Since January 2018, Wiki Education (a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that builds bridges between academia and Wikipedia in the United States and Canada) has run professional development courses to train subject-matter experts to contribute to public knowledge on Wikipedia. In this session, I will share how this program works, the tools and curriculum we use, some of the results, and important lessons we have learned along the way. My hope is that attendees will use this knowledge to incorporate into their own outreach toolbox.
The Wikipedia community has long understood the potential for subject-matter experts to be valuable contributors to the encyclopedia. Academics, professionals, and other experts have a broad understanding of literature in their field, and thus are well positioned to evaluate the reliability of sources, organize complex concepts, or identify aspects of a subject that are missing, underrepresented, or overemphasized. It's for some of these reasons that thousands of articles are tagged as needing expert attention.
Academics and other experts are passionate about sharing knowledge, a core trait among Wikipedians. However, Wikipedia is a unique writing environment that can be jarring and difficult to adapt to. Hard work can be undone, thoughtful composition can be changed, verifiability is typically prioritized over "truth," original research is not allowed, citations are required for just about everything, and expertise itself does not guarantee authority or deference. These characteristics and their underlying justifications are easy for the editing community to take for granted, but require effort to adapt to, especially coming from a culture that in many ways is just the opposite.
In this Wiki Scholars meeting, run in spring 2019 with the National Archives, all of the participants are focused on improving articles about women's suffrage in the United States.
Personally, the question of how to engage subject-matter experts is one that has interested me as a volunteer for years, and I am excited to share this model that we have found to be successful. Some of the courses we have run have been broad in scope, like "humanities" and "sciences," while others have been narrower, like courses on American politics or women in science. Our most popular series of courses has been on women's suffrage. Wiki Education teamed up with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to train historians, archivists, academics, and independent researchers to improve articles celebrating the centennial of women's right to vote (the Nineteenth Amendment) in the United States. After running three such courses, we invited alumni to return for an Advanced Wikipedia course in which we worked together to take a deep dive into a single article, aiming to bring the article on the Nineteenth Amendment itself up to Good Article quality. At the time I write this, the article has nearly tripled in size and awaits a Good Article review.
In this session, attendees will learn how our model works, with the goal of increasing subject-matter expert engagement in other contexts and geographic areas beyond what Wiki Education can support. I will demonstrate the tools we use, go over case studies, explain the structure of the training, and share what has worked well (and what has not worked so well). I hope for this to be a session with a lot of interaction with the audience, answering questions about how to use this model, its possibilities, and its limitations, as opening conversations about how it could be improved.
This session will address the conference theme — Wikimedia, Free Knowledge and the Sustainable Development Goals — in the following manner:
- Quality Education (#4) - The Scholars & Scientists program engages subject-matter experts to contribute high-quality content to complicated, neglected, and/or high-impact Wikipedia articles. The Wikimedia movement has long recognized the potential for subject-matter experts to fill gaps in public knowledge, and this takes a structured, organizationally backed approach to facilitating just that.
- Partnerships for the Goals (#17) - Most of the courses we have run through this program have been in collaboration with one or more partners. In the first instance, we worked with the National Women's Studies Association, American Sociological Association, and Midwest Political Science Association to recruit their members as participants. We've since partnered with several other academic associations and other institutions like the National Archives, with which we have run six courses focused on women's suffrage, recruiting from their networks and making use of their materials.
- Others, depending on focus - These courses focus on a wide range of topics. Just a few examples of the kinds of topics participants have worked on: women's health, biographies of women in science, voting rights, energy, public safety, gender studies, and underrepresented people in the arts.
At the end of the session, the following will have been achieved:
- Learn about a program which trains subject-matter experts to contribute to Wikipedia.
- Understand how the model works and the major strategies and tools involved.
- Find answers to questions about implementing this model in other contexts.
- Ryan McGrady (Scholars & Scientists Program Manager, Wiki Education, wikiedu.org)
Each Space at Wikimania 2019 will have specific format requests. The program design prioritises submissions which are future-oriented and directly engage the audience. The format of this submission is a:
- Lecture, although I would anticipate more audience interaction than a typical "lecture" (but I wouldn't quite call it a workshop). I'd be happy to join a relevant panel if it makes sense.
The session will work best with these conditions:
- Room: As long as there is a projector, I would defer to the organizers to estimate interest/attendance.