Perhaps I’m a tad biased but I’d tend to agree. There’s nowhere quite like it.
Yet, we who live and work here can take it for granted that our beautiful locations, listed buildings and monuments will always be there… something that can never be fully guaranteed. Political and economic tides change and forces of nature can have devastating effects as we have seen in recent days.
That’s why it’s so important that we take the opportunity to document our cultural heritage now for future generations before it is too late.
The world’s largest photo competition, Wiki Loves Monuments, takes place for the whole of September. Share your high quality pics of listed buildings and monuments to Wikimedia Commons and help preserve our cultural heritage online. After days out, weekend breaks and holidays at home & abroad, there will be gigabytes of pics taken in recent months and years. These could remain on your memory card or be shared to Commons and help illustrate Wikipedia for the benefit of all. Entry is free and the best pics will win a prize.
Aside from being great fun, Wiki Loves Monuments is a way of capturing a snapshot of our nation’s cultural heritage for future generations and documenting our country’s most important historic sites. See the rules and how to enter.
You just take a quick look at the map, take a pic and upload. It takes seconds and is the easiest way to take part in this year’s competition. (There is also another WLM map tool if you want to search for addresses, either in UK or further afield).
I was surprised to see Ryries, a public house near Haymarket Station was a listed building on the Wiki Loves Monuments map; a building I pass every day so it was an easy one to snap and upload.
If each one of us took just 1 pic, we’d have this sewn up in a couple of weeks. Which is when Wiki Loves Monuments closes – end of September 2017.But if you can do more then great.
Don’t wait till it’s too late, do your bit today! Click here to view a map of your local area to get started.
#1picture1person #ScottishHeritage #WLMUK17
ps. Once the new pictures are uploaded then comes the additional fun part of adding those images to relevant Wikipedia pages so that millions around the world can enjoy a picture you have taken. If you fancy helping out with that then we are having a Wiki meetup 2pm to 5pm on Friday 29th September and you can drop-in at any point to add a pic to a Wiki page. Signup here.
If nothing else, let’s give our counterparts in Ireland and Wales a run for their money in terms of how many images we can upload. A little friendly rivalry never hurts, right?
This year the event will have a particular focus on Women in Chemistry and #ALD2017 is to be hosted, for the first time, smack dab in the university’s Science and Engineering quarter in the James Clerk Maxwell Building.
There will be a range of guest speakers in the morning followed by fun technology activities from 11am to 2pm. Full Wikipedia editing training will be given at 2-3pm. Thereafter the afternoon’s edit-a-thon will focus on improving the quality of articles related to Women in STEM!
The day will close with Professor Polly Arnold, the Crum Brown Chair of Chemistry and winner of the Rosalind Franklin Award, introducing the short film, A Chemical Imbalance before taking part in a discussion panel.
All three events are free and open to all so taking part in Ada Lovelace Day is as as easy as 1,2,3.
You can book to attend one session, two sessions or all three.
1. Talks and Fun Science/Tech activities in Room 1206C James Clerk Maxwell Building
11am to 11.10am – Housekeeping and welcome from Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal for Online Learning.
Learn about editing if you like. there is a fun Wikipedia Adventure that takes 45-60 mins at home and leads you by the hand through the main guidelines and how to use the Source Editor. Then on the day, we will introduce you to the new improved Visual Editor interface which has made editing Wikipedia “easy“, “fun“, “really intuitive” and “addictive as hell“.
Think about what you would like to edit – there are some suggested articles to create/improve below.
3. Film screening and panel discussion in James Clerk Maxwell Building – Lecture Theatre B
5:15pm to 6:15pm – A Chemical Imbalance – film screening and discussion with Professor Polly L Arnold, Crum Brown Chair of Chemistry.
‘Breakdown on evening programme (subject to alteration):’
5pm to 5.15pm – Housekeeping and Welcome.
5.15pm to 5.30pm – Introduction from Polly Arnold.
5.30pm to 5.45pm – Screening of ‘A Chemical Imbalance’.
5.45pm to 6.15pm – Panel discussion chaired by Anne-Marie Scott, Head of Digital Learning and Applications at the University of Edinburgh.
6.15pm – Close.
‘A Chemical Imbalance‘ is a short documentary film and book that ask why Edinburgh has such a long history of successful female chemists, and why women are still under-represented in all science fields. Following the film, Anne-Marie Scott will chair a panel discussion of the issues raised in the film; namely the low participation of Women in STEM fields and equality in the workplace.
While her page has only been live on Wikipedia for two months, Mary’s page has now been viewed in excess of 7000 timesbecause a) editors were motivated to address Wikipedia’s gender gap problem where less than 15% of editors are female and less than 17% of biographies are of notable women and b) we felt Mary’s story was important enough that it should be shared on Wikipedia’s front page and introduced to an audience of up to 25 million.
Did you know you could do that? Nominate a page newly created in the last seven days, or significantly expanded on, to be included on Wikipedia’s front page in this way?
Did you know that Wikipedia works with Turnitin to address issues of plagiarism and copyright violation using the Copyvio tool and that the Dashboard for managing assignments now offers Authorship Highlighting of students’ edits thereby making it easier to visualize and evaluate student work.
Did you know that Wikipedia does not want you to cite it? It is a tertiary source; an aggregator of articles with facts backed up from reliable published secondary sources. You can’t cite Wikipedia but you can cite the references it uses. In this way it is reframed as the digital gateway to further research sources.
Did you know that Wikidata, Wikimedia’s repository of structured open data, now has 3 million linked citations added to it which can be queried using the new Scholia tool – a tool to handle scientific bibliographic information? (The Scholia Web service creates on-the-fly scholarly profiles for researchers, organizations, journals, publishers, individual scholarly works, and for research topics. To collect the data, it queries the SPARQL-based Wikidata Query Service).
Did you know that releasing images through Wikimedia Commons can result in a huge increase in views with detailed metrics about the number of views these images are accruing? E.g. Images released by the Bodleian Library have accrued 218,460,571 views to date.
Did you know that thanks to the new I4OC initiative (April 2017) there exists a collaboration between scholarly publishers, researchers, and other interested parties to promote the unrestricted availability of scholarly citation data? Before I4OC started, publishers releasing references in the open accounted for just 1% of citation metadata collected annually by Crossref. Following discussions over the past months, several subscription-access and open-access publishers have recently made the decision to release reference list metadata publicly. These include: American Geophysical Union, Association for Computing Machinery, BMJ, Cambridge University Press, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, EMBO Press, Royal Society of Chemistry, SAGE Publishing, Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley. These publishers join other publishers who have been opening their references through Crossref for some time.
Did you know that thanks to Wikidata you can now query, analyse & visualise the largest reference work on the internet? You can also add your research data to combine datasets on Wikidata.
Did you know that the University of Portsmouth have been running a Wikipedia assignment called Human Geography for the last five years where each student is assigned a different short stub article for a village in England and Wales, and asked to expand it to provide a rounded description of the place and, in particular, an account of its historical development?
Did you know that, so far, they have left Scotland untouched and so there will be many villages and towns in Scotland ripe to have articles created and improved?
Did you know that Wikivoyage is Wikipedia’s sister project and a Lonely Planet-esque travel guide? Students can write articles about their hometown area with bullet-pointed sections on ‘Things to do’, ‘Things to See’, ‘Things to Buy’, ‘Places to stay’ with Open Street Maps included and images added from Wikimedia Commons.
Did you know how students and staff at the University of Edinburgh have reacted to the Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments we have run this year? You can view a compilation of their feedback in this video.
Did you know that students can create entire textbooks, chapters of textbooks, on Wikipedia’s sister project, Wikibooks?
Did you know that every September the world’s largest photography competition takes place, Wiki Loves Monuments? Participants are encouraged to photograph and upload images of listed buildings and monuments to document our cultural heritage.
Did you know that the WikiShootme tool helps identify notable buildings in your area that require an image uploading?
Did you know that taking part in Wikimedia activities does not always require a heavy time component and that short, fun activities can also help: adding a citation through the Citation Hunt tool (“Whack-a-mole for citations”), playing the Wikidata game, adding images through WikiShootMe and FIST; taking part in fun Wiki Races (6 degrees of separation for Wiki links between articles).
Did you know that you can learn how to edit at our 90 minute training sessions and how to become a trainer at our 3 hour Train the Trainer events?
Did you know that I can deliver presentations and training as you require; be it on Wikisource (the free content library), Wikidata (the free and open respository of structured data), Wikimedia Commons (the free media respository), the Wikicite initiative, WikiVoyage (the free travel guide), writing articles for Wikipedia, adding your research to Wikipedia or something else entirely?
Woodward and Bernstein, the eminent investigative journalists involved in uncovering the Watergate Scandal, just felt compelled to assert that the media were not ‘fake news’ at a White House Correspondents Dinner the US President failed to attend. In the same week, Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, felt compelled to create a new site, WikiTribune, to combat fake news.
This is where we are this International Worker’s Day where the most vital work one can undertake seems to be keeping oneself accurately informed.
