Online Research and Fact Checking: Integrating Reference Materials Into Wikipedia for the Research Experience

Posted by Raymond Pun on 3/2/17 12:46 PM

First Year Experience, Trends in Reference, Uncategorized

herstoryMarch is Women’s History Month!

At Fresno State, we recently launched a Wikipedia-Edit-A-Thon that integrated print and digital reference materials covering on the topic of “Women’s Herstory.” The workshop was co-sponsored by various departments across campus including the Women’s Studies Department and the Cross-Cultural and Gender Center.

The Wikipedia-Edit-A-Thon had several goals. One was to increase the participation of female contributors since Wikimedia Foundation found that that less than 10% of its contributors identify as female. Thus, content can be skewed or limited in scope due to the lack of female participation. The second goal was to raise awareness of online research and fact checking by using reference materials.

We all know that professors often do not want students to be reading or citing Wikipedia entries in their assignments because the content on Wikipedia can vary. However, as librarians we can enhance Wikipedia entries by adding and citing credible and scholarly resources that can provide more detail or evidence of a person, place or history. We must recognize that today’s students will often search in Wikipedia first to find out more on a specific topic before they even search in a library database. There are creative ways to engage with students by demonstrating how the library can play a central role in disseminating, preserving and supporting online research and knowledge bases like Wikipedia.  

These Wikipedia-Edit-A-Thon workshops are not necessarily new. They are always occurring in public libraries or universities around the world and covering a specific theme like New York History or Art+Feminism. We can also personalize our workshops by focusing on local history and resources. In this workshop, we had students researching on and adding content to local Fresno female artists’ and politicians’ entries. A few first year students focused on women’s rights in Cuba and Uzbekistan while others worked on political and labor issues such as the gender pay gap entry. 

The workshops can teach students a number of skills: new research content, the importance of identifying and citing credible sources properly and recognizing how invaluable reference materials can be as fact-checking resources! Our students had the opportunity to explore Credo Reference and utilize some of the encyclopedias to support their work in Wikipedia. If you are interested in organizing something similar in your library, consider the following approaches:

  1. Host a Wikipedia-Edit-A-Thon focusing on a specific theme with campus or community partners. These themes can involve current events or holidays, and can be an enriching experience to collaborate with different academic, community or service departments. The workshop often compliments with FYE programs. When you have a specific theme, you may want to gather print and digital resources to support this topic. Reference materials like dictionaries and encyclopedias are often useful resources for this kind of workshop.
  2. Be sure to have laptops ready to be checked out in the program. If you don’t have a laptop lending service, consider moving the event in a computer room. For access to edit Wikipedia pages, you may want to share a username account with all participants. Sometimes participants can create their own accounts but Wikipedia has restricted the number of created accounts from time to time. Be sure to create a few new user accounts in advance so that they can be used for this activity.
  3. Always provide refreshment! Wikipedia contributors can be so focused that they forget to take a break sometimes. You can reward them for their diligent work with cookies, coffee, and tea. The refreshment can attract newcomers and bystanders to learn more about your program. If the event is held in a computer room, think carefully where you want to place the refreshment from the technologies.

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Join Raymond and Meggan Houlihan, First Year Experience and Instruction Librarian at New York University, Abu Dhabi, for their free live webinar, The First Year Library Experience: Best Practices and New Directions, March 8th, 2:00 PM EST. And check out their book, The First-Year Experience Cookbook, available now!