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Promoting women and information literacy with Wikipedia

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Barriers to education, gender-based harassment and other factors have lead to a gender imbalance in many fields, and in the representation of woman in academic sources. Only 17% of Wikipedia's notable profiles are of women, and 15% of Wikipedia editors are women; University of Waterloo Archivist Danielle Robichaud and Librarian Sarah Brown are hoping to change that.

A Wikipedia edit-a-thon took place on Wednesday December 7, one of several events held at the university for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence.

Women in STEM logo

After providing drop-in training on getting started as a Wikipedia editor, librarians and students spent the afternoon quietly typing away, improving articles on women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The group created one brand-new profile – that of Computer Scientist Kaya Thomas – and expanded many more.

Profiles such as Canadian Zoologist Anne Innis Dagg - a researcher well known at Waterloo for her work with the Independent Studies Department and her influential research on animal behaviour. Dagg travelled alone to Africa in the 1950s to study giraffes, making her the first researcher to study African animals in the wild.

While Wikipedia is rarely considered the best academic resource, Danielle Robichaud, digital archivist in Special Collections & Archives, explains that “Wikipedia offers a unique way to examine how and by whom information is produced. The site’s history tab allows for an understanding of the collaborative writing process and the intent of various editors. Do certain changes add value to the article or suggest a conflict of interest? What is missing from the existing coverage of a topic and why?”

Robichaud also articulates how Wikipedia can expand information literacy skills by requiring editors to discover and evaluate suitable references, and practice their writing skills. “Contributors need to think about accessible ways of sharing what they know about a topic. In addition to practicing plain language writing, it’s an opportunity for students to recognize that they have knowledge and skills to contribute beyond the classroom.”

The organizers hope to make Wikipedia edit-a-thons a regular event at the university, building a community of skilled editors. Keep your eye out for events that may cover topics such as the Art+Feminism project and the University’s upcoming 60th anniversary. 

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