UC Berkeley hires Wikipedian-in-residence to help publish student research

Michael Ball/Staff

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With the help of UC Berkeley’s new Wikipedian-in-residence Kevin Gorman, undergraduate students now have a gateway through which to conduct and publish their research analyses for a global audience.

While Wikipedians-in-residence traditionally collaborate with cultural institutions such as museums and libraries to combine research efforts, Gorman, a recent UC Berkeley alumnus and Wikipedia editor, is the first Wikipedian-in-residence to do so at a U.S. university or college. Hired by the campus American Cultures program, Gorman is working with professors to facilitate student research projects that will culminate in new Wikipedia articles.

Gorman cites a “systematic bias” prevalent within Wikipedia, where page editors are overwhelmingly male. Additionally, those topics concerning or appealing to certain minority groups are either absent from the website or are not comprehensively addressed.

By working with diverse groups of students, he hopes to begin filling in the information gaps.

“The goal of cultural institutions is to spread knowledge,” Gorman said. “Berkeley’s main pillars include research and community service. (The campus) does a lot of research, but it ends up behind a paywall. This project is directly fulfilling the university’s mission.”

Gorman’s position is funded by the American Cultures Engaged Scholarship Program, but it is unclear if funding will be renewed. Still, he says interest from professors is high — so high, in fact, that he cannot accommodate all requests.

Gorman works closely with UC Berkeley associate professor Dara O’Rourke and Victoria Robinson, a lecturer and the American Cultures program coordinator, in their Environmental Science, Policy and Management 163 and Ethnic Studies 21AC classes, respectively. Both classes offer Wiki-based projects as a form of “real-world application.” Gorman trains students in the technical mechanics of editing Wikipedia entries and educates them about Wikipedia’s policies to ensure their content does not violate any terms of use.

“Our intention is to animate the meaning of the diversity curriculum, to lift it up, do more and create relevant public research,” Robinson said.

According to Gorman, roughly 90 percent of Wikipedia editors are men. Silvia Lopez, a senior in O’Rourke’s class, says this project has given her, a minority woman, a unique opportunity to be included.

Students receive training not only from Gorman but also from campus librarian Corliss Lee, who serves as a guest lecturer, informing students of the vast amount of information available to them in library databases. Lee says Gorman’s work helps empower students and gives them a better understanding of how scholarly information is created.

“Most students write term papers that only one person ever reads, and then it goes into a file cabinet, or worse,” O’Rourke said. “We’re asking students to produce something that will go up in one of the most visited websites in the world, so people can edit and respond — so there will be controversy and conversation.”

Contact Michelle Pitcher at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @michellepitcher.