Supporting the University of Edinburgh's commitments to digital skills, information literacy, and sharing knowledge openly

Month: April 2023

Edinburgh Award participants sat around a boardroom table in the shadow of Edinburgh castle at final showcase event, CC-BY-SA by Ewan McAndrew, University of Edinburgh

“Digital Volunteering with Wikipedia” – the Edinburgh Award

We know that many students are involved in activities alongside their studies such as volunteering, part-time work, and getting involved in the University community.

To help these activities to stand out from the crowd, our University has a new Award for “Digital Volunteering with Wikipedia to sit beside other available Edinburgh Awards– the Edinburgh Award is a programme that allows students to get official recognition for their involvement in extracurricular activities and demonstrate their digital capabilities to employers.

Edinburgh Award participants sat around a boardroom table in the shadow of Edinburgh castle at final showcase event, CC-BY-SA by Ewan McAndrew, University of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Award participants sat around a boardroom table in the shadow of Edinburgh castle at final showcase event, CC-BY-SA by Ewan McAndrew, University of Edinburgh

There are many different types of Edinburgh Award activity students can undertake but Digital Volunteering with Wikipedia focuses on developing 3 Graduate Attributes (e.g. digital literacy, written communication, assertiveness & confidence etc.) over the course of 55-80 hours of work and providing evidence of demonstrable learning, reflection and impact. These hours are staggered over the October to end of March period punctuated by 3 main mandatory “input” sessions.

In the first, Aspiring, in October the students self -assess themselves against the Graduate Attributes and select three to develop as part of the award. They also select a topic area of Wikipedia they wish to improve and submit a 400 word action plan for how they plan to develop their chosen Graduate Attributes and how they’ll deliver impact.

Once they have had training and researched their topic areas, the 2nd Input Session, Developing, in late December, requires them to re-assess if their Graduate Attribute ranking has changed, and submit a completed Fortnightly Log of Activities designed to evidence their work to date and their reflections on how they are progressing towards their personal project goals. We hold fortnightly group research sessions in the library (because not everything is online) to help their research and allow them to edit in  a social and supportive environment where they can ask questions and seek help; both from the Wikimedian in Residence, and from each other. 

Example student project on Francophone Literature, CC-BY-SA by Ewan McAndrew, University of Edinburgh

The final Input Session, Owning, is about coming together to share their project outcomes and reflections as well as ensuring the students get the opportunity to tie all this in with their future goals and how they will communicate about their Edinburgh Award experience to their peers, academic advisors or employers. This session takes place at end of March and their final submissions are an 800 word report or 3-6 minute video presentation reflecting on both their impact achieved and the development achieved in their 3 chosen graduate attributes.

Topics suggested by students to improve online

More interestingly, are the topics the students wanted to write about. Climate change, Covid-19, LGBT History, Black History, Women artists, Women in STEM. Marginalised groups, underrepresented topics, some of the biggest and most pressing challenges in the world today. This shows me that students recognise and are intrinsically motivated by the importance of addressing knowledge gaps and improving the world around them.

Here’s a short video of an example project on LGBTQ+ history and women of the MENA region:

 The final 10

We started in October with a large cohort off 44 interested students but this reduced to 10 by Input 3 but this was to be expected and is in line with other Edinburgh Award programmes similarly asking students to undergo over 55 hours in extracurricular volunteering.

These ten ‘knowledge activist’ heroes have been put forward to achieving the Award this year. 

The projects

  1. Witch hunting: past and present day
  2. Visual culture: Artworks depicting Edinburgh
  3. Francophone literature
  4. Plant pathology
  5. Buddhism and Artificial Intelligence
  6. LGBTQ history and women in the MENA region
  7. Byzantium Greece and Cavafy’s poetry
  8. International development and human rights
  9. History of menstruation
  10. Northumberland Folklore and coverage of Edinburgh related artists, banks, and writers by using museum exhibits 

The outcomes

76,000 words have so far been added to Wikipedia and over 876 references to pages viewed almost 3 million times already! 

41 articles created, 157 improved, 35 images uploaded and articles translated in German, Spanish, Greek, Bulgarian and French including the accused Bavarian witch Anna Maria Schwegelin (translated from German Wikipedia) and Crime of Solidarity (translated from French Wikipedia) which is a concept coined in France by human right’s activists in order to fight against organised illegal immigration networks as well as fight against laws that prevent refuge for refugees.

