Wikipedia Edit-a-thon is lesson in collaboration
BGSU writing students correct Wikipedia entries about marginalized groups
By Julie Carle
Students in a Spring 2021 writing class at Bowling Green State University participated in a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to hone their writing and research skills. The assignment, introduced in English faculty member Mike Schulz’s Seminar in Research Writing (WRIT 1120 ) class, focused on increasing representation about women of color and gender equity on the free, open-content, online encyclopedia.
The BGSU team of Laura Sheets and Maureen Barry of University Libraries, Dr. Kacee Ferrell Snyder and Jamie Wlosowiczof the centers for Women and Gender Equity, and Violence Prevention and Education, and Schulz collaborated on the project that benefited students, the libraries and the centers.
Sheets, reference and instruction librarian, and Barry, acting First Year Experience coordinator, developed LibGuides, the online guides for participating in a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon and the Seminar in Research Writing course. Ferrell Snyder, director of the centers, contributed the concept of focusing the edit-a-thon on correcting information about women of color biographies, women’s works and women’s issues. Schulz, a teaching professor in the Department of English, wove the edit-a-thon into his course curriculum to include a different type of assignment for his class. In addition to the edit-a-thon assignment, the class focused on issues related to gender equity throughout the semester.
Ferrell Snyder, who consistently looks for new ways to engage and educate the University community about women’s and gender equity issues, thought a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon might be a fun way to introduce the topic to new audiences.
“We do so much programming throughout the year; however, like many offices, sometimes, we only have a handful of people who show up. You start to wonder, ‘Are we really making a difference?’ With this class, it was a way to interact with a group of people we might not usually reach.”
She first worked with Sheets and Barry at the very beginning of the COVID pandemic that shut down in-person activities on campus. They worked tirelessly to gather the resources and create the Libguide for the edit-a-thon by May 2020.
“There was not a lot of general interest in participating in the edit-a-thon. Because they had done so much work, it seemed a shame for it to go to waste, so I reached out to Mike to see if he could find some way to use the resources in his class,” Ferrell Snyder said.
Integrating the edit-a-thon into the course was an interesting challenge for Schulz. “I had never edited Wikipedia before, but I decided to make it part of the class to motivate more buy-in from the students. The idea of the themed course was easier because it was a subject that was extremely relevant,” he said.
The course started as usual with students analyzing and critiquing articles; this time the reading included articles about unequal representation of women on Wikipedia. Subsequent classes included presentations by Sheets and Barry about using the library to do the kind of research necessary for editing a Wikipedia page, and later Ferrell Snyder and Jamie Wlosowicz, student engagement coordinator, talked about the centers and their missions.
Because students use Wikipedia all the time to get information and the fact that gender equity is in the news, the project was extremely relevant for them. They use the resource all the time to get information, and they are aware of gender equity issues. What they don’t always see are units across campus working together.
“I don’t think they see the Center for Women and Gender Equity, the library and a professor working together to make the connection of how those three fit together, especially in the context of gender equity, research and writing,” Ferrell Snyder said.
“It’s a lesson in how a university functions. Often in intro classes, we exist in a bubble and students don't always think about the transfer of skills or topics beyond the class. We were able to show them there are some issues with Wikipedia and that research does relate to real-world, ongoing problems,” Schulz said.
As students were starting to pick their own topics for their final project, the inequities in the men’s and women’s training room during the NCAA basketball tournament was a major story in the media. Schulz said it was a lightning rod for discussion and many students referenced it in their final papers.
“That story breaking was a real-world example of what we’d been talking about. They were paying attention and recognized it was an issue,” Schulz said.
For Blake Goloja, a freshman from North Royalton, participating in the class was eye-opening. “The best lesson I learned was to keep an open mind about everything — my writing and the ideas we were talking about. Mr. Schulz would always bring so many different creative ways to make my paper better.”
Goloja’s research focused on why there should be more women officials in professional sports. As part of his research, he was surprised that most professional sports leagues do not have officials’ uniforms in women sizes.
“It was good for the students to understand how the information cycle works and why the gender disparity on Wikipedia is an issue. They could see how people are editing Wikipedia, who’s editing it and what information is counted and what’s not. I think that is kind of a powerful thing for students to see,” Ferrell Snyder said. She enjoyed seeing them get it through the work they were doing and using their brains to critically think through why it’s an issue.
“In the Division of Diversity and Belonging, we talk that it is everyone’s responsibility across campus to educate students and to talk about diversity, belonging and inclusion. This is a great example of how that happens in a different context. It’s pretty powerful to have Mike talking to his students about gender equity. It’s an unlikely ally in an unlikely presentation from somebody (other than CWGE staff) that makes the message even more powerful,” Ferrell Snyder said.