Saturday, June 14, 2008

Midwifery and Wikipedia

For some time Leigh Blackall has been saying that midwives need to look at what is written in Wikipedia about midwifery with the idea to adding new information and reviewing that which is already available.

Why midwives need to care about Wikipedia?
To be honest, I have always resisted this suggestion. After all, who cares about Wikipedia? If I have spare time to write something, I would rather concentrate on writing for publication in a 'proper' midwifery journal. That would give me a lot more academic brownie points. But two things have got me to change my mind.

Wikipedia is hugely influential throughout the world
The first thing is my understanding of Wikipedia and its place in the world. Consider my own 'search' behavior - if I want information I generally start with Wikipedia, even before I go to Google and other more scholarly databases. This probably reflects the behavior of many people. So there is a good chance that pregnant women and their families, as well as students, policy makers and researchers will go to Wikipedia to find out about midwives and midwifery.

How Wikipedia works
The second thing is understanding a little more about how Wikipedia works. The video here is a good documentary that give an insight into the issues, both for and against Wikipedia. I have come to realise that the value of Wikipedia isn't just about the information that is posted, but also the discussion behind it - the story of how the information came to be posted, edited and so on.

Having looked at some of the discussion behind the information, it is clear that there is some lack of understanding of midwifery by the people who are writing the information for example, the discussion about direct-entry status. So I think it is vital that midwives make sure that the information posted is of the highest quality, so that the general public can be reassured that they are not being misled. It is also vital to ensure that myths about midwifery are not perpetrated in this open forum.

Midwives collaborating on Wikipedia
There is a strong American influence in the writing about midwifery, which is not unexpected as Wikipedia developed from the USA. So there are plenty of opportunities for midwives from other countries to work on developing information eg there is no entry for Australian midwifery.

Also, looking at the dates of the edits, it doesn't look as if any major updating has occurred for some time.

Frankly, I find the thought of publishing and editing material on Wikipedia darn-right scary. But if a group of us got together and supported each other while we learned editing skills and did the work, I'm sure it would not be half so intimidating.

Incorporating Wikipedia into midwifery education
The other was to go about developing midwifery information is to make it into project work for students. Yes, the content would have to be closely monitored by educators, but it would be a great way of encouraging collaboration, developing digital literacy skills and getting students to really know their stuff about their profession. Other disciplines have used Wikipedia in this way and found it to work very well.

So if you are a midwife who is interested in working on editing Wikipedia, or if you are a person with skills in editing Wikipedia and fancy the idea of supporting a group of midwives in this way, please let me know.


Leigh Blackall said...

Great to see you're interested and see the importance of it. There is another benefit you have left out.. promotion of you and Otago Polytechnic as being modern, progressive and in tune with the world today.

EDC is going to be running regular MediaWiki editing workshops in the coming weeks. I am thinking one night a week at South Dunedin CLC.. say around 6pm on Tuesday and we can grab a serve of noodles? Does that work for you and whoever will join you?

Sarah Stewart said...

That would be fabulous. I will definitely come. Then, I'll be able to support people online to develop their own wiki skills.

I was thinking: the skills is not only in the technical side, but also deciding what to put on wikipedia: what is relevant and of interest.