Reflections on the Edinburgh Award. CC-BY-SA by Ewan McAndrew

Notable new pages also include:

Here’s a short video of an example project on the history of menstruation:

Here’s a short video of an example project on Witch hunting (past and present):

Quotes from the students

“During the Wikipedia project, Critical Thinking skills were crucial to ensure the information presented was accurate, unbiased, and relevant. As the research progressed, I noticed that my skill improved as I had to analyse and evaluate the information gathered. One of the key improvements in the skills was the ability to identify and evaluate different sources of information. Initially, I relied heavily on a few sources for my research, but as the project progressed, I began considering a wider range of sources. I made an effort to evaluate each source based on its credibility, relevance, and objectivity, which helped me to identify and include the most accurate information.”

“I think that I have helped improve information accessibility on Wikipedia, as one of the most widely used free encyclopaedias I have felt it important to fill gaps in information largely concerning the LGBTQ community and women, as both of these areas are often forgotten about. I think having access to marginalised communities stories, achievements and contributions is a really important value, by contributing to these topics I have hopefully made information available to people around the world.”

“Once, I completed my second article I felt more self-assured and assertive on what was appropriate writing to upload onto Wikipedia. I had created an article on one of Cavafy’s poems, which is one of my favourite poems from his anthology. That could’ve also been a contributor to the overall experience too, since producing something which engages with one of your likes makes the activity a little more bearable. As I overcame this barrier, I was able to expand as well as develop my skills by editing as well as creating a lot more articles on Wikipedia. As it stands right now, I have contributed 10k words on Wikipedia. Although the first half of this process was excruciatingly slow, after overcoming my fears and worries I was keener with contributing on Wikipedia and practically spent most days changing, improving, or producing articles. ”

“Being a part of writing communities like Wikipedia has helped me to improve not only my writing but also my editing and proofreading skills. I have learned to use plain language, avoid jargon and technical terms, and organise information logically and coherently, thanks to Wikipedia’s style guidelines.”

“Doing this award has helped me make significant progress made on improving my independent research skills. For example, I think that over the course of my project, I have become better at picking out relevant information from very long sources and not spending too much time reading and fussing over smaller less significant details. In addition, I am more proficient at finding sources through Google Scholar and DiscoverEd and have also learnt where to look when struggling to find more information about a topic e.g. using good quality sources referenced in the bibliographies of journals and books I had already found to help grow my source lists.”

“Overall, my confidence to make bolder edits and create quality articles on Wikipedia has grown significantly since I started my project and I now feel that I can have a more significant and active presence on the site. Editing and writing articles about witch-hunting has been incredibly enlightening and rewarding and I want to continue to edit about this important topic after I finish the award.”

“My digital literacy skills have greatly improved compared with when I started my Wikipedia research project. Since the project involved extensive online research, it required me to engage with a wide range of digital tools and technologies. Through this process, I have developed proficiency in various areas of digital literacy, such as information literacy, media literacy, and digital communication.”

“My Wikipedia project on the history of menstruation has had a positive impact on others in several ways. Firstly, the project has helped raise awareness and understanding of an often-overlooked aspect of women’s health and history. By providing accurate and accessible information on the history of menstruation, the project has helped to demystify a topic that has long been stigmatized and taboo. I corrected a key part of the history of menstrual cups, which were first patented in the US in 1867, whereas before the article only included that the first patent for a commercial cup was in 1937. My article on Menstruation and humoral medicine has filled a gap in the content on Wikipedia, and highlighted the ambiguities in the ways that people viewed menstruation in the early modern period.”

“I wrote an article on Mary Marjory MacDonald, and significantly edited articles on Edwin Chiloba and the Signares. Mary was nicknamed ‘the Scottish Queen of Thieves’, and I believe it is important to represent more women on Wikipedia, especially figures who do not fit into traditional gender roles. This is also the case for the Signares, who were a group of women who acquired wealth and power in colonial Senegal. In addition, representing African LGBTQ+ activists such as Edwin Chiloba is important, since they are a group often neglected on Wikipedia.”

“I decided to focus on creating new pages to maximise my impact as some very important parts of the history of Francophone literature were missing, such as The Colonial System Unveiled, one of the earliest critiques of colonialism, which is unfortunately not recognised widely enough as a significant historical anticolonial text. I also decided to emphasise the contributions of women to Francophone Caribbean and African writing, as they can be overlooked in this area.”

“I hope that my contributions can help other students like me, such as those studying French or taking the course that inspired me to pursue this project. On a wider level, I also think my project can help increase the awareness of Francophone literature among English speakers. I believe it is very much underappreciated and people do not realise how much influence Francophone African and Caribbean thought have had on literary criticism even in an Anglophone context.”