“We live in the information age and the aphorism ‘one who possess information possesses the world’ of course reflects the present-day reality.” – (Vladimir Putin in Interfax, 2016).
Sifting fact from fake news
In the run up to the Scottish council elections, French presidential elections and a ‘strong and stable‘ UK General Election, what are we to make of the ‘post-truth’ landscape we supposedly now inhabit; where the traditional mass media appears to be distrusted and waning in its influence over the public sphere (Tufeckzi in Viner, 2016) while the secret algorithms’ of search engines & social media giants dominate instead?
The new virtual agora (Silverstone in Weichert, 2016) of the internet creates new opportunities for democratic citizen journalism but also has been shown to create chaotic ‘troll’ culture & maelstroms of information overload. Therefore, the new ‘virtual generation’ inhabiting this ‘post-fact’ world must attempt to navigate fake content, sponsored content and content filtered to match their evolving digital identity to somehow arrive safely at a common truth. Should we be worried what this all means in ‘the information age’?
Information Literacy in the Information Age
“Facebook defines who we are, Amazon defines what we want
and Google defines what we think.”
The information age is defined as “the shift from traditional industry that the Industrial Revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based on computerization or digital revolution” (Toffler in Korjus, 2016). There are now 3 billion internet users on our planet, well over a third of humanity (Graham et al, 2015). Global IP traffic is estimated to treble over the next 5 years (Chaudhry, 2016) and a hundredfold for the period 2005 to 2020 overall. This internet age still wrestles with both geographically & demographically uneven coverage while usage in no way equates to users being able to safely navigate, or indeed, to critically evaluate the information they are presented with via its gatekeepers (Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft et al). Tambini (2016) defines these aforementioned digital intermediaries as “software-based institutions that have the potential to influence the flow of online information between providers (publishers) and consumers”. So exactly how conversant are we with the nature of their relationship with these intermediaries & the role they play in the networks that shape our everyday lives?
“Digital intermediaries such as Google and Facebook are seen as the new powerbrokers in online news, controlling access to consumers and with the potential even to suppress and target messages to individuals.” (Tambini, 2016)
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg may downplay Facebook’s role as “arbiters of truth” (Seethaman, 2016) in much the same way that Google downplay their role as controllers of the library “card catalogue” (Walker in Toobin, 2015) but both represent the pre-eminent gatekeepers in the information age. 62% of Americans get their news from social media (Mint, 2016) with 44% getting their news from Facebook. In addition, a not insubstantial two million voters were encouraged to register to vote by Facebook, while Facebook’s own 2012 study concluded that it “directly influenced political self-expression, information seeking and real-world voting behaviour of millions of people.” (Seethaman, 2016)
Figure 1 Bodies of Evidence (The Economist, 2016)
This year has seen assertion after assertion made which bear, upon closer examination by fact-checking organisations such as PolitiFact (see Figure 1 above) absolutely no basis in truth. For the virtual generation, the traditional mass media has come to be treated on a par with new, more egalitarian, social media with little differentiation in how Google lists these results. Clickbait journalism has become the order of the day (Viner, 2016); where outlandish claims can be given a platform as long as they are prefixed with “It is claimed that…”
“Now no one even tries proving ‘the truth’. You can just say anything. Create realities.” (Pomerantzev in the Economist, 2016)
The problem of ascertaining truth in the information age can be attributed to three main factors:
The controversial line “people in this country have had enough of experts” (Gove in Viner, 2016) during the EU referendum demonstrated there has been a fundamental eroding of trust in, & undermining of, the institutions & ‘expert’ opinions previously looked up to as subject authorities. “We’ve basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers…There is nobody: you can’t go to anybody and say: ‘Look, here are the facts’” (Sykes in the Economist, 2016)
The proliferation of social media ‘filter bubbles’ which group like-minded users together & filter content to them accordingly to their ‘likes’. In this way, users can become isolated from viewpoints opposite to their own (Duggan, 2016) and fringe stories can survive longer despite being comprehensively debunked elsewhere. In this way, any contrary view tends to be either filtered out or met with disbelief through what has been termed ‘the backfire effect’ (The Economist, 2016).
The New York Times calls this current era an ‘era of data but no facts’ (Clarke, 2016). Data is certainly abundant; 90% of the world’s data was generated in the last two years (Tuffley, 2016). Yet, it has never been more difficult to find ‘truth in the numbers’ (Clarke, 2016) with over 60 trillion pages (Fichter and Wisniewski, 2014) to navigate and terabytes of unstructured data to (mis)interpret.
The way forward
“We need to increase the reputational consequences and change the incentives for making false statements… right now, it pays to be outrageous, but not to be truthful.”
(Nyhan in the Economist, 2016)
Since the US election, and President Trump’s continuing assault on the ‘dishonest media’, the need for information to be verified has been articulated as never before with current debates raging on just how large a role Russia, Facebook & fake news played during the US election. Indeed, the inscrutable ‘black boxes’ of Google & Facebook’s algorithms constitute a real dilemma for educators & information professionals.
Reappraising information & media literacy education
The European Commission, the French Conseil d’Etat and the UK Government are all re-examining the role of ‘digital intermediaries’; with OfCom being asked by the UK government to prepare a new framework for assessing the intermediaries’ news distribution & setting regulatory parameters of ‘public expectation’ in place (Tambini, 2016). Yet, Cohen (2016) asserts that there is a need for greater transparency of the algorithms being used in order to provide better oversight of the digital intermediaries. Further, that the current lack of public domain data available in order to assess the editorial control of these digital intermediaries means that until the regulatory environment is strengthened so as to require these ‘behemoths’ (Tambini, 2016) to disclose this data, this pattern of power & influence is likely to remain unchecked.
Somewhere along the line, media literacy does appear to have backfired; our students were told that Google was trustworthy and Wikipedia was not (Boyd, 2016). The question is how clicking on those top five Google results instead of critically engaging with the holistic overview & reliable sources Wikipedia offers is working out?
A lack of privacy combined with a lack of transparency
Further, privacy seems to be the one truly significant casualty of the information age. Broeder (2016) suggests that, as governments focus increasingly on secrecy, at the same time the individual finds it increasingly difficult to retain any notions of privacy. This creates a ‘transparency paradox’ often resulting in a deep suspicion of governments’ having something to hide while the individual is left vulnerable to increasingly invasive legislation such as the UK’s new Investigatory Powers Act – “the most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy.” (Snowden in Ashok, 2016). This would be bad enough if their public & private data weren’t already being shared as a “tradeable commodity” (Tuffley, 2016) with companies like Google and Apple, “the feudal overlords of the information society” (Broeder, 2016) and countless other organisations.
The Data Protection Act (1998), Freedom of Information Act (2000) and the Human Rights Act (1998) should give the beleaguered individual succour but FOI requests can be denied if there is a ‘good reason’ to do so, particularly if it conflicts with the Official Secrets Act (1989), and the current government’s stance on the Human Rights Act does not bode well for its long-term survival. The virtual generation will also now all have a digital footprint; a great deal of which can been mined by government & other agencies without our knowing about it or consenting to it. The issue therefore is that a line must be drawn as to our public lives and our private lives. However, this line is increasingly unclear because our use of digital intermediaries blurs this line. In this area, we do have legitimate cause to worry.
The need for a digital code of ethics
“Before I do something with this technology, I ask myself, would it be alright if everyone did it?
Is this going to harm or dehumanise anyone, even people I don’t know and will never meet?
Do I have the informed consent of those who will be affected?” (Tuffley, 2016)
Educating citizens as to the merits of a digital code of ethics like the one above is one thing, and there are success stories in this regard through initiatives such as StaySafeOnline.org but a joined-up approach marrying up librarians, educators and instructional technologists to teach students (& adults) information & digital literacy seems to be reaping rewards according to Wine (2016). While recent initiatives exemplifying the relevance & need for information professionals assisting with political literacy during the Scottish referendum (Smith, 2016) have found further expression in other counterparts (Abram, 2016).
”This challenge is not just for school librarians to prepare the next generation to be informed but for all librarians to assist the whole population.” (Abram, 2016)
Trump’s administration may or may not be in ‘chaos’ but recent acts have exposed worrying trends. Trends which reveal an eroding of trust: in the opinions of experts; in the ‘dishonest’ media; in factual evidence; and in the rule of law. Issues at the heart of the information age have been exposed: there exists a glut of information & a sea of data to navigate with little formalised guidance as to how to find our way through it. For the beleaguered individual, this glut makes it near impossible to find ‘truth in the numbers’ while equating one online news source to be just as valid as another, regardless of its credibility, only exacerbates the problem. All this, combined with an increasing lack of privacy and an increasing lack of transparency, makes for a potent combination.
There is a place of refuge you can go, however. A place where facts, not ‘alternate facts’, but actual verifiable facts, are venerated. A place that holds as its central tenets, principles of verifiability, neutral point of view, and transparency above all else. A place where every edit made to a page is recorded, for the life of that page, so you can see what change was made, when & by whom. How many other sites give you that level of transparency where you can check, challenge & correct the information presented if it does hold to the principles of verifiability?
