On March 29th, members of the Touro’s Physical Therapy department arranged a three hour hands-on “editathon” for their students with Lane Rasberry, the Wikipedian-in-Residence at Consumer Reports. Lane has visited Touro before, speaking about Wikipedia to Library staff at the semi-annual staff meeting in January. For this workshop, he started out by giving us a bit of Wikipedia’s history and background, but the main goal of the session was to contribute evidence-based and current health information to articles on Wikipedia.
In contrast to other social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, one does not even need to have an account to edit or add information to a Wikipedia page. This means that basically everybody can revise or change any article. Lane therefore does not recommend Wikipedia as a definitive health consultation source, but at the same time, Wikipedia is in fact one of the most-visited online sources for people to get health information. This is why it’s important for experts in the field to see it as a health communication tool, and as such, try to improve the quality of the information that it provides.
Wikipedia is not a democracy but neither is it lawless, Lane said. There are experienced, volunteer editors who constantly check on new entries, and if they see a problem, they will either fix it, or if it is misinformation, delete it quite quickly. One of the secrets of making sure your content stays on Wikipedia, he shared with the students, is to add the source from where you got the information, i.e. a reference. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, and like any other encyclopedia, its goal is to offer reliable information which is verifiable through other authoritative sources.
For this particular session, students were asked to add just a small amount of information to an existing article on Wikipedia. According to each group’s topic of interest, students were given meticulously chosen relevant scholarly review articles by their professors to review beforehand. In this way, the students were better prepared to edit the articles on Wikipedia in class. But before they could add or edit anything, they had to find a problem with the article, such as a gap in information that needed to be filled.
Students worked in groups and the computer lab became lively with discussion between the students: some writing the new information and some explaining to their team members what information was missing in the article. Lane walked around the room to help students with uploading and citing information on Wikipedia, while the PT professors answered questions about subject matter and the assignment. Then, the professors reviewed the new or revised information that students created to okay it before it was uploaded to Wikipedia.
Once the information was up, students had to make sure that they added their source to the footnotes. Adding citations was easy: students added a citation by entering the DOI (Digital Objective Identifier) or PMID (PubMed Identifier) or the URL into a box which then automatically generated the citation. After they hit the Save button, the information became publicly visible to everyone in the world. It was an exciting moment for every team, and one could feel the buzz in the air.
While some groups were still uploading their new information to Wikipedia, I heard another student inquiring about correcting the grammar in some of the articles. Since they are sometimes written and revised by different people, the language doesn’t always seem coherent, and the grammar can be incorrect. She said, “I use Wikipedia enough to feel like I should contribute to it in this way and fix the language in articles, if I can.” Lane showed her the Guild of copy editors on Wikipedia as a starting point for editors who want to improve the quality of writing on Wikipedia.
Another group of students noticed that nothing had been written on the Paula Method in Wikipedia at all. It was suggested by Lane that they create a short article in Wikipedia and then send it out into the ether for an expert to review and accept or deny as a topic in Wikipedia. Within 20 minutes, their topic was approved and Paula Method got an official entry. When this was announced by the group, we all clapped our hands with a sense of feeling connected to the world.
Lane also showed us the View history button on the Wikipedia page. Each article on Wikipedia has a history of revisions that goes back to 2001, the year that Wikipedia was born. So if interested, one can trace the history of revisions and changes in any article. And this is exactly what we did. Lane pulled up one of the articles edited by the students in our class and when we checked on its history, we saw that already an editor in the UK has changed a word in the newly added text. This example just proved to us how fast an article on Wikipedia is edited by watching editors and usually improved for quality. For articles with high traffic among which are the health articles, this is especially true.
This was a great experience for all of us. I hope we can repeat it again. Thank you #DPT and professors Shira Weiner, Yocheved Bensinger-Brody and Jill Horbacewicz.