Here’s a short video of an example project on improving topic coverage of Francophone literature:

Here’s a short video of an example project on improving topic coverage of artworks depicting Edinburgh:

In conclusion

Example student project researching artists,writers and banks related to Edinburgh. CC-BY-SA by Ewan McAndrew, University of Edinburgh

There are no stars so lovely as Edinburgh street lamps“.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s words (below) are inscribed in Makar’s Court, Edinburgh. In taking this photo and sharing it openly to Wikimedia Commons and inserting it into the Makar’s Court page, the Edinburgh Award student has brought these words to my attention and helped raise my awareness that there are clearly other lovely stars in Edinburgh. Ten student stars in particular. And I have told them that they should all be enormously proud of their achievements this year.

Inscription of Robert Louis Stevenson quote in Makars’ Court, CC-BY-SA by Erisagal via Wikimedia Commons

One final student project!

Here’s a short video of an example project on improving topic coverage of plant pathology on Wikipedia:

Recovering Histories – Improving Equality and Diversity Online

Recovering Histories event: 3 student researchers looked at the gaps on Wikipedia and where important histories were not (yet) represented online. CC-BY-SA by Ewan McAndrew

Three students co-authored an application to take part in a Student Experience Grant project over a 14-week time period, learning how to edit Wikipedia and how to fill in diversity gaps on the website:

  • Eleanor– PhD Student researching LGBTQ+ History.
  • Sian – PhD student researching Black History.
  • Kirsty  – Undergraduate student researching Gender History.

Each student specialised in a particular aspect of diversity which Wikipedia was lacking coverage on. These were black history, LGBTQ+ history and women’s history. Through these three specialisations each student was able to increase their knowledge in their specialised area, digging through Edinburgh’s history in the matter. For example, Kirsty, one of the students, was able to delve into the University’s rich sporting history and learn about the impressive sportswomen that spent time at Edinburgh University. Kirsty also showed off a poster presentation on the Student Experience Grant project at the University’s GenderEd annual showcase & networking event.

Through the project the students developed knowledge of the gaps on Wikipedia and created worklists of pages in need of creation or updating to improve diversity of representation on Wikipedia. These worklists were utilised in a final end of project event, with 50-60 signups. The hybrid event was held in the Project Room of 50 George Square with students, staff and members of the public taking part in learning new digital and information literacy skills and contributing their scholarship openly to improve coverage of, and understanding about, LGBTQ+ History, Gender History and Black History in Scotland.

This event included many University of Edinburgh students who were introduced to editing Wikipedia, through a led tutorial, and given the aforementioned pre-researched worklists to help contribute to Wikipedia as a whole. The event featured a panel discussion and display of the work of the three primary students involved in the project, educating those in attendance about the disparities within Wikipedia and how they can help improve this as information activists.

Recovering Histories event, CC-BY-SA by Ewan McAndrew, University of Edinburgh

The event also included representatives from University of Edinburgh, University of Dundee, Wikimedia UK, the Devil’s Porridge Museum, Sussex University, University of Cape Town, Swansea University, Birkbeck University London, UCL, University of Leeds, the National Gallery of Ireland, Victoria University of Wellington, Kiel University, ZBW Leibniz, Manchester Metropolitan University, Staffordshire University, National Galleries Scotland, Arts University Bournemouth, University of Kent, Lothian Health Service Archives.

In addition, the structure of the project allowed all three students to specialise in their interests. This allowed each student to delve further into an area of interest/specialisation which was rewarding for all involved. They each created a poster which was printed out to display in the final end of project editing event for all to see.

Event page with worklists created:

Main learning points

  • Gained professional experience using their research skills outside of their main study.
  • Expanded awareness of information activism as a whole and the role of information in dictating awareness of those often ignored by society.
  • Had the opportunity to expand their network by making connections with the Scottish Portrait Gallery.
  • Organised and hosted an edit-a-thon at the University.
  • Eleanor has subsequently organised her own editathon on LGBTQ+ art on Wikipedia and been in discussions about presenting at the Queering Wikipedia conference 2023.

Scotland, Slavery and Black Histories poster, CC-BY-SA by Sian Davies

Reflections from Sian:

“I have been looking at Black history, specifically focusing on Scotland’s links to transatlantic slavery to try to address the silences on Wikipedia related to this topic. By adding in information to existing pages as well as creating new ones, I hope this work, however marginally, contributes to public understanding of the varied and widespread connections between Caribbean slavery and the making of modern Britain. Examples include adding in details such as William Wright’s, a renowned Scottish Botanist, ownership of enslaved people and how he developed an interest in botany while in the Caribbean, and adding in William Forbes of Callandar’s, a Scottish industrialists, connection to transatlantic slavery through his production of sugar boiling pans sold to planters in the Caribbean. I also developed a new page for Leith Sugar House, to show how some of built environment of Scotland is also connected the Caribbean and the profits made from slavery. “

Gender History poster, by Kirsty Vass-Payne, CC-BY-SA

Reflections from Kirsty:

“Higher Education Institutions, and the student bodies within them, are heavily involved within diversity-based research and movements throughout society.  However all too often work fails to extend beyond the reach of the university community. Information activism is an often unappreciated but vital part of diversity and equality movements. Work to increase representation of marginalised communities online helps to make the histories, achievements and movements of communities suppressed in mainstream media available to all. Wikipedia is the perfect website for such work. Further Wikipedia involvement can be vital in transforming this information to a wider community.