Now consider that this site is the world’s number one information site; visited by 500 million visitors a month and considered, by British people, to be more trustworthy than the BBC, ITV, the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph according to a 2014 Yougov survey.
While Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website in the world, the other internet giants in the top ten cannot compete with it for transparency; an implicit promise of trust with its users. Some 200+ factors go into constructing how Google’s algorithm determines the top ten results for a search term yet we have no inkling what those factors are or how those all-important top ten search results are arrived at. Contrast this opacity, and Facebook’s for that matter, with Wikimedia’s own (albeit abortive) proposal for a Knowledge Engine (Sentance, 2016); envisaged as the world’s first transparent non-commercial search engine and consider what that transparency might have meant for the virtual generation being able to trust the information they are presented with.
Wikidata is a free linked database of knowledge that can be read and edited by both humans and machines. It acts as central storage for the structured data of its Wikimedia sister projects including Wikipedia, Wikivoyage, Wikisource, and others. The mission behind Wikidata is clear: if ‘to Google’ has come to stand in for ‘to search’ and “search is the way we now live” (Darnton in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013, p.5) then ‘to Wikidata’ is ‘to check the digital provenance’. And checking the digital provenance of assertions is pivotal to our suddenly bewildered democracy.
While fact-checking websites exist & more are springing up all the time, Wikipedia is already firmly established as the place where students and staff conduct pre-research on a topic; “to gain context on a topic, to orient themselves, students start with Wikipedia…. In this unique role, it therefore serves as an ideal bridge between the validated and unvalidated Web.” (Grathwohl, 2011)
Therefore, it is vitally important that Wikipedia’s users know how knowledge is constructed & curated and the difference between fact-checked accurate information from reliable sources and information that plainly isn’t.
“Knowledge creates understanding – understanding is sorely lacking in today’s world. Behind every article on Wikipedia is a Talk page is a public forum where editors hash it out; from citations, notability to truth.” (Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, December 2016)
The advent of fake news means that people need somewhere they can turn to where the information is accurate, reliable and trustworthy. Wikipedia editors have been evaluating the validity and reliability of sources and removing those facts not attributed to a reliable published source for years. Therefore engaging staff and students in Wikipedia assignments embeds source evaluation as a core component of the assignment. Recent research by Harvard Business School has also shown that the process of editing Wikipedia has a profound impact on those that participate in it; whereby editors that become involved in the discourse of an article’s creation with a particular slanted viewpoint or bias actually become more moderate over time. This means editing Wikipedia actually de-radicalises its editors as they seek to work towards a common truth. Would that were true of other much more partisan sectors of the internet.
Further, popular articles and breaking news stories are often covered on Wikipedia extremely thoroughly where the focus of many eyes make light work in the construction of detailed, properly cited, accurate articles. And that might just be the best weapon to combat fake news; while one news source in isolation may give one side of a breaking story, Wikipedia often provides a holistic overview of all the news sources available on a given topic.
Wikipedia already has clear policies on transparency, verifiability, and reliable sources. What it doesn’t have is the knowledge that universities have behind closed doors; often separated into silos or in pay-walled repositories. What it doesn’t have is enough willing contributors to meet the demands of the 1.5 billion unique devices that access it each month in ensuring its coverage of the ever-expanding knowledge is kept as accurate, up-to-date & representative of the sum of all knowledge as possible.
This is where you come in.
“It’s up to other people to decide whether they give it any credibility or not,” (Oakeshott in Viner, 2016)
The truth is out there. But it is up to us to challenge claims and to help verify them. This is no easy task in the information age and it is prone to, sometimes very deliberate, obfuscation. Infoglut has become the new censorship; a way of controlling the seemingly uncontrollable. Fact-checking sites have sprung up in greater numbers but they depend on people seeking them out when convenience and cognitive ease have proven time and again to be the drivers for the virtual generation.
We know that Wikipedia is the largest and most popular reference work on the internet. We know that it is transparent and built on verifiability and neutral point of view. We know that it has been combating fake news for years. So if the virtual generation are not armed with the information literacy education to enable them to critically evaluate the sources they encounter and the nature of the algorithms that mediate their interactions with the world, how then are they to make the informed decisions necessary to play their part as responsible online citizens?
It is the response of our governments and our Higher Education institutions to this last question that is the worry.
Postscript – Wikimedia at the University of Edinburgh
As the Wikimedia residency at the University of Edinburgh moves further into its second year we are looking to build on the success of the first year and work with other course leaders and students both inside and outside the curriculum. Starting small has proven to be a successful methodology but bold approaches like the University of British Columbia’s WikiProject Murder, Madness & Mayhem can also prove extremely successful. Indeed, bespoke solutions can often be found to individual requirements.
Time and motivation are the two most frequent cited barriers to uptake. These are undoubted challenges to academics, students & support staff but the experience of this year is that the merits of engagement & an understanding of how Wikipedia assignments & edit-a-thons operate overcome any such concerns in practice. Once understood, Wikipedia can be a powerful tool in an educator’s arsenal. Engagement from course leaders, information professionals and support from the institution itself go a long way to realising that the time & motivation is well-placed.
For educators, engaging with Wikipedia:
meets the information literacy & digital literacy needs of our students.
enhances learning & teaching in the curriculum
helps develop & share knowledge in their subject discipline
raises the visibility & impact of research in their particular field.
In this way, practitioners can swap out existing components of their practice in favour of Wikimedia learning activities which develop:
Critical information literacy skills
Academic writing & referencing
Writing for different audiences
This all begins with engaging in the conversation.
Wikipedia turned 16 on January 15th 2017. It has long been the elephant in the room in education circles 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, the information & digital literacy needs of our students and staff will only intensify. Higher Education institutions must need formulate a response. The best thing we can do as educators & information professionals is to be vigilant and to be vocal; articulating both our vision for Open Knowledge & the pressing need for engagement in skills development as a core part of the university’s mission and give our senior managers something they can say ‘Yes’ to.
Smith, L.N. (2016). ‘School libraries, political information and information literacy provision: findings from a Scottish study’ Journal of Information Literacy, vol 10, no. 2, pp.3-25.DOI:10.11645/10.2.2097
The challenges facing information retrieval in an age of information explosion.
This article takes, as its starting point, the news that Wikipedia were reportedly developing a ‘Knowledge Engine’ and focuses on the most dominant web search engine, Google, to examine the “consecrated status” (Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013) it has achieved and its transparency, reliability & trustworthiness for everyday searchers.
A bit of light reading on information retrieval – Own work, CC-BY-SA.
“Commercial search engines dominate search-engine use of the Internet, and they’re employing proprietary technologies to consolidate channels of access to the Internet’s knowledge and information.” (Cuthbertson, 2016)
On 16th February 2016, Newsweek published a story entitled ‘Wikipedia Takes on Google with New ‘Transparent’ Search Engine’. The figure applied for, and granted by the Knight Foundation, was a reported $250,000 dollars as part of the Wikimedia Foundation’s $2.5 million programme to build ‘the Internet’s first transparent search engine’.
The sum applied for was relatively insignificant when compared to Google’s reported $75 billion revenue in 2015 (Robinson, 2016). Yet, it posed a significant question; a fundamental one. Just how transparent is Google?
Two further concerns can be identified from the letter to Wikimedia granting the application: “supporting stage one development of the Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia, a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet.”(Cuthbertson, 2016). This goes to the heart of the current debate on modern information retrieval: transparency, reliability and trustworthiness? How then are we faring in these three measures?
Defining Information Retrieval
Informational Retrieval is defined as “a field concerned with the structure, analysis, organisation, storage, searching, and retrieval of information.” (Salton in Croft, Metzler & Strohman, 2010, p.1).
Croft et al (2010) identify three crucial concepts in information retrieval:
Relevance – Does the returned value satisfy the user searching for it.
Evaluation – Evaluating the ranking algorithm on its precision and recall.
Information Needs – What needs generated the query in the first place.
Today, since the advent of the internet, this definition needs to be understood in terms of how pervasive ‘search’ has become. “Search is the way we now live.” (Darnton in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013, p.5). We are all now ‘searchers’ and the act of ‘searching’ (or ‘googling’) has become intrinsic to our daily lives.
Dominance of one search engine
“When you turn on a tap you expect clean water to come out and when you do a search you expect good information to come out” (Swift in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013)
With over 60 trillion pages (Fichter and Wisniewski, 2014) and terabytes of unstructured data to navigate, the need for speedy & accurate responses to millions of queries has never been more important.
Navigating the vast sea of information present on the web means the field of Information Retrieval necessitates wrestling with, and constantly tweaking, the design of complex computer algorithms (determining a top 10 list of ‘relevant’ page results through over 200 factors).
Google, powered by its PageRank algorithm, has dominated I.R. since the early 1990s, indexing the web like a “back-of-the-book” index (Chowdhury, 2010, p.5). While this oversimplifies the complexity of the task, modern information retrieval, in searching through increasingly multimedia online resources, has necessitated the addition of newer more sophisticated models. Utilising ‘artificial intelligence’ & semantic search technology to complement the PageRank algorithm, Google now navigates through the content of pages & generates suggested ‘answers’ to queries as well as the 10 clickable links users commonly expect.
