This fall, Howard University professor Msia Clark taught a course on “Black Women and Pop Culture”, which focuses on Black women’s representations. So what could be more perfect than to ask her students to improve the representation of Black women on Wikipedia, the website the world visits when it wants to know more about topics?
“Women of color are underrepresented throughout Wikipedia,” Dr. Clark explains. “I designed the course with a goal of our students helping to improve the representations of Black women on Wikipedia.”
Mission accomplished, according to Zainab Ahmed, one of the students in the course.
“Writing a biography of a Black woman in STEM was very meaningful to me because it was allowing Black women in a field that is mainly dominated by White men to be acknowledged,” she says. “It also provides more access to Black girls who are interested in STEM to be able to research other people like in that field. It also stops downplaying the role Black women have played in the STEM field.”
Zainab and her classmates worked on biographies as part of an initiative to increase the diversity of Wikipedia’s STEM biographies, funded by the Broadcom Foundation. Wiki Education’s staff provided support for students as they researched and wrote the biographies. Zainab says as she researched the contributions of the woman she chose, she was inspired and excited to learn more about her contributions.
And, of course, she learned about editing Wikipedia. While she’d made a few edits before, she hadn’t dived into writing a full article before. She enjoyed the formatting tasks, deciding what information went into subheadings like “Early life” or “Career”.
“In comparison to a traditional term paper I prefer this because it is more research yet less restrictive. I did not have a word limit to meet, I just had to make sure if it was objective and factual,” Zainab says. “I felt like a true editor and writer.”
These learnings are exactly what Dr. Clark wanted her students to get out of the class.
“They definitely learned about the individuals they wrote about. They also learned how underrepresented women of color are on Wikipedia and the implications of that underrepresentation. They saw their work as part of an effort to help improve that representation,” she says. “It allows students to understand how their work contributes to a database that is relied on to provide information to users around the world. It also holds them accountable for their work. It’s not just what your professor thinks, but if your work a valuable contribution to public knowledge.”
Zainab says she felt that accountability. While she was initially “intimidated,” she says, now that she’s learned more about Wikipedia, she wants to keep editing.
“I will definitely continue soon now that I have a more informed understanding of how to do a proper Wikipedia article,” she says.
Visit teach.wikiedu.org to learn how to incorporate a Wikipedia assignment into your own course.
Header image of students in the class courtesy Msia Clark, all rights reserved.