UC Berkeley gets its first Wikipedian in Residence

UC Berkeley has just appointed its first Wikipedian in Residence: Kevin Gorman, who has been a Wikipedia editor since he was a Berkeley undergraduate. Though some 50 cultural institutions — libraries, museums and archives — have Wikipedians in Residence, Gorman is the first to serve at an academic institution. His own work focuses on improving gender diversity and cultural diversity in Wikipedia editing, and he's assisting professors in crafting assignments that have students using and improving Wikipedia as part of their class-work.

When I was teaching at USC, I assigned my students to help improve Wikipedia articles by sourcing and footnoting facts in articles related to our lectures, and reviewed their contributions and the ensuing discussion in the articles' Talk pages as part of our weekly classes. It was a very satisfying exercise, especially as it ensured that the work of my students served some wider scholarly and social purpose, as opposed to term papers and exercises that no one — not me, not the students — would ever want to read after they were graded.

"I'm not interested in students writing term papers that only I and the graduate-student instructor read," O'Rourke says. "That's not utilizing students' potential to the fullest."

This semester, he offered students a choice for the community-service component of the course. They could collaborate directly with local groups focused on environmental justice-related issues, or they could work in teams to improve Wikipedia content on some of those same topics.

"You can imagine building a Wikipedia page [on each topic] that is really comprehensive," says O'Rourke." It's compelling that the site gets 550 million unique visitors per month."

Many students apparently think so, too. About 90 opted to do wiki projects, and are now busy tracking down and synthesizing previously published information on environmental-justice issues — food deserts, climate resilience, urban agriculture in Oakland and reform of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act among them.

Berkeley's Wikipedian-in-residence is a first [Cathy Cockrell/UC Berkeley News Center]

(Thanks, Dmitri!)