12 months at the University of Edinburgh – Reflections on the 1st year

12 months at the University of Edinburgh
12 months at the University of Edinburgh
Two similar missions - Wikimedia UK and the University of Edinburgh
Two similar missions – Wikimedia UK and the University of Edinburgh

Wikimedia residency at the University of Edinburgh

Since January 2016, Wikimedia UK and the University of Edinburgh partnered to host a Wikimedian in Residence for 12 months. While previous residencies have focused on releasing collections openly from GLAM institutions (galleries, libraries, archives & museums), the Edinburgh residency marks the first in the UK in supporting the whole university with a focus on skills development & furthering knowledge exchange.

This first foray at working in partnership across the whole university has been a productive one (as this infographic handily illustrates). To date, the residency has delivered 34 training sessions and run 12 editathons. From the outset, the editathon model proved to be a great vehicle for students, staff & members of the public from all different disciplines to come together to learn how to edit Wikipedia and to share knowledge openly.

Janet Anne Galloway. (1841–1909) advocate for higher education for women in Scotland, supporter of the Glasgow Association for the Higher Education of Women and secretary of Queen Margaret College. CC-BY-SA
Janet Anne Galloway. (1841–1909) advocate for higher education for women in Scotland, supporter of the Glasgow Association for the Higher Education of Women and secretary of Queen Margaret College.
CC-BY-SA (The Wikipedia page did not exist till our own Lorna Campbell sat down and wrote it. How many more are missing?)

The university also has a commitment to Athena SWAN so one key focus from this year has been addressing the gender gap on Wikipedia and thereby creating more female role models for young & old alike. While the gender gap is still very real, it is enormously encouraging that 65% of our 437 attendees last year were female and that, through editathons focused on targeted themes (Women in Espionage, Women in STEM, Women in Art, Women and Religion) and the incredible work of WikiProject Women in Red, the number of biographies of notable females on Wikipedia is moving in the right direction, up from just over 15% to almost 16.83% as of 29th January 2017. (Call me ambitious but I’d like us to aim for 20.18% in 2018).

The residency was always going to be as much about people as process and the collaborations we have achieved this year have come about organically through one successful collaboration begetting another. Over the course of the last twelve months, I have met with a great many course leaders across the university’s three teaching colleges and the conversations have all been extremely fruitful in terms of understanding what each side needs to ensure a successful Wikipedia in the Classroom assignment and for lowering the threshold for engagement with Wikipedia; both now and in the future. With this in mind, we have piloted three Wikipedia components in online courses (the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, the Online History MSc and the Intellectual Humility MOOC) and supported three Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments which have now been written up as case studies :

The artwork "Een vertaling van de ene taal naar de andere" / "A Translation from one language to another" by Lawrence Weiner. Placed in 1996 at the Spui (square) in Amsterdam. It consists of three pairs of two stones placed against each other. On each stone there is an inscription "A Translation from one language to another", in another language - Dutch, English, Surinam and Arabic. Author: brbbl (CC-BY-SA)
The artwork “Een vertaling van de ene taal naar de andere” / “A Translation from one language to another” by Lawrence Weiner. Placed in 1996 at the Spui (square) in Amsterdam. It consists of three pairs of two stones placed against each other. On each stone there is an inscription “A Translation from one language to another”, in another language – Dutch, English, Surinam and Arabic. Author: brbbl (CC-BY-SA)

Translation Studies MSc  – 28 students have completed the translation of a Wikipedia article of not less than 4000 words into a different language Wikipedia last semester using Wikipedia’s new Content Translation tool as part of the Independent Study module of their programme. The students are to repeat the assignment this semester, improving their practise from last semester & reversing the language direction so that it really is a two-way knowledge exchange.

