Sphingonet and Wikipedia

Daria Cybulska helping people learn how to edit

This post was written by Richard Nevell.

On 10 July, four trainers from Wikimedia UK travelled to Oxford to meet a group of doctoral and post-doctoral researchers. The idea of helping the group learn to edit was first floated in February this year by Luc Henry. As with many of the charity’s events, a lot of planning and preparation went on behind the scenes, and Luc put in a lot of effort and helped with follow up. Myself, Toni Sant, Daria Cybulska, and Brian Kelly delivered the training.

Sphingonet is a programme for early career researchers investigating sphingolipids, bringing together people from five different countries. The group’s funding is provided by the European Union’s Marie Curie Actions research fellowship programme. Part of Sphingonet’s work includes outreach activities, and few methods have potentially as much impact as editing Wikipedia. The new Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland was also there. It was an opportunity for her to see a training session in progress, see what worked and what didn’t, in preparation for her own activities. Hopefully we left a good impression! Brian had attended a recent editathon about Queen Victoria’s journals, and wanted to get more involved with introducing people to editing.

As this was a group of researchers, the main role of the trainers was to explain the technicalities of editing and helping people get to grips with the user, rather than how to identify a reliable source. There were challenges, such as teaching two streams, one with the visual editor and one using wikicode, but on that sunny day in Oxford with a friendly and eager group it was easy to overcome. Soon enough they were editing with ease, though question about the copyright on diagrams of chemical formulas tested the trainers’ knowledge to the limits!

Chatting with attendees on a one-to-one basis there was real enthusiasm for Wikipedia and its potential. It is second nature for people to turn to the website when quickly looking something up, and they felt it was important that such a high profile website should be high quality. Importantly, feedback suggests that people really wanted to keep editing. And with the researchers being multilingual, there’s always the chance they may edit Wikipedia in other languages. Only time will tell if they stick around, but hopefully that day in Oxford helped more people understand how Wikipedia is made, what goes into it, and what people can do to improve it.