21 ways we’ve made Wikipedia better

January 15 is Wikipedia’s 21st birthday. Happy birthday, Wikipedia! In honor of the occasion, we at Wiki Education are reflecting on 21 ways our organization’s work has made Wikipedia better (in no particular order).

1. We’ve added a LOT of content to Wikipedia. In 2018, Wiki Education reached a milestone: Student editors in our Wikipedia Student Program had added as much content to English Wikipedia as was in the last print edition of Encyclopædia Britannica. Since then, we’ve steadily worked to add even more content. We’ve now added almost two full Britannicas to Wikipedia.

2. The depth and breadth of content we add covers all disciplines. Because we work with nearly every academic discipline taught in higher education, we improve a wide variety of topics. Want to know more about geologyContested monumentsIslamic art and architectureAfrican archaeologyIndigenous CanadiansOccupational epidemiologyForeign literatureLatina artists? All of these are topics on Wikipedia improved by student editors through our program.

3. We helped fill content gaps in articles related to 9/11. In a collaboration with ReThink Media in the months prior to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we brought peace and security studies experts to Wikipedia to improve articles related to September 11, the War on Terror, and related topics. While Wikipedia’s extremely active WikiProject Military History had led to extensive coverage of the specifics of war in these articles, our experts were able to identify and fill content gaps related to the context of humanitarian implications of war. Articles our scholars improved received more than 7 million page views.

4. We’ve improved knowledge equity content. Some of the examples in the prior point illustrate this, but to drill down: Wiki Education has spent nearly a decade inviting instructors who teach in courses related to race, gender, and sexuality and other knowledge equity content areas to teach with Wikipedia. The result? Articles like the one on Harlem Renaissance writer Rudolph Fisher, which as it was expanded caught the eye of a journalist who then wrote about Fisher, bringing him to even more prominence. Or the significant work Wiki Education does to counter the biography gender gap on Wikipedia.

5. We overhauled the 19th Amendment article. In collaboration with the National Archives and Records Administration, Wiki Education hosted a series of courses bringing historians and women’s studies experts to Wikipedia prior to the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment. Over the course of several months, scholars improved articles related to suffrage, suffragists, and — in an advanced course — the article on the 19th Amendment itself. Prior to our scholars’ work, the article centered the narrative not just on white people, but also on white men — so our program participants helped shift Wikipedia’s narrative to center women as well as adding a new section about the continued disenfranchisement of women of color.

6. We’ve brought women in science to Wikipedia. Through our partnership with 500 Women Scientists, we’ve enabled 75 members of the group to add and expand biographies of women in STEMM to Wikipedia. This work is helping change the face of science on Wikipedia.

7. Our Year of Science sparked a burst of science editing. We declare 2016 to be the Year of Science, a focused campaign to bring more science editors to Wikipedia. The results exceeded our expectations — and launched our ongoing Communicating Science initiative. In 2021, five years later, we continued to add more content to more science articles than we did during the official Year of Science. In an age where providing neutral, fact-based science information is critically important, we’re both improving Wikipedia’s coverage of science — and teaching early career scientists the important skill of being able to teach science to a general audience.

8. We’re helping the world learn about the climate crisis. As part of our Communicating Science initiative, we’ve attracted several courses that specifically work to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of the climate crisis. In this post, we explain how students from eight different universities helped add better scientific information related to climate change on Wikipedia.

9. We shaped Wikipedia’s coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many student editors in our Wikipedia Student Program have improved articles related to information about the pandemic, from articles on vaccines and diseases to effects of and impacts on COVID-19. We also ran a series of courses in our Scholars & Scientists Program where we brought subject matter experts to Wikipedia to improve articles related to local, state, and regional responses to the pandemic from a public policy perspective. All told, we’ve helped millions of people learn more about the pandemic.

10. We’ve added biographies of Nobel laureates — before they were honored. Every Nobel Prize announcement season, readers flock to Wikipedia to read more about the scientists receiving the honor. Sometimes, notably in the case of Donna Strickland, the biography is missing — but Wiki Education’s helped avoid that in other cases. In 2018, one of our Wiki Scholars participants transformed Jennifer Doudna‘s Wikipedia article — two years before she won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for her work on CRISPR. In 2017, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three laureates whose biographies were all created or expanded by student editors in our Wikipedia Student Program.

11. We taught a Nobel Laureate to edit. Our work with Nobel Laureates isn’t just limited to writing their biographies — we also taught one to edit Wikipedia! Dr. Bill Phillips, a 1997 laureate in physics, participated in our Wiki Scientists course in partnership with the American Physical Society. “Everyone who finds Wikipedia to be a good resource ought to contribute in one way or another, to the ongoing value of Wikipedia. One way of doing that, of course, is to act as an editor,” Phillips told us after the class.