Women-and-Relgion-Edit-a-thon at New College. Photo by Dr Alexander Chow. CC-BY-SA
Women-and-Relgion-Edit-a-thon at New College. Photo by Dr Alexander Chow. CC-BY-SA

World Christianity MSc students undertook an 11 week Wikipedia assignment as part of the Selected Themes in the Study of World Christianity class. This core course offers candidates the opportunity to study in depth Christian history, thought and practice in and from Africa, Asia and Latin America. The assignment comprised of writing a new article, following a literature review, on a World Christianity term hitherto unrepresented on Wikipedia. The course is a relatively new one but it has already gone some way to redressing the balance in a field that has often been dominated by Western perspectives.

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

Reproductive Biology Honours students in September 2015 researched, synthesised and developed a first-rate Wikipedia entry of a previously unpublished medical term: Neuroangiogenesis. The case study is detailed here. The following September, the next iteration was more ambitious and a larger cohort of 38 students undertook a group research project on terms from reproductive medicine that were not yet represented on Wikipedia. All thirty-eight students were trained to edit Wikipedia and they worked collaboratively to research and produce the finished written articles.

High-grade serous carcinoma - new Wikipedia article researched and written by Áine Kavanagh, in September 2016.
High-grade serous carcinoma – new Wikipedia article researched and written by Áine Kavanagh, in September 2016.

All three assignments gave the students meaningful publication experience; developing their information literacy, digital literacy, collaborative working, academic writing & referencing. Rather than their work being viewed by one person, their tutor, this published work has now been viewed in excess of 15,000 times since last semester; adding well-researched scholarly research to the global open knowledge community which can be built on, updated & expanded for all time.

21st century skills
The 21st century skills a Wikipedia assignment engenders

I’m pleased to say that the response from the students and course leaders we have worked with this year has been extremely positive. Collaborations have been formed all over the university. The over-riding message being that Wikipedia does indeed belong in education; that it does indeed deliver on the 21st century skills that our higher education institutions would have its students learn.

It is also encouraging that through positive experiences & word-of-mouth, our collaborations last year are leading to further take-up & interesting projects are now being proposed by students as much as staff: History of Medicine at the Surgeons’ Hall Museum; Veterinary Medicine editathon; The Edinburgh University Student Translation Society translation project; an International Development Wikipedia project; ‘Bragging Writes’ – Women Writers editathon for International Women’s Day; and an African alumni and Swahili translate-a-thon for Gather Festival.

Beyond ensuring Wikipedia editing training is both embedded in regular digital skills workshops, and examining how it can support future teacher training, twelve members of staff from all different disciplines have now been trained to become Wikimedia Ambassadors in order to support academic colleagues in the longer term beyond the life of the residency. Finally, a core focus of the residency has been to demystify Wikipedia & its sister projects, Wikidata and Wikisource in particular, and many resources, video tutorials, lesson plans, case studies, video interviews and exemplars have been created & curated in order to lower the threshold for staff & students to be able to engage at the institution and to sharing this knowledge with other institutions.

Time and motivation are the two most frequent cited barriers to uptake. These are undoubted challenges to academics, students & support staff.  Happily, my experience is that the merits of engagement & an understanding of how Wikipedia assignments & edit-a-thons operate have overcome any such concerns in practice.

That begins with engaging in the conversation.

Wikipedia turned 16 a few weeks ago on January 15th 2017 and it has long been the elephant in the room but it is time to articulate that Wikipedia does indeed belong in education and that it plays an important role in our understanding & disseminating of the world’s knowledge. With Oxford University now also hosting their own Wikimedian in Residence on a university-wide remit, it is time also to articulate that this conversation is not going away. Far from it, current events only highlight that understanding how knowledge is created, curated & disseminated and by whom has never been more important. The best thing we can do as educators & information professionals is engage with these issues, articulate both the need for a critical information literacy & our vision for open education as a core part of the university’s mission and give our senior managers something they can say ‘Yes’ to.

Following a successful multidisciplinary approach, the residency is to be extended into a second year and expanded into a full-time post until January 2018.

If you would like to find out more then feel free to contact me at ewan.mcandrew@ed.ac.uk

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