On September 20, tucked away in a computer lab in the engineering building at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, twelve new Wikipedians learned how to edit Wikipedia. The new editors participated in the Carleton University Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Edit-a-thon, with the goal of adding more content about female scientists on Wikipedia.
Were there not more exciting things to be doing on a Thursday evening in Ottawa? Sure, there were a lot of other fun events that night, but we were doing it because we had heard about the gender gap in Wikipedia, where approximately 9 percent of editors are female. We were doing it because we knew that the women we were writing about were brave trail-blazers who are frequently written out of history, and this was our chance to write these women in to history. We were doing it because we knew that the only way to change the statistics was to become Wikipedia editors ourselves and to encourage our friends to do the same.
The host for the night was the Carleton University branch of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) group, and I volunteered as the primary organizer. There was one small glitch: I had never edited Wikipedia before and didn’t know anyone who had. In fact, none of the participants had ever edited Wikipedia before, proof, perhaps, that there were not enough women editing Wikipedia?
I centered the edit-a-thon on a strong belief that we can all participate if we help each other, which is also how I feel about WISE, which focuses on encouraging and supporting women in engineering. We believed the event could also help foster a local community with the goal of encouraging more women to edit Wikipedia. As an inclusive group, however, we also encouraged men to attend, assuming they might also help us write articles about female scientists (one quarter of the attendees were male).
We created 12 new accounts and, after a brief introduction, started to work creating and improving articles. Because none of us was an experienced editor, everyone got into helping each other. There were a lot of exclamations of “oh, how did you do that?” and “why doesn’t this work?” Instead of having one teacher, we were all teachers. We started nine articles and improved two others.
One of the trail-blazing scientists we wrote about was Pearl Kendrick. She helped to bring the vaccine for whooping cough from lab-scale to full-scale production by 1940. Later, upon finding that the version of the vaccine in England was not as effective as the one available in the United States, she worked with the Medical Research Council of Great Britain to help them develop a more successful vaccine.
After a few hours, we all decided to continue working on the articles at home and fell into a discussion around tea and cookies of what we wanted to do in the future. Everyone agreed that we need to have more edit-a-thons. Some felt up to the task of hosting their own, centered on themes that interested them personally. Most of us were excited to show our friends what we had learned and to extend our new found role as teachers beyond our group. I am looking forward to seeing everyone’s articles improve and I’m extremely proud of everyone’s efforts.
Many thanks to everyone who came out for the event, as well as to Carleton University WISE and to Wikimedia Foundation Community Fellow Sarah Stierch for her encouragement.
—Audrey Murray, Carleton University WISE