According to 2011 figures in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett (2013), Google processed 91% of searches internationally and 97.4% of the searches made using mobile devices. This undoubted & sustained dominance has led to accusations of abuse of power in two recent instances.
Nicas & Kendall (2016) report that the Federal Trade Commission along with European regulators are examining claims that Google has been abusing its position in terms of smartphone companies feeling they had to give Google Services preferential treatment because of Android’s dominance.
In addition, Robinson (2016) states that the Authors Guild are petitioning the Supreme Court over Google’s alleged copyright-infringement; going back a decade ago when over 20 million library books were digitised without compensation or author/publisher permission. The argument is that the content taken has since been utilised by Google for commercial gain to generate more traffic, more advertising money and thus confer on them market leader status. This echoes the New Yorker article’s response to Google’s aspiration to build a digital universal library: “Such messianism cannot obscure the central truth about Google Book Search: it is a business” (Toobin in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013).
Google’s business is powered, like every search engine, by its ranking algorithm. For Cahill et al (2009), Google’s “PageRank is a quantitative rather than qualitative system”. PageRank works by ranking pages in terms of how well linked a page is, how often it is clicked on and the importance of the page(s) that links to it. In this way, PageRank assigns importance to a page.
Other parameters are taken into consideration including, most notably, the anchor text which provides a short descriptive summary of the page it links to. However, the anchor text has been shown to be vulnerable to manipulation, primarily from bloggers, by the process known as ‘Google bombing’. Google bombing is defined as “the activity of designing Internet links that will bias search engine results so as to create an
inaccurate impression of the search target” (Price in Bar-Ilan, 2007). Two famous examples include when Microsoft came as top result for the query ‘More evil than Satan’ and when President Bush ranked as first result for ‘miserable failure’. Bar-Ilan (2007) suggests google bombs come about for a variety of reasons: ‘fun, ‘personal promotion’, ‘commercial’, ‘justice’, ‘ideological’ and ‘political’.
Although reluctant to alter search results, the reputational damage google bombs were having necessitated a response. In the end, Google altered the algorithm to defuse a number of google bombs. Despite this, “spam or joke sites still float their way to the top.”(Cahill et al, 2009) so there is a clear argument to be had about Google, as a private corporation, continuing to ‘tinker’ with the results delivered by its algorithm and how much its coders should, or should not, arbitrate access to the web in this way. After all, the algorithm will already bear hallmarks of their own assumptions without any transparency on how these decisions are arrived at. Further, Google Bombs, Byrne (2004) argues, empower those web users whom the ranking system, for whatever reason, has disenfranchised.
Just how reliable & trustworthy is Google?
“Easy, efficient, rapid and total access to Truth is the siren song of Google and the culture of search. The price of access: your monetizable information.”(Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013, p.7)
For Cahill et al (2009), Google has made the process of searching too easy and searchers have becoming lazier as a result; accepting Google’s ranking at face value. Markland in van Dijck (2010) makes the point that students favouring of Google means they are dispensing with the services libraries provide. The implication being that, despite library information services delivering a more relevant & higher quality search result, Google’s quick & easy ‘fast food’ approach is hard to compete with.
This seemingly default trust in the neutrality of Google’s ranking algorithm also has a ‘funnelling effect’ according to Beel & Gipp (2009); narrowing the sources clicked upon 90% of the time to just the first page of results with a 42% click through on the first choice alone. This then creates a cosy consensus in terms of the fortunate pages clicked upon which will improve their ranking while “smaller, less affluent, alternative sites are doubly punished by ranking algorithms and lethargic searchers.” (Pan et al. in van Dijck, 2010)
While Google would no doubt argue that all search engines closely guard how their ranking algorithms are calibrated to protect them from aggressive competition, click fraud and SEO marketing, the secrecy is clearly at odds with principles of public librarianship. Further, Van Dijck (2010) argues that this worrying failure to disclose is concealing how knowledge is produced through Google’s network and the commercial nature of Google’s search engine. After all, search engines greatest asset is the metadata each search leaves behind. This data can be aggregated and used by the search engine to create profiles of individual search behaviour and collective profiles which can then be passed on to other commercial companies for profit. That is not to say it always does but there is little legislation to stop it in an area that is largely unregulated. The right to privacy does not, it seems, extend to metadata and ‘in an era in which knowledge is the only bankable commodity, search engines own the exchange floor.’ (Halavais in van Dijck, 2010)
Scholarly knowledge and the reliability of Google Scholar
When considering the reliability, transparency & trustworthiness of Google and Google Scholar it is pertinent to look at its scope and differences with other similar sites. Unlike Pubmed and Web of Science, Google Scholar is not a human-curated database but is instead an internet search engine therefore its accuracy & content varies greatly depending on what has been submitted to it.Google Scholar does have an advantage is that it searches the full text of articles therefore users may find searching easier on Scholar compared to WoS or Pubmed which are limited to searching according to the abstract, citations or tags.
Where Google Scholar could be more transparent is in its coverage as some notable publishers have been known, according to van Dijck (2010), to refuse to give access to their databases. Scholar has also been criticised for the lack of completeness of its citations, as well as its covering of social science and humanities databases; the latter an area of strength for Wikipedia according to Park (2011). But the searcher utilising Google Scholar would be unaware of these problems of scope when they came to use it.
Further, Beel & Gipp (2009) state that the ranking system on Google Scholar, leads to articles with lots of citations receiving higher rankings, and as a result, receive even more citations because of this. Hence, while the digitization of sources on the internet opens up new avenues for scholarly exploration, ranking systems can be seen to close ranks on a select few to the exclusion of others.
As Van Dijck (2010) points out: “Popularity in the Google-universe has everything to do with quantity and very little with quality or relevance.” In effect, ranking systems determine which sources we can see but conceal how this determination has come about. This means that we are unable to truly establish the scope & relevance of our search results. In this way, search engines cannot be viewed as neutral, passive instruments but are instead active “actor networks” and “co-producers of academic knowledge.” (van Dijck, 2010).
Further, it can be argued that Google decides which sites are included in its top ten results. With so much to gain commercially, from being discoverable on Google’s first page of results, the practice of Search Engine Optimising (SEO), or manipulating the algorithm to get your site in the top ten search results, has become widespread. SEO techniques can be split into ‘white hat’ (legitimate businesses with a relevant product to sell) and ‘black hat’ (sites who just want clicks and tend not to care about the ‘spamming’ techniques they employ to get them). As a result, PageRank has to be constantly manipulated, as with Google bombs, to counteract the effects of increasingly sophisticated ‘black hat’ techniques. Hence, the need for an improved vigilance & critical evaluation of the searches returned by Google has become a crucial skill in modern information retrieval.
The solution: Google’s response to modern information retrieval – Answer Engines
Google is the great innovator and is always seeking newer, better ways of keeping users on its sites and improving its search algorithm. Hence, the arrival of Google Instant in 2010 to autofill suggested keywords to assist searchers. This was followed by Google’s Knowledge Graph (and its Microsoft equivalent Bing Snapshot). These new services seek not just to provide the top ten links to a search query but also to ‘answer’ it by providing a number of the most popular suggested answers on the page results screen (usually showing an excerpt of the related Wikipedia article & images along the side panel), based on, & learning from, previous users’ searches on that topic.
Google’s Knowledge Graph is supported by sources including Wikipedia & Freebase (and the linked data they provide) along with a further innovation, RankBrain, which utilises artificial intelligence to help decipher the 15% of queries Google has not seen before. As Barr (2016) recognises: “A.I. is becoming increasingly important to extract knowledge from Google’s sea of data, particularly when it comes to classifying and recognizing patterns in videos, images, speech and writing.”
Bing Snapshot does much the same. The difference being that Bing provides links to the sources it uses as part of the ‘answers’ it provides. Google provides information but does not attribute it. Without this, it is impossible to verify their accuracy. This seems to be one of the thorniest issues in modern information retrieval; link decay and the disappearing digital provenance of sources. This is in stark contrast to Wikimedia’s efforts in creating Wikidata: “an open-license machine-readable knowledge base” (Dewey 2016) capable of storing digital provenance & structured bibliographic data. Therefore, while Google Knowledge Panels are a step forward, there are issues again over its transparency, reliability & trustworthiness.
Moreover, the 2014 EU Court ruling on ‘the right to be forgotten’, which Google have stated they will honour, also muddies the waters on issues of transparency & link decay/censorship:
“Accurate search results are vanishing in Europe with no public explanation, no real proof, no judicial review, and no appeals process…the result is an Internet riddled with memory holes — places where inconvenient information simply disappears.”(Fioretti, 2014).
The balance between an individual’s “right to be forgotten” and the freedom of information clearly still has to be found. At the moment, in the name of transparency, both Google and Wikimedia are posting notifications to affected pages that they have received such requests. For those wishing to be ‘forgotten’ this only highlights the matter & fuels speculation unnecessarily.
