User:HJ Mitchell/Events/PhySoc report

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This report was also submitted by email to the WMUK board and office. A very small amount of information not suitable for public dissemination, which was included in that report, has been omitted from this document. Costs will hopefully be added shortly.
Executive summary
  • Presentation went well. Main topics covered were reliability of Wikipedia and the advantages and disadvantages of its use.
  • Many in the audience were sceptical, and I am not convinced I won them all round, but I think all left with a better understanding (a limited amount can be achieved with a relatively short presentation compared to a longer workshop).
  • All attendees received “Welcome to Wikipedia” guides, markup cheatsheets, badges, and my card
  • Recommendations for merchandise: Lanyards and goody bags would be useful to keep in stock, especially for conferences.

Detailed report

On 2 July 2012 I travelled to Edinburgh to present to the Physiological Society about Wikipedia.

I opened with the “Old Man and his Bag” talk, the slides for which I shamelessly stole from Roger Bamkin, to introduce the general idea of Wikipedia. I then had each attendee spend 20 seconds introducing themselves and explaining what they hoped to get out of the talk in order to break the ice and helped decide the topics I would cover in my talk.

Reliability (or lack thereof) of Wikipedia and the (mis)use of Wikipedia by students were recurring themes, and so I focused much of the talk on those. However, I first had them brainstorm five arguments for and against Wikipedia, and we spent some time debating and discussing those. Arguments in favour included openness, accessibility (in the sense of not being excessively technical, which led to a discussion about who Wikipedia is written for), and the relatively high quality of many articles. Arguments in opposition included varying reliability, lack of review process with the same kind of rigour as academic peer review, and anonymity of authors. Several participants had anecdotal horror stories.

For the rest of the session, we discussed reliability. The discussion was interesting, and became gradually more lively, with more participants chipping in. One of the key elements of the discussion was how far, if at all, students should trust Wikipedia. I concluded with two thoughts that I wanted the audience to take away from the talk: that there is probably nothing anybody can do to prevent students from using Wikipedia, and that academics could be of great help to Wikipedia by attempting to improve inaccurate or incomplete articles, or by raising concerns on the talk page.

No attendee left without a copy of the “Welcome to Wikipedia” guide, a markup cheatsheet, a badge, and my card. I also gave away my lanyard. I recommend the office look into purchasing more lanyards, as these could be handy for presentations at conferences, where many people are wearing badges on lanyards anyway. I did not give out goody bags, as the number of attendees was significantly greater than the number of these in my possession (I had not replenished my supply recently). These are a great idea, particularly for conferences, and I recommend the office keep these in stock.

I am hopeful that all attendees left with a better understanding of Wikipedia. Informative and useful is about all that can be hoped for in a two-hour presentation, and I think I achieved that. I do not think I won round all the sceptics completely, but I do think that all who came got something out of it.

I managed to give WMUK's contact at PhySoc a debrief at the wine reception. She has my card in case she wishes to follow up with me directly. I believe Martin and/or Daria are intending to follow up with her with a view to organising future events with PhySoc.