March 11, 2015

Wikipedia edit-a-thon for women in STEM [Women’s History Month]

Posted by Laura Guertin

For the month of March, in honor of Women’s History Month, I am dedicating my weekly blog posts to the outstanding organizations, resources, and inspiring stories about women in STEM.  Be sure to check out my first post on the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN).

Whatever one might feel towards Wikipedia, the fact of the matter is that Wikipedia is out there, and people are using it.  Quick to come up in a Google search, Wikipedia provides open pages built from a collaborative effort of individuals.  But the existing pages and the content on those pages can only be as good as the quality of the contributions, and if the contributions are being made to begin with – especially when it comes to women in STEM.

Here are some facts:

  • Students (and dare we say the general public) turn to Wikipedia as their first/main/only source of information.  Head and Eisenberg (2010) found that 82% of university students turn to Wikipedia for course-related research, with STEM majors more likely to use Wikipedia than other majors. [Should university students even be using Wikipedia is a separate issue and the focus of this 2013 Guardian post]
  • 90% of Wikipedia editors are male (from the 2011 Wikimedia Foundation editor survey)
  • Female scientists have a limited presence on Wikipedia – many not even having their own pages (as reported by Mendick and Moreau (2010) and others)

WikipediaLogoHow can we address getting a larger representation of women in STEM on Wikipedia for our students to access, and address getting more women to contribute to Wikipedia pages?  Some institutions and organizations are hosting Wikipedia edit-a-thons (also termed hackathons) to create this change.

An edit-a-thon can last a day to a week, where individuals gather in person or connect online to learn how to add and edit pages in Wikipedia, and then start creating new or cleaning up old entries for female scientists and engineers.  In March 2014, Bryn Mawr College hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon for women in STEM.  Faculty, staff and students from Bryn Mawr and other area institutions came together to work on specific biographies.  Many times, an edit-a-thon will take place on Ada Lovelace Day, an unofficial holiday in mid-October, created in Britain to celebrate women in technology.  Brown University held their Women in STEM edit-a-thon on Ada Lovelace Day in 2013 (see Wired Campus article and their MeetUp page), and the Art.Science.Gallery in Austin, TX, hosted an edit-a-thon for Images of Women in STEM on Ada Lovelace Day in 2014.

Edit-a-thons certainly exist beyond updating entries for women in STEM.  Last year, the Smithsonian Institution hosted an edit-a-thon for Human Origins, and the Colorado State University Libraries organized an edit-a-thon to improve Wikipedia entries for Water in the West.  These structured and organized events are hopefully making a difference and encouraging more women to take an active role in becoming Wikipedia editors.  The BBC News did an excellent story about the challenges one female editor faced – and it is absolutely worth reading “How can Wikipedia woo women editors?” (April 7, 2014).  Earlier this month, Wired posted an article titled “Meet the editors fighting racism and sexism on Wikipedia,” addressing the lack of diversity in Wikipedia’s editors.

If you are looking for wiki edit-a-thons that are taking place during Women’s History Month for women in STEM and other disciplines, or if you are thinking of organizing your own event, please visit the WikiWomen’s History Month page.  It may be too late for you to organize an edit-a-thon with your students for this month, but maybe think about having one in the summer, or in the fall during Ada Lovelace Day (which falls during Earth Science Week on October 13, 2015).




Additional sources for exploration

Articles that discuss the impact of women in science Wikipedia edit-a-thons:

  • Graff, E.J. (2013, October 15). Wiki editors boost entries on female scientists to mark Ada Lovelace Day. Al Jazeera America – Science. (Article online)
  • Hassett, B. (2013, November 4). Wikipedia gets the TrowelBlazer treatment. GeoBlogy: Science from the core of the British Geological Survey [blog]. (Post online)
  • Weinstock, M. (2013, October 20). ada lovelace wikipedia edit-a-thon at brown: a recap. annals of spacetime [blog]. (Post online)

Head, A.J., & M.B. Eisenberg. (2010). How today’s college students use Wikipedia for course-related research. First Monday, 15(3). Available at: (Article online)

Mendick, H., & M. Moreau. (2010). Monitoring the presence and representation of women in SET occupations in UK based online media. Bradford: The UKRC. (Report online)

Tan, J. (2014, September 18). Wikipedia: The Personification of Your Freshman Orientation Friend. Elsevier SciTechConnet #StartYourResearch. (Article online)

Wolfman-Arent, A. (2014, June 13). Academics Continue Flirting With a Former Foe: Wikipedia. The Chronicle of Higher Education – Wired Campus [blog]. (Post online)