'Wikipedia is today the gateway through which millions of people now seek access to knowledge' - William Cronon
What is Wikipedia?
Wikipedia is a free, collaborative encyclopaedia written in 300 languages by volunteers around the world.
As a platform, it is sometimes viewed warily by some teachers, academics and institutions. However, a study by Selwyn found that in 2016 87.5% of students said that they used Wikipedia for their academic work and many used it in an ‘introductory and/or clarificatory role’.
Why should you edit Wikipedia?
Wikipedia has a problem with systemic bias.
A 2011 survey suggests that on English Wikipedia around 90% of editors are male, are typically formally educated, in white-collar jobs or students and living in the Global North.
If there is a typical Wikipedia editor, he has a college degree, is 30-years-old, is computer savvy but not necessarily a programmer, doesn't actually spend much time playing games, and lives in US or Europe
This means that articles within Wikipedia typically reflect this bias and so increasing engagement with, and representation of, marginalised people and subjects is one of Wikimedia UK’s strategic aims for 2019-2020. There needs to be more of an emphasis on the Global South and a greater push in languages other than English, for example.
Another issue is gender bias. As of August 4th, 2020, only 18.54% of biographies on English Wikipedia are of women. This is an increase from 15.53% in October 2014 through the dedicated efforts of WikiProject Women in Red editors around the world creating thousands of new biographies of inspiring women every month.
We can affect change on Wikipedia by increasing the number of editors, contributors and articles that more accurately reflect our society. See the WikiProjects page if you want to learn more about Women in Red and other projects you can get involved in to help to do this.
Students and Wikipedia
Wikipedia can play an important role for students in developing skills useful for their degree and for the workplace. Editing Wikipedia means that students can hone their research and writing skills. This is because they are forced to take a topic or subject that they may understand, but others may not, and translate it into an understandable and accessible Wikipedia article.
Editing Wikipedia also makes them re-evaluate the internet and the reliability of sources. This is critical for any degree and for a society increasingly reliant on what we find on the internet.
Staff and Wikipedia
Many staff at the university, and also students, are in a good position to improve articles on Wikipedia. University staff with their access to resources and specific subject expertise could be significant and valuable editors of Wikipedia and help with the aim of open knowledge.
It is inspiring when we think differently, away from our students being passive consumers and instead think of what we can actively contribute and derive from the teaching and learning experience in supporting our students to become empowered knowledge activists.
Before you start
Addressing knowledge gaps
How to create an account
How to edit
Making a Wikipedia article
Teaching with Wikipedia
Conflict of Interest advice
© Ewan McAndrew and Hannah Rothmann, University of Edinburgh, 2020, CC BY-SA 4.0, unless otherwise indicated.