Prior to January 2011, University of California at Berkeley undergraduate Kevin Gorman‘s contributions to Wikipedia were a few edits to geology-related articles, but he’d never bothered to register for a user account. Then Kevin, a Scandinavian studies major, enrolled in a classed called “Politics of Piracy,” participating in the Wikimedia Foundation’s new University Program in the spring 2011 term. As part of the class, Kevin was required to register for a user account and make substantive contributions to a Wikipedia article as part of class.
Kevin’s instructors and Campus Ambassadors gave him and his classmates an introduction to how to edit Wikipedia, and Kevin was hooked – not just contributing to the article on the court case Perfect 10, Inc. v. Google Inc. – his chosen article for class – but also contributing to articles on mushrooms and becoming involved with the team that patrols new pages.
“The way I got interested in mushrooms to begin with was that I realized there was not a single species of mushroom I could identify by sight. I’ve been working on fixing that ever since – and now I’m applying my new-found knowledge to Wikipedia,” Kevin says. “The relationship between different kinds of mushrooms is becoming a lot clearer now that we can do genetic comparisons, so the field is changing rapidly. Due to this rapid change, a lot of the information on Wikipedia currently is out of date. I’ve found contributing to Wikipedia’s mushrooms articles to be an interesting application of what I’ve learned and also an interesting way to learn more things. I can look at an article and say ‘I know that name is out of date, but I’m not sure what the right one is,’ and then I can go through the literature to find what the current name is and update the Wikipedia article with that citation.”
In addition to his article editing contributions, Kevin’s also become part of a team of editors who monitor newly created pages to ensure the topics meet Wikipedia’s notability requirements. He was perusing an article one day and noticed a sentence that seemed strange. There was a wikilink in the sentence to an article about a company.
“I Googled the company, and they didn’t exist, so I deleted the reference in the first page, and nominated the article about the company for deletion,” Kevin says. “The creator of the page ended up responding to me in about 20,000 words. It got me sucked into deleting things that don’t follow Wikipedia’s policies.”
Sucked in he is: Kevin intends to keep contributing to Wikipedia long after his class ends. In fact, Kevin will be taking over teaching the “Politics of Piracy” class — it’s part of a student-led courses program at Berkeley called DeCal — next term, and he will be integrating Wikipedia throughout his version of the course as well.
“In general, I like Wikipedia assignments more than doing something like a traditional paper,” Kevin says. “When you write a final paper for a class, it’s useless after the class – it can be a good reinforcement of the course material, but nobody will ever read it again. Doing something on Wikipedia, we are making a lasting contribution, and it has the potential to get people a bit more sucked into their topic than say writing an 8-page paper would.”
And Kevin’s looking to recruit more than just current students to become Wikipedia editors. He’s been attending mycology society meetings and hopes to eventually entice some of their members in to contributing to WikiProject Fungi.
“I’d like to convert some of the mycologists from making jokes about Wikipedia and mushrooms to actually contributing to Wikipedia’s content about mushrooms,” he says. “And it’s a useful thing to not just contribute what you already know, but to find what you should know. You can expand your own base of knowledge by contributing. The more people who contribute to Wikipedia, the more useful it will become.”
Communications Associate – Public Policy Initiative