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By Leah Poffenberger
On January 11, the APS Wiki Scientist Course kicked off its third six-week event, aimed at equipping physicists with the skills and know-how to edit and contribute to articles on Wikipedia. The first two Wiki Courses focused on improving biographies of women and minority physicists, who are often left out of Wikipedia. This course, however, is the first to tackle a specific topic area, covering quantum science.
APS partners with Wiki Education, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving Wikipedia to build a more informed public and to bring its Wiki Scientist courses to life. The courses, led by Wiki Education’s experts, guide participants through the processes involved with editing, creating, and maintaining high-quality Wikipedia pages. The latest course, titled "Elevating the Visibility of Quantum Scientists on Wikipedia," also received sponsorship from the APS journal PRX Quantum.
“[Wiki Education] is the gold standard of teaching people how to edit, and once you know how to edit one Wikipedia page, you’ll know how to edit most other pages,” says Rose Villatoro, Public Engagement Coordinator at APS. “These courses teach you the basics of how to edit an article. You get an expert who comes and teaches you for an hour, breaks down the elements of how to edit—and how to edit ethically.”
Wikipedia, which is celebrating its 20th birthday this year, allows almost anyone to write or edit its articles, but it maintains technical and procedural practices to ensure that the information is accurate and accessible. The APS Wiki Scientist Courses help attendees learn to navigate the ins-and-outs of these procedures, from how to create an account to how to add citations. The courses also represent an important opportunity for physicists to hone their abilities to communicate with the public and build trust for science.
The first Wiki Scientist Course, which took place last year, trained 14 editors who created 20 articles, made 890 edits on 109 articles, and added 567 references. The articles these editors created or updated have racked-up over 1 million page views. The current course drew in around 150 applicants for 20 available seats in the course, eager to supply their quantum knowledge to Wikipedia.
In addition to in-depth Wiki Courses, APS has also supported Wikipedia Edit-a-thons, short events to gather as many high-quality Wikipedia edits as possible in just a few hours.
“The courses are for working on editing maybe a single paragraph because you want to learn skills," says Villatoro, whereas "the edit-a-thon is for making as many edits as possible in two to six hours with a lot of other people.”
Julia Dshemuchadse, an assistant professor in Materials Science and Engineering at Cornell University, and an alumna of the Spring 2020 Wiki Course, first got involved with Wikipedia editing through an edit-a-thon at the 2019 March Meeting in Boston.
“[Attending the edit-a-thon, I learned that] just a few hours aren’t enough to do a lot of editing—if you’re practiced, you can write a short article in just a few hours, but it’s not enough if you’re new,” says Dshemuchadse. “I didn’t fully dive into Wikipedia editing until APS did the [Wiki Scientist course] in 2020…I took the course and knew this was really something I wanted to keep doing.”
Since participating in the Wiki Scientist Course, Dshemuchadse has continued her Wikipedia editing, both in her own free time while stuck at home during the pandemic, and in the classroom. In some classes, Dshemuchadse now includes Wikipedia editing assignments for her students to help them improve both Wikipedia and their own writing.
“Some technical articles are super detailed and well-written, but other trivial topics—someone wrote about it and didn’t know their stuff. A student can easily improve that,” says Dshemuchadse. “The benefits are two-fold: students are improving the publicly available encyclopedia and students have writing tasks, something they don’t often have in engineering or physics… Even a small editing task gives them practice.“
Dshemuchadse is also involved with planning edit-a-thons, first helping to organize one on June 10, 2020 during the Strike for Black Lives, a day that encouraged researchers in STEM to stop business as usual and confront racism and discrimination within the scientific community. Jess Wade, a physicist who has been instrumental in diversifying Wikipedia, and several Cornell and MIT librarians joined Dshemuchadse in running the event.
Dshemuchadse is also helping to organize an up-coming edit-a-thon during the 2021 APS March Meeting focusing on editing and creating Wikipedia pages for women in physics. For new Wikipedia editors, especially those attending an edit-a-thon for the first time, Dshemuchadse offers advice: start small, and use Google.
“If you start fixing typos you start feeling better about just making a lasting change to something in the public domain. That’s something that takes time to get used to. Start close to home, with something you feel comfortable writing about,” she says. “Also make sure to take advantage of Google, especially for bios—there’s so much knowledge about currently active scientists.”
Each APS Wiki Scientist Course adds all of its attendees to a Slack community for editors, another feature Dshemuchadse credits with helping her learn the ropes of editing and adding to Wikipedia.
“It took me a while to get into proper Wikipedia editing because it’s hard to get past certain obstacles in it—there are a lot of components to it that I wasn’t prepared for without a structured class,” says Dshemuchadse. “The Wiki education class did that—the structured environment and community was a big help…having an APS specific community where people aren’t intimidated to ask questions and get started editing. You’re not alone in trying to figure out how this works.”
To sign up for the up-coming March Meeting Edit-a-thon, visit the Women Make the World Go Round page. For more information about Wiki Scientist Courses, visit the course page or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine