Reflections on a Wikipedia assignment – Reproductive Medicine

Reproductive Medicine undergraduates – September 2016 (CC-BY-SA)

This was originally posted on Ewan McAndrew’s blog where he writes about his role as the University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedian in Residence

Wikipedia as an important source of health information and not medical advice.

“The Internet, especially Wikipedia, had proven its importance in everyday life. Even the medical sector is influenced by Wikipedia’s omnipresence. It has gained considerable attention among both healthcare professionals and the lay public in providing medical information. Patients rely on the information they obtain from Wikipedia before deciding to seek professional help. As a result, physicians are confronted by a professional dilemma as patients weigh information provided by medical professionals against that on Wikipedia, the new provider of health information….

We state that Wikipedia should not be viewed as being inappropriate for its use in medical education. Given Wikipedia’s central role in medical education as reported in our survey, its integration could yield new opportunities in undergraduate education. High-quality medical education and sustainability necessitates the need to know how to search and retrieve unbiased, comprehensive, and reliable information. Students should therefore be advised in reflected information search and encouraged to contribute to the “perpetual beta” improving Wikipedia’s reliability. Therefore, we ask for inclusion in medical curricula, since guiding students’ use and evaluation of information resources is an important role of higher education. It is of utmost importance to establish information literacy, evidence-based practices, and life-long learning habits among future physicians early on, hereby contributing to medical education of the highest quality.
Accordingly, this is an appeal to see Wikipedia as what it is: an educational opportunity. This is an appeal to academic educators for supplementing Wikipedia entries with credible information from the scientific literature. They also should teach their protégés to obtain and critically evaluate information as well as to supplement or correct entries. Finally, this is an appeal to medical students to develop professional responsibility while working with this dynamic resource. Criticism should be maintained and caution exercised since every user relies on the accuracy, conscientiousness, and objectivity of the contributor.”(Herbert et al, BMC Medical Education, 2015)

Reproductive Medicine Wikipedia assignment at Edinburgh University – September 2016

Reproductive Medicine undergraduates – collaborating to create Wikipedia articles.

In September 2016, Reproductive Biology Honours students undertook a group research project to research, in groups of 4–5 students with a tutor, a term from reproductive biomedicine that was not yet represented on Wikipedia. All 38 were trained to edit Wikipedia and they worked collaboratively both to undertake the research and produce the finished written article. The assignment developed the students’ information literacy, digital literacy, collaborative working, academic writing & referencing and ability to communicate to an audience. The end result was 8 new articles on reproductive medicine which enriches the global open knowledge community and will be added to & improved upon long after they have left university creating a rich legacy to look back upon.

One of the new articles, high-grade serous carcinoma, was researched and written by 4th year student, Áine Kavanagh.

Rather than a writing an assignment for an audience of one (the course tutor) and never read again, Aine’s article can be viewed, built on and expanded by an audience of millions. Since creating the article in September 2016, the article has now been viewed 6,993 times.

Since September 2016 the article has amassed nearly 7,000 views, and growing day by day.

Guest post:

Reflections on a Wikipedia assignment

Reproductive Medicine students – September 2016

The process of writing a Wikipedia article involved me trying to answer the questions I was asking myself about the topic. What was it? Why should I care about it? What does it mean to society? I also needed to make the answers to those questions clear to other people who can’t see inside my head.

It then moved onto questions I thought other people might ask about the topic. Writing for Wikipedia is really an exercise in empathy and perspective. Who else is going to want to know about this and what might they be interested in about it?

Is what I’m writing accessible and understandable? Am I presenting it in a useful way? It’s an incredibly public piece of writing which is only useful if it serves the public, so trying to put yourself in the frame of someone who’s not you reading what you’ve written is important (and possibly the most difficult part).

It’s also about co-operation from the get-go. You can’t post a Wikipedia article and allow no one else to edit it. You are offering something up to the world. You can always come back to it, but you can never make it completely your own again. The beauty of Wikipedia is in groupthink, in the crowd intelligence it facilitates, but this means shared ownership, which can be hard to get your head around at first.

It’s a unique way of writing, and some tips for other students starting out on a Wikipedia project is to not be intimidated. Wikipedia articles in theory can be indefinitely long and dense and will be around for an indefinitely long time, so writing a few hundred words can seem like adding a grain of sand to a desert. But if the information is not already there then you are contributing – and what is Wikipedia if not just a big bunch of contributions?

There’s also the fear that editors already on Wikipedia will swoop down and denounce your article as completely useless – but the beauty of storing information is that you can never really have too much of it. There’s no-one who can truly judge what is and isn’t worthy of knowing*.

*There’s no-one who can judge what’s worth knowing, but the sum of human knowledge needs to be organised, and so there are actually guidelines as to what a Wikipedia article is (objective account of a thing) and is not (platform for self-promotion).


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