The solution: Wikipedia’s ‘transparent’ search engine: Discovery
Since the setup of the ‘Discovery’ team in April 2015 and the disclosure of the Knight Foundation grant, there have been mixed noises from Wikimedia with some claiming that there was never any plan to rival Google because a newer ‘internal’ search engine was only ever being developed in order to integrate Wikimedia projects through one search portal.
Ultimately, a lack of consultation between the board and the wider Wikimedia community members reportedly undermined the project & culminated in the resignation of Lila Tretikov, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, at the end of February and the plans for Discovery were shelved.
However, Sentance (2016) reveals that, in their leaked planning documents for Discovery, the Foundation were indeed looking at the priorities of proprietary search engines, their own reliance on them for traffic and how they could recoup traffic lost to Google (through Google’s Knowledge Graph) at the same time as providing a central hub for information from across all their projects through one search portal. Wikipedia results, after all, regularly featured in the top page of Google results anyway – why not skip the middle man?
Quite how internet searchers may have taken to a completely transparent, non-commercial search engine we’ll possibly never know. However, it remains a tantalizing prospect.
The solution: Alternative Search Engines
An awareness of the alternative search engines available for use and their different strengths and weaknesses is a key component of the information literacy needed to navigate this sea of information. Bing Snapshot, for instance, makes greater use of providing the digital provenance for its sources than Google at present.
Notess (2016) serves notice that computational searching (e.g. Wolfram Alpha) continues to flourish along with search engines geared towards data & statistics (e.g. Zanran, DataCite.org and Google Public Data Explorer).
However, knowing about the existence of these differing search engines is one thing but knowing how to successfully navigate them is quite another as Notess (2016) himself concludes where “Finding anything beyond the most basic of statistics requires perseverance and experimenting with a variety of strategies.”
Information literacy, it seems, is key.
The solution: The need for information literacy
Given that electronic library services are maintained by information professionals, “values such as quality assessment, weighed evaluation & transparency” (van Dijck, 2010) are in much greater evidence than in commercial search engines. That is not to say that there aren’t still issues in library OPAC systems: whether it be in terms of the changes in the classification system used over time or the differing levels of adherence by staff to these classification protocols; or the communication to users of best practice in utilising the system.
The use of any search engine, requires literacy among the user group. The fundamental problem remains the disconnect between what a user inputs and what they can feasibly expect at the results stage. Understanding the nature of the search engine being used (proprietary or otherwise) a critical awareness of how knowledge is formed through its network and the type of search statement that will maximise your chances of success are all vital. As van Dijck (2010) states “Knowledge is not simply brokered (‘brought to you’) by Google or other search engines… Students and scholars need to grasp the implications of these mechanisms in order to understand thoroughly the extent of networked power”(Dijck, 2010).
Educating users of this broadens the search landscape, and defuses SEO attempts to circumvent our choices. Information literacy cannot be left to academics or information professionals alone, though they can play a large part in its dissemination. As mentioned at the beginning, we are all ‘searchers’. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to become literate in the ways of ‘search’ and pass it on, creating our own knowledge networks. Social media offers us a means of doing this; allowing us to filter information as never before and filtering is “transforming how the web works and how we interact with our world.” (Swanson, 2012)
Google may never become any more transparent. Hence, its reliability & trustworthiness will always be hard to judge. Wikipedia’s Knowledge Engine may have offered a distinctive model more in line with these terms but it is unlikely, at least for now, to be able to compete as a global crawler search engine.
Therefore, it is incumbent on searchers not to presume neutrality or assign any kind of benign munificence on any one search engine. Rather by educating themselves as to the merits & drawbacks of Google and other search engines, users will then be able to formulate their searches, and their use of search engines, with a degree of information literacy. Only then can they hope the returned results will match their individual needs with any degree of satisfaction or success.
Arnold, A. (2007). Artificial intelligence: The dawn of a new search-engine era. Business Leader, 18(12), pp. 22.
I attended OER16, my first OER conference, but did not present. I had my own side room, just off the main drag, where I could provide respite from the main programme and entertain the Wiki curious.
Mostly I fired out tweets, recorded sessions and observed. And, it has to be said, had a great time doing so.
This year’s OER17 Conference was a different kettle of fish. I felt there was a lot to say, and be said, so I ill-advisedly submitted four sessions (I retracted a fifth on ‘Wikimedia vs. the Right to Forgotten‘).
And our biases were laid out in the open this year, I think, because the theme was ‘The Politics of Open‘ and politics is, no getting away from it, deeply personal. ‘Shouting from the heart‘ was the mot juste. Perhaps because of this, or the steady supply of coffee and biscuits, the conference did seem that much fuller of warm embraces, smiles and laughter as much as critical discourse. People being good-natured with one another, huddling together in dark times, espousing what they held to be true. And this was not so much bonhomie as ‘bonfemie’ (doubtful this will catch on) because the conference had such a surfeit of brilliant articulate women forming its backbone with an all-female list of keynotes and plenary speakers. (The Arsenal fans in the pub next door would have appreciated such a strong backbone to their side no doubt.)
I still need to catch up on Thursday’s talks but here’s what I observed:
Passion. Logic. Playfulness. Qualities that, to my mind, are what education should be about.
Godwin’s Law (redefined) meant that Trexit had to be discussed at some point during the conference while calls to action and calls for solidarity were also asked and answered (“Let’s make copyright right right now“, “Repeal the 8th” and “#IWill” for instance).
And we came out of the two days feeling pretty upbeat that there may actually be a way through the woods, out of the “unenlightenment” and into the bright future of a Viv Rolfe and David Kernoghan chaired #OER18.
(I could be wrong but there may even have been a moment of demob happiness around the room watching David rise out his seat to announce we could call him #OER18 co-chair).
No mean feat anyway after a grim year.
In this respect, I think Maha Bali’s keynote was an inspired choice and really set the tone for the whole two days. If politics is personal then the act of gift-giving is personal too; imposing your choices on someone else; whether it is the ‘gift’ of an open educational resource or the ‘gift’ of your elder brother buying you a Pixies CD for your birthday when he had the only CD player in the house and you’d never heard of the Pixies at that point. (He gave me a cassette copy in the end and kept the CD).
I’m grateful to Maha for the reminder of my brother’s wiliness but also that the best quality an educator has (beyond passion, logic and playfulness) is empathy.
Being able to empathise with other learners and considering how they can best access learning materials and the kinds of barriers they come up against is critical in OEP. You may think you’re being inclusive but we are too often trapped in our own worldview, traveling those same over-trammelled thought pathways; unable to see that our solutions aren’t really solutions at all or understand, or even acknowledge, the challenges of access or licensing others face; the obstacles they may have to overcome; the risks they may have to take.
“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”
― Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships
So that’s my takeaway:
Be less goat.
Be more empathetic bear.
Cheers to Josie, Alek, Maren and the rest of the ALT team.
Last week I attended the eighth Open Educational Resources conference (OER17) at Resource for London. Themed on ‘the Politics of Open‘. Little did we know when these themes were announced this time last year just how timely this conference would be.
Gamifying Wikimedia; Learning Through Play workshop. Jointly presented with Dr. Martin Poulter, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Oxford). (slides). A fun-filled hour where we played a Wiki Race game (e.g. Youtube video example of a Wiki War) challenging participants to navigate, using only the wiki links in the body of a Wikipedia article from Open Educational Resources to Holloway Road in Wikipedia’s own version of ‘Six degrees of separation’. Other games we looked at were WikiShootme – a fun way of crowdsourcing pictures for notable locations without one online – and Citation Hunt (where participants are invited to find a reference to back up one statement on Wikipedia flagged as requiring one by the [Citation Needed] tag).
This last presentation outlined the work the Wikimedia residency at the University of Edinburgh over the last fifteen months; the lessons learnt and the recommendations.
It was not recorded so here’s what I said:
Lo and Behold: Reveries of a Connected Campus
The Wikimedia residency at the University of Edinburgh began in January 2016 so I am about to write my 15th month report this week. An infographic for the first 12 months is available to view at tinyurl.com/WikiResidency.
I should say that the reason for the title of the talk, Lo and Behold, is because I am massive fan of Werner Herzog and the film that bears the name. Potentially the subtitle for this talk could have been ‘a year of chaos, hostility and murder’. Thankfully, the reverse was true.
But the residency has also, at its heart, been about making connections. Both across the university’s three teaching colleges and beyond; with the city of Edinburgh itself. Demonstrating how staff, students and members of the public can most benefit from and contribute to the development of the huge open knowledge resource that are the Wikimedia projects. And we made some significant connections over the last year in all of these areas.
But first some context as to how this came to be. In 1583 the University of Edinburgh came to be then a short time later in 2001 Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia was established.
In 2011, ten years after Wikipedia first launched, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by the vice president of Oxford University of Press acclaiming that ‘Wikipedia had come of age’ and that it was time Wikipedia played “a vital role in formal education settings“.