12. We’ve inspired students to become editors. Dr. Phillips wasn’t the only one inspired by learning how to edit Wikipedia through our programs. “I call my senators, I vote, I donate to the ACLU, and now, I edit Wikipedia,” wrote a Rice University student. We’ve similarly inspired several other students to become Wikimedians.

13. We’ve inspired staff to edit. After six years of working for us, our Wikipedia Student Program Manager, Helaine Blumenthal, finally got the itch to edit herself. (Most of our staff also edit as volunteers.) Helaine reflected on her work creating the article on Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with disabilities. “I was both dismayed but unsurprised to find a paucity of information on the topic, but I’m hopeful that my article sparks others to think about how COVID has affected populations already at high risk for a host of physical, emotional, and socioeconomic disadvantages,” she says.

14. Our staff has also reflected on knowledge equity. Wiki Education’s staff are part of the broader Wikimedia community, and we as a movement are thinking about knowledge equity as a key pillar of our current strategy. Our Senior Wikipedia Expert, Ian Ramjohn, reflected on how to represent Indigenous knowledge in our projects. Wikidata Program Manager Will Kent wrote about diversity and how we as a community generate lists of equity topics to improve. These kinds of reflections are important not just for us but for our community at large.

15. We provide the software for global program leaders to manage their work. Wikipedia is enhanced by not only our work, but the work of program leaders all over the world. And thousands of these program leaders use Programs & Events Dashboard, available on WMF Labs, to manage, track, and report on their programs and events. The Dashboard is a software originally built for Wiki Education’s own course management; today, we’ve added popular features like authorship highlighting and other features that have made the Dashboard a key tool in the Wikmedia movement.

16. We’ve documented our work so others can learn. Our commitment to supporting other program leaders isn’t just technology. We also run a variety of programs and initiatives, and as part of our ongoing commitment to documenting what we do and what we’ve learned, we publish evaluation reports on Meta, the central organizing wiki for the Wikimedia movement. To date, we’ve published seven of these detailed reports, offering information on how others in the movement could replicate our successes and avoid our mistakes. We believe these reports are a critical part of our commitment to documentation and knowledge sharing.

17. Our research on student learning outcomes helps further other education programs. In 2016, we also commissioned Dr. Zach McDowell to do a student learning outcomes research project. His results are useful for any education program leader looking to demonstrate learning outcomes from writing Wikipedia articles. Ensuring we’re providing a positive pedagogical experience is what draws many instructors to teach with Wikipedia.

18. Our work has inspired other researchers. It’s not just the research we commission; our programs have also inspired other researchers to publish about Wikipedia. Some research is about teaching with Wikipedia. Others is about our program’s impact to articles. Others focus on our impact to scholarly references. Because our Dashboard allows researchers to download CSVs of participant Wikipedia user names (not real names), we’re often not even aware researchers are studying the impact of our programs until the research is published!

19. Our partnerships have transformed Wikipedia’s relationship with academia. A decade ago, Wikipedia was the bane of teachers’ existence. Today, thanks in part to our work, Wikipedia is embraced in the academy. This can partially be attributed to our work in fostering partnerships with academic associations who then encourage their members — professionals in that discipline — to participate in Wiki Education’s programs. Our partnerships with large associations like the American Sociological Association, American Chemical Society, American Physical Society, and American Anthropological Association — to name a few — have not only furthered our programmatic work in those topic areas on Wikipedia, but has also helped shape the perception of Wikipedia in academia.

20. The scale of our work has a huge impact on Wikipedia. Many other Wikimedia groups also do important work similar to us. What sets Wiki Education apart from our peers is the sheer size of our programs. In 2021, we taught 10,758 people who had never registered an account before how to edit Wikipedia. We bring so many new active editors, in fact, that 19% of English Wikipedia’s new contributors come through our programs.

21. We’re changing the face of Wikipedia. And it’s not just the scale of contributors: It’s also the diversity. While only 22% of existing contributors to Wikipedia in Northern America identify as women, Wiki Education’s programs are working to change that: 67% of our participants identify as women, and an additional 3% identify as non-binary or another gender identity. Similarly, while 89% of existing U.S. editors identify as white, only 55% of Wiki Education’s program participants do. Our programs are bringing dramatically more diverse participants to Wikipedia than our current core community, which helps us to further our collective mission to collect the sum of all human knowledge by bringing in a more diverse set of people and expertise.

If you’re inspired by our work, join us! Spread the word about teaching with Wikipedia to higher education instructors you know in the U.S. and Canada. Encourage organizations you’re a member of to partner with us to offer a Wikipedia editing course. Take one of our courses yourself. And donate to Wiki Education to help us keep making these 21 ways we’ve improved Wikipedia continue into its 22nd year.

Image credit: Elya, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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