Firstly it does not occur to many that they themselves can, and should, contribute their knowledge to Wikipedia. Before entering this project two out of three of the students had not contributed to Wikipedia before. This is often the first, and primary, hurdle to many in being part of the Wikipedia editing community. Herein, raising awareness of the ease at which one can contribute to Wikipedia is vital alongside providing a space in which to edit with support.Through this project Ewan McAndrew assisted the students in entering Wikipedia as editing and taught them the basic understandings and rules necessary to contribute. Although these can be easily learnt online, live teaching can be invaluable in quickly setting up students to edit Wikipedia. Running events on specific topics which include mini tutorials on how to edit are invaluable to adding information on Wikipedia. This is as they target those who are not currently engaged. The more people that are taught to edit Wikipedia, the more who can contribute their wealth of knowledge to Wikipedia. 

Wikipedia is a very large website, and as such the breadth of information that can be added to or edited it never ending. This can be a daunting prospect to many. As such it is much simpler, and more manageable to focus particularly on one area. From here you can create a related a worklist of pages to be added/edited, including details of what is missing. Often half the job on Wikipedia is establishing the gap in Wikipedia as there is often the incorrect presumption that everything is already there. If creating a worklist is untenable there are many project pages/worklists already available that you can work through with students. Examples of this include Women in Red which aims to create pages for women of note.”

Researching LGBTQ+ History poster and the rich important stories to tell, CC-BY-SA by Eleanor Capaldi

Reflections from Eleanor:

“The strand I’ve been exploring on this project is diversifying LGBTQ+ records. These could be of individuals, organisations, projects, either historical or contemporary. Filling in the gaps of LGBTQ+ history is necessary to reflect the diversity of society over time, and to readdress inequalities that have seen these identities suppressed or erased in record. Doing so also has a role to play in validating LGBTQ+ communities as being connected to something larger, this history partly acting as defence against suggestions that being LGBTQ+ is new, and therefore temporary, to be changed. It’s a way to say – we’ve always been here. Given that the historical landscape regarding sexuality and gender has evolved over time, from the law to language, it can sometimes prove challenging to attribute LGBTQ+ identities, even when there are indications. It is a catch-22 – to be accessible on a site like Wikipedia where there needs to be evidence, but for LGBTQ+ lives such evidence may have been erased, or alternatively exist, but as a result of primary sources like oral histories, rather than secondary.

That said there are valuable records that have been created and contributed to, and research projects and efforts to establish and expand LGBTQ+ sources that do exist, and they are increasing all the time. Given Wikipedia’s prominence, their inclusion matters. As such, I’ve been exploring the history of the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, the first such telephone support service in the whole of the UK, which didn’t have a Wikipedia entry until it was developed as part of this project. Through researching this organisation, in collaboration with Archivist Louise Neilson at the University of Edinburgh (who hold the Switchboard archives and have recently received Welcome Trust funding to catalogue its contents), it has opened up so many avenues of people and events that were connected to a significant and important part of LGBTQ+ history in Scotland. It is a privilege to be able to contribute in even a small way to place this piece of Scottish LGBTQ+ history into the Wikipedia puzzle. “

New Wikipedia pages about:

Improved pages also include:

In terms of challenges, due to the secondary source nature of Wikipedia there were issues encountered with getting archival information on to Wikipedia, which requires a step in between. Had there been a larger project timeframe there would have been more time to do this. However, due to the short nature of the project archival information was simply used less as it would have been too time consuming to use more.

The legacy of the project

The worklist, gaps and resources identified, still exist and the work will have a further legacy as the work will be continued with other student editors contributing to it either through the student Edinburgh Award for ‘Digital Volunteering  with Wikipedia’ (Oct-March each year) topics or through the monthly Wikipedia editing workshops run by the University’s Digital Skills team. This project has been a source of inspiration for students taking part in the aforementioned Edinburgh Award for the kind of ‘knowledge activism’ and the agency it demonstrates students can have.

Moreover, the three students involved in the project dictated the strands of their research according to interests found along the way, and lines of success in research. As such there was always interesting work to be done and it allowed the opportunity to have conversations with, meet and work with people inside and outside of the University; to raise awareness and provoke ideas of what more could, and should be, done in future.

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