In 2013, two years after this article was published, Scotland got its first ever Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland, Ally Crockford. Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching & Web Services at the University of Edinburgh, invited both Ally Crockford and the newly installed Wikimedian in Residence at the Museums and Galleries Scotland, Sara Thomas, to hold an editathon during the university’s February 2015 term break. This editathon, themed on Women, Science and Scottish History was to help recognise and celebrate the achievements of the Edinburgh 7, the first female medical students in Britain, with new and improved Wikipedia pages. At the event, Melissa Highton invited Professor Allison Littlejohn to conduct some research to see if there was actually some formal and informal learning going on at these Wikipedia editing events. This research was then shared later that year at the Wikipedia Science Conference organised by the Wikimedian in Residence at the Bodleian Library, Martin Poulter.
Happily the research bore out that there was real merit in having a Wikimedian in an education setting because there was indeed informal and formal learning going on at editathon events. Up until this point all the residencies had tended to be GLAM oriented (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) so Melissa was quite bold in arguing for a Wikimedian on a university-wide remit. And I’m pleased to say that calculated risk worked out.
To raise awareness of Wikipedia and its sister projects
To design and deliver digital skills engagement events such as editathons (groups of staff & student editors coming together to edit Wikipedia pages on a focused theme – both inside and outside the curriculum)
To work with colleagues all across the institution to find ways in which the University – as a knowledge creation organisation – can most benefit and contribute to the development of this huge open knowledge resource.
But how to go about serving the university as their newest resource? Wikipedia in education is well established elsewhere but we were in slightly uncharted territory at the university so I could have been sat twiddling my thumbs for the year; waiting for take-up that may never have come (although I don’t think for a moment this would have happened). I could also have been treated as a snake oil salesman peddling the educational equivalent of fast food.
If I had been I would have been given short shrift. Thankfully, this ancient university is a thoroughly innovative modern one and among its 36,000 students and 13,000 staff there are a great many proponents of Open Knowledge.
I have never been busier.
The trick, if there was one, was to get colleagues to see there was a link between the Wikimedia projects and the work they were doing; to see there was a shared mission; to recognise that both were knowledge producers and, for want of a better word, ‘ideas factories’. And that collaborations between the university and Wikimedia could be fruitful for both sides. More than the sum of their parts. That involved engaging people in the conversation. Getting in the room. Because once in the room, colleagues could see the connections and did start to look at Wikipedia differently.
One of the biggest factors in the residency’s success was the new WYSIWYG Visual Editor interface, making editing so much easier and more akin to using WordPress and Ms Word through its drop-down menus.
But we had to get people in the room first of all to give it a go. That’s why the ‘edit-a-thon’ model proved particularly successful. Hosting an event on a particular theme for editors to come together and create or improve Wikipedia articles on that theme.
So we’d fit in with other events already happening in the academic calendar and stage our own when people were likely to be able to attend. Be it a Women in Espionage themed editathon for Spy Week; a Festival of Samhuinn event for Halloween to improve articles about those passed away; or Ada Lovelace Day to celebrate Women in STEM; inviting colleagues from STEM subjects, English, History, Scottish Studies and more to come take part in these events.
We’d also draw in other institutions like the National Library of Scotland and the University of Sheffield’s Centre for the Gothic in our Robert Louis Stevenson Day event themed on Gothic writers.
And in our third year of running the History of Medicine we have colleagues sharing Open Knowledge from across the university and beyond including the Royal College of Physicians (Edinburgh), the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (Glasgow), the Surgeons’ Hall Museums, the Lothian Health Service Archives and more.
So once people were engaged and their curiosity piqued then we could begin to show how the other Wikimedia projects link with Wikipedia and how information literacy is improved through engagement with Wikipedia.
Ultimately, what you wanted attendees to get from the experience was this; the idea that knowledge is most useful when it is used; engaged with; built upon.
And that housing knowledge in silos, of any kind, be they Wikimedia projects or university repositories, is missing a trick when that knowledge could be engaged with and built upon.
That’s why in the Wikimedia universe, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Wikipedia article has a link to his out-of-copyright longer works on Wikisource, the free content library. It also links to images related to RLS hosted on Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. And it has a link to the Wikidata page on RLS where all the machine-readable structured linked data about RLS is kept.
And, in terms of raising awareness of these sister projects, we have had a showcase about Wikisource, the free content library, which has resulted in some digitised PhD theses being uploaded and linked to from Wikipedia, just one click away. Sharing open knowledge.
We have also had a number of Wikidata showcase events as Wikidata represents the bright future of the Wikimedia projects. Machine-readable, language independent, this central hub acts as a repository of linked structured data for all the Wikimedia projects and the wider internet beyond. This means the data from the largest reference work on the internet can be queried, analysed & visualised as never before.
And that’s the thing. Wikipedia doesn’t want you to cite it. It is a tertiary source; an aggregator of articles built on citations from reliable secondary sources. In this way it is reframing itself as the front matter to all research. And should be understood as such.
Another important factor is the work Wikipedia is doing with Altmetric and Crossref to ensure more permanent DOIs are used as citations which can then be tracked for impact. Wikipedia is now the number 5 most prolific DOI referrer according to Crossref… and even that is thought to be a gross underestimate of its actual standing.
The new Content Translation tool, developed in the last two years, has made a big impact as it allows one Wikipedia article to be translated, using machine translation to take all the formatting across paragraph by paragraph to create a new article in a different language Wikipedia. Thereby building understanding.
And this is something our Translation Studies MSc students were motivated to address as they could see exactly how knowledge was unevenly spread throughout the different language Wikipedias.
Similarly, one really important factor was this idea of taking ownership to help redress areas of under-representation and systemic bias on Wikipedia. In this way many of our Wikipedia events focused on addressing the gender gap.
Less than 15% of women edit Wikipedia and this skews the content in much the same way with only 16.85% of biographies about notable women. Given that the gender gap is real and that a lot of institutions will be undertaking initiatives as part of their commitment to Athena Swan, the creating of new role models for young and old alike goes a long way to engage people in helping to address this issue.
That’s why it is enormously pleasing that over the whole year, 65% of attendees at our events were female.
Over the course of this same year, Fake News has come to the fore. For Wikipedia editors this is nothing new as they have been combatting Fake news for years. Evaluating sources is core skill for a Wikipedia editor.
In fact, all the skills and experiences that universities and PISA are articulating they want to see students imbued with at this moment in time are ones that Wikipedia assignments help develop. And that’s not just hot air. The assignments we have run this year actually have delivered on these.
As a result of colleagues seeing connections with, and benefits of, a Wikipedia assignment we have run three Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments and three online assignments.
We have a case study of students in Reproductive Biology Hons. researching and writing new articles about reproductive health such as High-Grade Serous Carcinoma and thereby improving their research & communication skills and contributing their knowledge to the global Open Knowledge community. This is set to run for its third year this September.
We have a case study of students on the Translation Studies MSc course translating 4000 words from one language Wikipedia to another using the Content Translation tool as part of their Independent Study module; thereby getting much-needed published practice in translation. This has been such a success that we have continued for a second semester and Edinburgh University Translation Society are also publishing their own Wikipedia translations now too.
Translation has been a massive part of the residency; communicating how both sides can benefit massively from one another. My approach has been based on my background. Teaching in the Far East helped me see how to engage learners through stimulating, engaging & accessible activities; graded to their needs. In this way, my approach with translating Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines into a way that educators can engage with has been to:
But my main task is to finish the residency in January 2018 leaving behind a sustainable way for involvement with Wikimedia to continue.
That, for me, is a mixture of People and Process. Identifying the people who are going to take this on and work with them to support others but also preparing enough materials so that the process of involvement is easy enough for anyone to pick it up and get started.
That’s why I’m working to embed this in our Digital Skills programme and have already trained 12 Wikimedia ambassadors to support the Wikimedia activities in their area of the university. That’s why I have created and curated 110 videos and video tutorials on the university’s Media Hopper channel. That’s why I’ve written up case studies and shared a reusable lesson plan on TES so anyone can teach Wikipedia editing. There is nothing worse than people struggling on their own to edit Wikipedia and becoming frustrated when they get told they are doing it the wrong way. Well, by sharing the right way and by showing how easy it now is I believe we can make this sustainable across Edinburgh and beyond.
Key learning points
Sharing good practice & working collaboratively is crucially important.
Creating a variety of stimulating events where practitioners from different backgrounds participate in an open knowledge community has proved to be a successful approach.
Wikipedia & its sister projects offer a great deal to Higher Education and can be successfully integrated to enhance the learning & teaching within the curriculum.
Areas of under-representation and systemic bias have proven to be extremely important motivators for participants.
Demystifying Wikipedia through presentations, workshops & scaffolded resources has yielded positive reactions & an increased understanding of Wikipedia’s important role in academia.
Reasons why other universities should also look into hosting a Wikimedian as part of their digital skills team.
The new Visual Editor is super easy to learn, fun and addictive.
Wikidata – query, analyse & visualise the largest reference work on the internet. Add your research data to combine datasets on Wikidata.
WikiCite – tidying up the citations on Wikipedia to make a consistent, queryable bibliographic repository enhancing the visibility and impact of research.
Wikisource – Quotations and images from long ago can still touch and inspire. Out of copyright texts such as digitised PhD theses can be uploaded & linked to from Wikipedia.
