Wikipedia in the classroom: Gender, argh


March 20, 2018

The data journalism course I’m teaching this semester is a new offering for me. I may write up more of my reflections later, but for now I wanted to get some thoughts down about the experience of using Wikipedia as a pedagogical tool. At this point, I feel like it was too real-world of an experience for the class, and I inadvertently exposed my students to some gendered bias.

For their first writing assignment in the class (I am nothing if not ambitious!) I had the students author Wikipedia articles for people who did not have them. You can look at my assignment guidelines, but essentially I wanted them to research and write an article, but I gave credit for completion, rather than quality (particularly by Wikipedia’s metric). I generated a list of folks I thought were notable enough for articles, but told students they could choose someone else if they had an idea they wanted to pursue.

It turns out that not everyone I thought was notable actually had enough material on the web to meet the Wikipedia notability standards. For example, Charlotte Wickham might fall in that category. She seems notable to me, but there’s only a limited amount of press on her. I also learned a little too late that journalists often do not count as notable, because Wikipedia has not accepted a specific notability standard for them. So, people like Sisi Wei and Ryann Jones might fail to meet the standard, even though there is quite a bit of material on the web about them.

Of the 20 or so articles my students undertook, seven of them are now live on Wikipedia. I’ll admit to being a little confused about how articles end up in the main namespace– some things that I’ve written have just ended up there right away, while others get stuck with an “awaiting review” flag, and others are just in the draft namespace with no such tag. Oliver Keyes and Mikhail Popov offered me some guidance on the Friendly Tech Space Slack (it lives up to its name!) and the most recent conclusion is that I conincidentally had students do this assignment during an Autoconfirmed article creation trial at Wikipedia.

Those seven articles are:

I think those articles are fantastic, and I’m glad to see them added to Wikipedia! But, that means the vast majority of the articles my students wrote are either waiting for review, or have been rejected. The queue of articles waiting for review is long, and the flag says they are “reviewed in no specific order” but that it may take 8 weeks or more to get a review.

I don’t have enough data here to back this up, but it seems that of the articles my students wrote that have already been reviewed, the ones about men (Jeff Leek and Jer Thorp) were reviewed quickly, given the benefit of the doubt (see the charitable comments on the article about Jeff Leek, even though the draft might not have been of the highest quality), and accepted. The ones about women are either still waiting to be reviewed, or have been rejected on grounds that I think are pretty weak (see the comment on the article about Amanda Cox that rejects her article because it says she served on the Federal Reserve Board, rather than that she worked at the Fed).

Here are the rejections that are getting me particularly riled up:

[Edit, May 2019: Jenny, Amanda, and Kim all have Wikipedia pages! Thanks to Jessamyn West for using her Wikipedia status to get Amanda and Jenny’s articles pushed through.]

I think those people (women) are extremely notable, and we should work to get their pages up to snuff. Will you help me?

Another place you could jump in is trying to improve the articles we have that are still in the review queue (or that I’ve re-submitted after rejection), to hopefully forestall any issues:

[Edit, May 2019: Meredith, Lena, and Mark now have wikipedia pages!]

And, if you’re looking for folks to write articles about, I’m giving away ideas for free! How about: