The BSHS Ayrton prize recognises outstanding web projects and digital engagement in the history of science, technology and medicine (HSTM). The prize name was chosen to recognize the major contributions of Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923) to numerous scientific fields, especially electrical engineering and mathematics, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The prize is awarded once every two years.
Given the remarkable strength of the field, they decided to supplement the main Prize with a Highly Commended category, to be awarded to two further projects.
I’m delighted to say that our University of Edinburgh Wikipedia project “Changing the ways the stories are told” is one of the two Highly Commended projects! The judging panel were particularly impressed with the initiative’s track record of contributions to the infrastructure of knowledge on which research and public engagement in the history of science depend.
‘Changing the ways the stories are told’: Engaging staff and students in improving the Wikipedia content about women in the history of science, technology and medicine in Scotland.
This project began 5 years ago and has been delivering more and more each year with wider reach, large engagement numbers and considerable impact in terms of public engagement and media coverage. This project is supported by University of Edinburgh and we work in partnership with science, engineering and heritage organisations in Edinburgh to run events to edit and improve Wikipedia content of topics specifically related to the history of women in science.
Our mission is to work with staff, students and members of the public to support them in developing the digital skills they need to engage in writing and publishing new articles on Wikipedia. We have a specific focus on the history of women in science and medicine. Our first ‘edit-a-thon’ in 2015 was based on ‘The Edinburgh Seven’- the first women to study medicine and our most recent was in conjunction with Young Academy Scotland at the Royal Society of Edinburgh. This work towards getting all students and staff in the university to be active contributors is unique in the sector.
The audience for our content includes any members of the public who look at HSTM articles on Wikipedia. The audience for our skills development training are staff and students who learn about how historical information can be brought out of the university (and other) archives to illustrate, enhance and improve the stories of historic development of science, technology and medicine. We work closely with librarians, archivists and academic researchers to bring their hidden content into the most modern digital platforms and give it new relevance for the public today.
Edinburgh staff and students have created 476 new articles, in a variety of languages on a huge range of topics and significantly improved or translated 1950 more. These articles have been consumed by millions of readers. All editors are supported to understand the impact and reach of their work, to find the analytics and reports which show how their contribution is immediately useful to a wide range of audiences.
By working closely with HSTM scholars, digital librarians and archivists we ensure that our staff and students learn the best practice in using digital platforms for public engagement. We ensure that information is accessible and navigable and make best use of both the archives and the new technology. Images released from our archive collections and added to Wikipedia as part of this project have now been viewed 28,755,106 times.
As well as learning the skills of editing, referencing and science communication, we are ensuring that many more of our staff and students learn about how information is created, shared and contested online. We work specifically to address gaps in coverage and improve information where it is poor.
We address the gender gap amongst Wikipedia editors by training large numbers of female students and staff and empower them to edit on whatever topics they choose and thus engaging in the use of digital platforms for their own study and work.
The University of Edinburgh is the first UK university to engage a Wikimedian in Residence to focus entirely on developing student and staff skills. The project fits with our missions for teaching, research and public engagement as well as the embedding of technology in our activities to engage in digital citizenship and crowd-sourced sharing.
The most innovative part of the project has been to work closely with academic colleagues to embed Wikimedia tasks in the curriculum so that students work on topics which have direct relevance to their studies. One example where we work with the students on the MSc Reproductive Biomedicine is now in its fourth year. The students are assessed and gain credit for the work they do in improving content of Wikipedia.
Five years on from our original work in changing the way the story of the Edinburgh Seven is told, the University gave posthumous degrees to the women who had struggled as pioneers in this area. The degree ceremony in 2019 marked 150 years since the Surgeons Hall riots and this new, updated history of women in science and medicine gained considerable media coverage and impact in Scotland and beyond.
We ensure the sustainability of this project by making it part of the ongoing digital skills and digital literacy training programme delivered to staff and students in the University of Edinburgh and we hold public engagement events alongside our partners in library, heritage and science organisations in the city.
The Wikipedia platform is maintained by the Wikimedia UK foundation and our contributions to improving the public facing content on that platform is part of ensuring that it is a sustainable, growing, open, relevant and useful resource for everyone. Working directly with the Wikipedia platform to add content ensures that we do not take on the long term costs of hosting such a platform for our selves, thus the work of training editors and contributing content can continue as long as the platform is an appropriate place to do it.
Last year this work won a Herald Higher Education Award for innovation in technology and we are expanding our skills training team in the coming year to ensure that we can meet the demand from academic colleagues and students to be trained as editors and as contributors to Wikidata and similar sister projects.
This project represents a clear statement by the University that we want to enable our staff and students to engage in becoming active citizens in the digital world.
This nomination for innovative use of technology focuses of the development of digital literacy skills at University of Edinburgh through our partnership with Wikimedia UK. Project achievements have gone far beyond what might have been expected and has shown impact and reach which is unique and well worth celebrating. This work involves staff and student across the entire university and reaches out to members of the public, local community and researchers as active participants in this new area of reputation, reach, digital and data literacy and knowledge sharing.
Wikipedia is simply one of the largest websites in the world. It is visited by tens of millions of people every day as a source of information. The quality and reliability of the information in Wikipedia relies on volunteers putting information there to be discovered and used. As the site grows, so the demand for contributions grows and the need for that community of editors to be one of knowledgeable, critical experts in their field increases. We have transformed 600 students, 400 staff and 250members of the public from being passive readers and consumers of Wikipedia information to being active, engaged contributors. The result of this is that our community is more engaged with knowledge creation online and readers all over the world benefit from our research, teaching and collections.
At every turn the mention of Wikipedia has been met with scepticism. Nonetheless the digital skill team have persisted in helping all of us see how contributing to sharing information can bring benefits for the university in terms of discovery, education, equality, outreach and excellence. We have run more than 50 skills training events each year. The skills needed by those contributing to Wikipedia are the same student digital literacy skills which a degree at University of Edinburgh is designed to develop: Those of critical reading, summarising, paraphrasing, original writing, referencing, citing, publishing, data handing, reviewing and understanding your audience. In this era of fake news it has never been more important that our students understand how information is published, shared, fact-checked and contested online.
This work towards getting all students and staff in the university to be active contributors is unique in the sector. Edinburgh staff and students have created 476 new articles, in a variety of languages on a huge range of topics and significantly improved or translated 1950 more. These articles have been consumed by millions of readers. Images released from our archive collections and added to Wikipedia have now been viewed 28,755,106 times. All editors are supported to understand the impact and reach of their work, to find the analytics and reports which show how their contribution is immediately useful to a wide range of audiences.
Curriculum development: We have been working with academic colleagues to embed data literacy tasks into the curriculum. Courses which now include a Wikipedia assignment include: World Christianity MSc, Translation Studies MSc, History MSc (Online), Global Health MSc, Digital Sociology MSc, Data Science for Design MSc, Language Teaching MSc, Psychology in Action MSc, Digital Education MSc, Public Health MSc and Reproductive Biology Honours. Each of these activities bring benefits to the students who learn new skills and have immediate public impact. For example:
- Global Health students add 180-200 words to a Global Health related article. 31 student editors added 7,500 words to 18 articles. Their edits to the Wikipedia page on obesity are viewed on average 3,000 times per day.
- A Reproductive Biology student’s new article on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most common forms of ovarian cancer includes 60 references and diagrams and has been viewed over 60,000 times since September 2016.
- MSc in Translation Studies students translate 4,000 words on a topic of their own choosing. 30 students each year translate articles from English to Arabic, Chinese, French, Greek, Turkish, Japanese and from Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and Norwegian into English. They wrote with a potential global audience in mind and Wikipedia editors all over the world scrutinise their work.
Community engagement, equality and inclusion: We work with students to target areas of inclusion. The Wellcome Kings and UnCoverEd groups have added biographies of notable LGBT+ and BAME individuals missing from Wikipedia and we organise high profile events for Black History Month, Ada Lovelace Day and International Women’s Day. An event focusing on cultural representations of mental health during Student Wellbeing Week 2018 saw 33 articles updated to ensure that when students and the public search for information about mental health the information they find will be of a higher equality than it was before.
Wikipedia is one of the world’s largest information and knowledge sharing websites, and University of Edinburgh is now the university with the highest level of contribution and engagement to that endeavour. We hope that this project can be seen as a model for other universities to follow as a way to share the knowledge we create in universities via the most public and open of platforms.
And we hope we will win. Obv.
When looking at equality and diversity drivers for change in organisations, there is some literature which suggests that external accountability , the impression the public have about your organisation, or investor or client pressure, may be a consideration for senior management. There may be concern for reputational damage with the wider business and society, and this risk could be mitigated for instance by the company’s success in winning a prize for gender equality .
Following our recent success as winners of the national Universities HR Excellence Award for Equality and Diversity, Information Services Group is now shortlisted as a finalist for 2 further awards.
We are finalists in the ‘Employer of the Year’ category in the Scotland Women in Technology Awards 2018 to be announced on Wednesday 24th October 2018 in Glasgow and for ‘Diversity Project of The Year’ in the Women in IT Excellence Awards taking place on 27 November at Finsbury Square, London.