Content Translation – The new tool allows Translation Students to get much-needed published translation practice and help share knowledge globally; correcting areas of under-representation and building understanding.
The gender gap is real and working with Wikipedia helps address this as part of Athena Swan initiatives; creating new roles models for young & old alike.
Develop students’ information literacy, digital literacy & research skills.
Fake news is prevalent. Engaging with Wikipedia helps develop a critical information literate approach to its usage and to other online sources of information.
So there’s your summary of why you too should engage with Wikimedia. 10 good solid reasons why the cost of a Wikimedian, as just one more digital skills trainer among all your others, is peanuts compared to what the university as a whole can benefit out of the experience. Indeed, staff and students are already consulting Wikipedia for pre-research purposes so why not ensure gaps in representation and inaccuracies are addressed? Because if not you then who?
I began by saying the Chronicle of Higher Education acclaimed “Wikipedia had Come of Age” way back in 2011. With Wikipedia now 16 (going on 17) and this being the Politics of Open, I’ll leave you with one final thought, has Wikipedia now come of age? Is now the time for Wikipedia in Education?
And, to paraphrase our First Minister, if not now then when?
But don’t just take my word for it, here are the staff and students who have taken part in Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments at the University of Edinburgh this year.
As part of Gather Festival 2017 and to mark International Women’s Day, on Wednesday 8th March 2017, the University’s Information Services team ran a Wikipedia edit-a-thon at the School of Informatics. Full Wikipedia editing training was given to attendees before the afternoon’s editathon focused on creating new articles about the many inspiring women missing from Wikipedia.
In November 2014, just over 15% of the English Wikipedia’s biographies were about women. Founded in July 2015, WikiProject Women in Red has brought the figure up to 16.83%, as of 29 January 2017. But that means, according to WHGI, only 242,601 of our 1,441,879 biographies are about women. Not impressed? “Content gender gap” is a form of systemic bias, and Women in Red events take place across the globe in order to address it in a positive way.
Outcomes – New pages created
Helen Alexander Archdale – (1876–1949) was a feminist, activist, and journalist. Helen took part in a WSPU demonstration in Edinburgh on the 9th of October 1909. Later that month she was arrested with Adela Pankhurst and Maud Joachim in Dundee and convicted of a breach of the peace after interrupting a meeting being held by the local MP, Winston Churchill. Following this on 20th October all three women went on hunger strike. All three were released after four days of imprisonment. In December 1911 Helen received a sentence of two months’ imprisonment for window-breaking at Whitehall. Her daughter, Betty Archdale (1907-2000) remembered collecting stones for her mother to use, and visiting her in Holloway Prison. Helen was the secretary, and later international secretary, for the Six Point Group founded by Margaret Rhondda. The group’s specific aims were: (1) Satisfactory legislation on child assault; (2) Satisfactory legislation for the widowed mother; (3) Satisfactory legislation for the unmarried mother and her child; (4) Equal rights of guardianship for married parents; (5) Equal pay for teachers; (6) Equal opportunities for men and women in the civil service. In 1926 Helen and Margaret founded the Open Door Council with Chrystal Macmillan and Elizabeth Abbott in order to focus on economic emancipation. In 1927 Helen became active in international feminist activism, and began working in Geneva lobbying for an Equal Rights Treaty at the League of Nations in the early 1930s. She became secretary of the Liaison Committee of Women’s International Organisations, a coalition to promote equal rights, disarmament and women’s representation at the League. From 1929 to 1934 she chaired Equal Rights International, founded at The Hague ,an organisation dedicated to promoting campaigning for equality of women with men in law and in the workplace. Helen was also active in Open Door International, also founded in 1929, and a leading advocate of the equalitarian feminism.
Agnes Syme Macdonald (1882 – 1996) was a Scottish suffragette who served as the secretary of the Edinburgh branch of the WSPU before setting up the Edinburgh Women Citizens Association (WCA) in 1918. She was WCA’s fist and longest-serving secretary. She campaigned on various social issues and was active in the Quaker relief work for European refugees (Society of Friends); the Barns School for delinquent city boys and the Edinburgh Old People’s Welfare Council.
Catherine Isabella Barmby – (1816/17 – 26 December 1853) was an utopian socialist and writer on women’s emancipation. She was the daughter of Bridstock Watkins and belonged to the lower-middle class. Little is known of her early life or education, however, her instruction allowed her to become a writer and lecturer. She wrote several articles for the Owenite socialist newspaper New Moral World on feminist demands and her Millennialist beliefs.
Ketaki Kushari Dyson – (nee Ketaki Kushari) is a Bengali-born poet, novelist, playwright, translator and critic, diaspora writer and scholar. Born (26 June 1940) and educated in Calcutta (Kolkata), she has lived most of her adult life near Oxford, U.K. She writes in Bengali and English, on topics as wide-ranging as Bengal, England, the various Diaspora, feminism and women’s issues, cultural assimilation, multiculturalism, gastronomy, social and political topics.
Mary Susan McIntosh (1936–2013) sociologist, feminist, political activist and campaigner for lesbian and gay rights in the UK. In 1960 Mary was deported from the USA for speaking out against the House Un-American Activities Committee. On her return to the UK Mary worked as a researcher for the Home Office from 1961 to 1963 before taking up the post of lecturer in Sociology at the University of Leicester from 1963 to 1968. Mary joined the University of Essex in 1975 as a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, she later became the first female head of the department and remained at the University until she retired in 1996. Throughout her career Mary taught a wide range of courses covering criminology, theory, sociology, social policy, the family, gender studies, feminism and Marxism.
Mira Hamermesh (15 July 1923 – 19 February 2012) was an independent Polish filmmaker and artist who made documentaries for British television. She was a student of painting at the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem and later moved to London to study at the Slade School of Art. Mira returned to Poland in 1960 to study at the polish film school where she began documenting her personal experience of fleeing Nazi occupied Germany as a Jewish teenager.
Mona Wilson (author) (29 May 1872 – 26 October 1954) was a British civil servant and author. After being appointed to the National Insurance Commission in 1911, she received a yearly salary of £1000, making her the highest-paid woman civil servant of the time and one of the first women to receive equal pay. She wrote several scholarly works after her retirement from the civil service in 1919, including The Life of William Blake (1927), which went through several reprintings and remained popular for several decades.
Kathleen Molyneux Mander (29th September 1915 − 2013) was a documentary film-maker. During the 1930s she joined the Communist Party and attended Left Book Club meetings. Her political leanings would later influence her filmmaking. In 1937 she was the first woman to join the film industry’s union, the Association of Cinematographic Technicians (ACT) (now BECTU). She had a column in the ACT journal, The Cine-Technician, until the 1950s, where she wrote union issues such as the need for equal pay and post-war job security. After the end of WW2 her membership of the Communist party made it more difficult for her to find work.
Emilia Vosnesenskaya – Vosnesenskaya taught Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists. She became a naturalised British citizen on January 1st 1957 at which point she was an Assistant University Lecturer. She moved to the University of Edinburgh in 1956 and taught there until her retirement. She contributed to the BBC series Keep Up Your Russian, and associated grammar booklet, in 1960.
Kay Carmichael (née Rankin) born Shettleston, Glasgow on 22 November 1925. She was an influential character in Scottish politics and activist against nuclear submarines in Scotland. Studying at Edinburgh University she went on to hold the post of Senior Lecturer at Glasgow University. At the age of 20 she joined the Independent Labour Party in Scotland. Her activism included ‘guerrilla raids’ into Faslane Naval Base to plants flowers for which she was sentenced to two weeks in prison.
Şükûfe Nihal Başar – (1896 – 24 September 1973) was a Turkish educator, poet and activist who took part in the earliest women’s liberation movements during Turkey’s nation building process. Having graduated from the Geography department of the Literature Faculty of İstanbul Darülfünün in 1919, she holds the title of “the first woman graduate of Darülfünun”. Whilst she worked as a literature tutor for many years in Istanbul High School for girls, she took active role in various women’s associations and wrote columns in journals and newspapers about women’s rights. In her short stories and novels, she highligts the female female characters, trying to be the voice for “the new woman” of the early republican era.
Elizabeth Burns (poet) – (1957-2015) was a poet and creative writing teacher. She was born on 17 December 1957, in Wisbech, Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire. Her mother Muriel (Hayward) was from Bristol and her father, David Grieve Burns from Kirkcaldy.
Lucrezia Buti (Florence, 1435 – sixteenth century) was an Italian nun, and later the lover of the painter Fra Filippo Lippi. She is believed to be the model for several of Lippi’s madonnas.
For the third year running, the University of Edinburgh’s Information Services division hosted a ‘History of Medicine’ Wikipedia event; to celebrate the lives & contributions of women in medicine, over sixty years of Nursing Studies & seventy-five years of the Polish School of Medicine. Over the course of two afternoons at the Surgeons’ Hall Museums, we unravelled myths, discovered truths, created new pages & re-wrote existing Wikipedia pages of Scotland’s famous, and infamous, medical figures including gruesome body-snatcher William Burke.
