sections of state articles, adding the daily and weekly updates, and most also improved other sections in articles. One participant wrote a large section in Maine’s article on the impact to higher education in the state. The Arizona article has a section on epidemiology and public health responses written nearly entirely by a participant in one of our courses. The South Carolina article now has a section on the epidemiology and public health response, as well as impacts to K-12 and higher education schools and the economy.
Our courses also offered an opportunity for participants to address Wikipedia’s equity gaps in this content area. One participant added a section on the pandemic’s impact on the Northern Arapaho tribe to the Wyoming article. Another noted the Navajo Nation, which at the time had a higher per capita positive rate than any U.S. state, didn’t have an article about COVID-19, so our participants created one. Another participant added a section about New Mexico’s Navajo Nation to the New Mexico article.
A participant from our course wrote most of the article about North Dakota’s response, but once they finished the course, the article edits stopped as well. These courses have demonstrated that it takes more than just an individual or even a group of individuals to keep these articles up to date. Articles like this desperately need regular edits; that’s why we’re offering more courses. The work our past participants have done has demonstrated the value of these improvements; now, we need to do more.
If you’re interested in learning how to improve Wikipedia’s articles related to COVID-19, we are actively accepting applicants for our next course.