We were also fortunate to be graced by some excellent guest speakers:
Iain MacIntyre – The Scottish and British Societies of the History of Medicine
Alice Doyle – The Lothian Health Services Archive
Steve Sturdy – The History of Medicine
Janet Philp – Uncovering Burke and Hare
David Wright – An Illustrated History of Scottish Medicine – the inside story
Daisy Cunynghame – The Royal College of Physicians
Burke and Hare murders – Image added of facial reconstruction of William Burke. William Burke’s place of birth added as Orrey from his confession. Other corrections made to the article e.g. date of birth and removing the surname Croswhaite from Joseph as no citation and not found in other material.
John Barclay (anatomist) – An eminent Scottish comparative anatomist, extramural teacher in anatomy, and director of the Highland Society of Scotland. New paragraph added on Barclay’s candidacy for the chair of comparative anatomy. Further information on Barclay’s Life and organisation.
Thomas Keith (doctor) – Added Early life, photographic career, surgical career. A Victorian surgeon and amateur photographer from Scotland. He developed and improved the wax paper process and his photographs are recognised for their composition and use of shade. He was an early practitioner of the operation of ovariotomy (ovarian cystectomy) where his published results were amongst the best in the world.
Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia – 3 paragraphs added. The Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia was a medical guide consisting of recipes and methods for making medicine. It was first published by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1699 as the Pharmacopoea Collegii Regii Medicorum Edimburgensium. The Edinburgh Pharmacopeia merged with the London and Dublin Pharmacopoeia’s in 1864 creating the British Pharmacopoeia.
Infobox added to Hanna Segal – British psychoanalyst and a follower of Melanie Klein. She was president of the British Psychoanalytical Society, vice-president of the International Psychoanalytical Association, and was appointed to the Freud Memorial Chair at University College, London (UCL) in 1987. James Grotstein considered that “Received wisdom suggests that she is the doyen of “classical” Kleinian thinking and technique.”
Information added about the Polish School of Medicine to the article about Francis Albert Eley Crew – English animal geneticist. He was a pioneer in his field leading to Edinburgh’s place as a world leader in the science of animal genetics. He was the first Director of the Institute of Animal Breeding and the first Professor of Animal Genetics. He is said to have laid the foundations of medical genetics.
Small amendments and a new Publications section added to Douglas Guthrie – Scottish medical doctor, otolaryngologist and historian of medicine.
Rebecca Strong – English nurse who pioneered preliminary training for nurses.
Kate Hermann – the first female neurology consultant in Scotland. Hermann, who was Jewish, left with her family from Hamburg to London in 1937, fleeing the Nazis. She then moved, in 1938, to Edinburgh to study at the Royal Infirmary under Professor Norman Dott.
Anne_Ferguson (physician) – Scottish physician, clinical researcher and expert in inflammatory bowel disease. She was educated at Notre Dame School and The University of Glasgow, graduating with a first class honours degree in Physiology, and winning the Brunton Medal. In 1975 she was appointed as a Senior Lecturer at The University of Edinburgh, also becoming a Consultant at the Gastrointestinal Unit at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. In 1987 she was appointed to a personal professorship in gastroenterology, and was honoured by election as a Fellow to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1990.
Henryk Podlewski – Polish doctor who completed his studies at the Polish School of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh during World War II and became the first Psychiatrist to practice in the Bahamas.
Nancy Loudon – Scottish gynaecologist. She devoted her professional life to pioneering and ensuring provision of family planning and well woman services. As such she was a fore-runner in what is now the specialty of ‘community gynaecology’. This article is now translated on to the Italian Wikipedia.
Krystyna Magdalena Munk – a Polish doctor who completed her studies at the Polish School of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh during World War II.
Elizabeth Wilson (doctor) – Family Planning Doctor and Right-to-Die campaigner. She founded the 408 Clinic, and FATE (Friends at the End) in 2000.
Once again, there is a strong presence of people associated with Wikimedia UK, as well as other Wikimedians. As Wikipedia edges towards 17 years old and we get ever closer to OER17, here’s a look at the presentations coming up from Wikimedia – on the edge of OER17.
(Sadly there will be no Stevie Nicks.)
The conference is co-chaired by Wikimedia UK trustee Josie Fraser and Creative Commons Poland co-founder Alek Tarkowski.
Wikimedia UK Chief Executive Lucy Crompton-Reid is one of the keynote speakers.Lucy Crompton-Reid has a career in the cultural, voluntary and public sectors spanning two decades, with a strong emphasis on leading and developing participatory practice and promoting marginalised voices. As Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK since October 2015, she has led the development of a new strategy focused on eradicating inequality and bias on Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects, with an emphasis on the gender gap and geographic bias. In the past year Lucy has given talks on equality and diversity at the Open Data Institute, Open Source Convention and MozFest, and recently spearheaded an international partnership between Wikimedia UK, Wikimedia communities around the world and the BBC, focused on closing the gender gap on Wikipedia. Lucy will be presenting: “Open as inclusive: Equality and Diversity on Wikimedia” at OER17.
Sara Mörtsell, Education Manager of WikimediaSE, will present on “How openness in mainstream K-12 education can advance with Wikimedia and GLAMs in Sweden” – This proposal addresses how mainstream K-12 education can transition to use and share open educational resources and play a part in the future direction of the open educational movement (Weller 2014). The presentation is based on practical experience of a one year OER project in 2016 with 230 students in K-12 education from both minority and dominant communities in the city of Stockholm.
Stefan Lutschinger, an academic and Wikipedia Campus Ambassador at Middlesex University, will present on “Open Pedagogy and Student Wellbeing: Academic Confidence Building with Wikipedia Assignments“. Stefan’s talk talk will introduce the use of Wikipedia assignments in higher education, present a case study, discuss its benefits for students’ academic confidence building and propose a framework for evaluation and critical reflection. The evidence is based on the compulsory course module (level 6) ‘MED3040 Publishing Cultures’ of the BA (Hons) Creative Writing and Journalism degree programme at Middlesex University, Department of Media, developed in cooperation with Wikimedia UK and the Wiki Education Foundation.
Ewan will also be giving a lightning talk on “Building bridges not walls – Wikipedia’s new Content Translation tool”. Wikipedia’s new Content Translation tool offers an impactful means of sharing open knowledge globally between languages as it brings up an article on one side of the screen in one language and helps translate it, paragraph by paragraph, to create the article in a different language taking all the formatting across to the new article so a native speaker just has to check to make sure the translation is as good as it can be. This presentation will outline the successful models already employed in a Higher Education context.
Martin Poulter, Wikimedian In Residence at the University of Oxford, is giving a presentation on “Putting Wikipedia and Open Practice into the mainstream in a University”. OER Conference attendees are often part of a minority group of Open Education advocates in their institutions, and it is a hard challenge to change wider institutional policy and culture. This presentation will share lessons learned from experience in a UK university, using Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects as well as Open Access research publication as levers to encourage an open approach to education. The drive towards open access to the outputs of research, and open access to the collections of cultural institutions, are potentially powerful drivers for the creation of open educational content. This session explores how to push academic culture in that direction.
Ewan and Martin are jointly giving a lightning talk on “Citation Needed: Digital Provenance in the era of Post-Truth Politics“.This session covers why the most important frontier of Wikipedia is not its content but its 30 million plus citations (Orlowitz, 2016) and the latest developments behind the WikiCite project after its first year. The WikiCite initiative is to build a repository of all Wikimedia citations and bibliographic metadata in Wikidata to serve all Wikimedia projects. The ultimate goal to make Wikipedia’s citations as “reliable, open, accessible, structured, linked and free as our Knowledge is.”(Orlowitz, 2016)
Ewan and Martin will also be running a workshop on “Gamifying Wikimedia – Learning through Play (Workshop)“. This workshop will demonstrate that crowd-sourcing contributions to Wikimedia’s family of Open Education projects does not have to involve a heavy time component and that short fun, enjoyable activities can be undertaken which enhance the opportunities for teaching & learning and the dissemination of open knowledge. Participants will be guided through a series of Wikimedia tools; running through the purpose of each tool, how they can be used to support open education alongside practical demos.
Wikimedia UK volunteer Navino Evans is giving a workshop on “Histropedia – Building an open interactive history of everything with Wikimedia content“.Histropedia is a web application aiming to create free interactive timelines on every topic in history using open data from Wikimedia projects like Wikidata, Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons.All Histropedia timelines are published under an open licence, which means they can be reused and remixed for any purpose, both within Histropedia and elsewhere on the web. Tools like Histropedia provide an incentive for donating text, data and images to Wikimedia projects, as it can instantly be visualised in exciting ways without incurring any cost.
It also shows how data becomes more valuable when it’s open, as it can be combined and compared with other data in a way that is not possible when kept in isolation. It’s our hope that Histropedia can play a role in getting more educational institutions to engage with Wikimedia content and other open resources, as well as inspire others to build innovative applications on top of the wealth of free knowledge that’s available. In this workshop, we will learn how to use Histropedia by completing a sequence of practical exercises to find, combine and improve content.