This post was co-authored with Jemima John (pictured above), 4th year undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Law and a Digital Skills intern in Information Services. It was written with a focus on Wikipedia and legal education but speaks to Wikipedia’s role in tertiary education more generally. You can watch an interview with Jemima John on Media Hopper.
Uses of Wikipedia in higher education
Since the early 2000’s, Wikipedia has acquired somewhat of a negative reputation for being unreliable. Educators are normally wary of allowing Wikipedia as a source that anyone can edit. This is due to believing it to be a source of misinformation, going directly against their role to reduce misinformation in the world.
However, what if the contrary is true?
What if Wikipedia can be used to reduce misinformation in the world, an often-highlighted problem of our current times. This is the very mission of Wikimedia organization. The Wikimedia projects exist to combat misinformation. Indeed, Wikipedians have been combating fake news for years as source evaluation is a core skill of a Wikipedian. Researchers found that only 7 percent of all Wikipedia edits are considered vandalism and nearly all vandalism edits are reverted instantly by automated programs (bots) which help to patrol Wikipedia for copyright violation, plagiarism and vandalism. If a page is targeted for vandalism it can also be ‘semi-protected’ (essentially locking the page so new edits are reviewed before being added) for one day, two days or longer as required while accounts or IP addresses repeating vandalism can be blocked indefinitely. While Wikipedia is still the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, a recent implementation is new users cannot create new pages until their account has been active for four days and accrued at least ten edits. Within the first four days, however, new users can submit their new pages for review by another editor who quality checks it is sufficiently neutral, notable and well-referenced for inclusion in Wikipedia’s live space.
Due to open licensing of Wikipedia content, it is more visible across the Internet. For example, Google scrapes from Wikipedia biographies to feature as sidebar profiles as part of its ‘Knowledge Graph’ answer engine results for notable people; among many other topics. Wikipedia articles also happen to be within the top five search results due to its preferential status in Google’s ranking algorithm. This is important when one considers ‘search is the way we live now’. According to 2011 figures, Google processed 91% of searches internationally and 97.4% of searches from mobile devices. Google has also been found to have a funneling effect whereby the sources clicked upon the first page of results are clicked on 90% of the time with 42% click through on the first choice alone. Indeed, more recently, research published in 2017 found that Wikipedia and Google have a symbiotic relationship whereby Google depends on Wikipedia – click through rates decrease by 80% if Wikipedia links are removed – and Wikipedia depends on Google – 84.5% of the visits to Wikipedia are attributable to Google. While, just this year, researchers at MIT and the University of Pittsburgh published a paper that evidenced that science is actually shaped by Wikipedia; demonstrating the free encyclopedia’s influence. The randomised control trial the researchers undertook evidenced a strong causal impact that, as one of the most accessed websites in the world, incorporating ideas into Wikipedia leads to those ideas being used more in the scientific literature. 
Today Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website on the Internet and sometimes more trusted than traditional news publications, according to a recent YouGov poll. This poll indicated that Wikipedia was trusted by the British people more than such reputable news sites as the Guardian, BBC, the Telegraph, the Times and others. Wikipedia relies on these sources, and other similar sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy, so would not necessarily advocate trusting a Wikipedia article over these other sites.
However, Wikipedia’s policies on Neutral Point of View (NPOV) and identifying reliable sources do help police its content and plainly increases trust in its content. Research from the Harvard Business School has also discovered that, unlike other more partisan areas of the internet, Wikipedia’s focus on NPOV (neutral point of view) means editors actually become more moderate over time; the researchers seeing this as evidence that editing “Wikipedia helps break people out of their ideological echo chambers”. More than this, it is worth considering what value one would place on having somewhere online like Wikipedia – and unlike many other of the world’s top ten websites – where it is completely, ruthlessly transparent in how pages are put together so that you can see: when edits were made; and by whom; and so that edits can always be checked, challenged and corrected if need be. After all, all edits to a Wikipedia page are recorded in its View History which includes which account or IP address made the edit along with a date, time and edit summary. Importantly, these entries in the View History are all permanent links so that different versions of the page can be compared and, ultimately, so a page can always be reverted back to its last good state if any unhelpful edits are ever made.
Indeed, the process of researching and writing a Wikipedia article demonstrates ‘how the sausage is made’ – how knowledge is created, curated and contested online – and asks students as part of their research to consider what constitutes a reliable source. In this way, students can be introduced to the pros and cons of searching a variety of databases as part of discussions on information and media literacy. Ultimately, whether it is a news article, journal article or Wikipedia article one should always evaluate what one is reading. That much has always been true. Wikipedia, for its part, has as its policy that no Wikipedia page should be cited in an academic paper. Rather Wikipedia considers itself a tertiary source; an encyclopedia of articles made up from citations from high quality published secondary sources. If one cites anything it is these sources that one should cite, not Wikipedia itself. In this way, Wikipedia reframes itself as useful place for pre-researching a topic in order to orientate oneself before delving into the scholarly literature. Hence, it is not the endpoint of research but the beginning; the digital gateway to academic research. In this way, it can then be seen as a valuable resource in itself. 2016 research confirmed that 87.5% of students were using it in this way; in “an introductory and/or clarificatory role” as part of their information gathering and research and finding it ‘academically useful’ in this context. Now in its seventeenth year, Wikipedia has approaching 5.7 million articles in English with about ten edits per second across all Wikimedia projects and nearly 500 articles created each day. As the largest reference work on the internet, it is simply too big to fail now and too important a source of information for the world. Consequently, Wikipedia has realized this and has taken out an endowment to ensure it exists it perpetuity.
Within the boundaries of Wikipedia editing guidelines of notability, reliability, and verifiability, it can prove to be a valuable resource in education. Editing Wikipedia articles builds a number of key skills. It encourages digital creation and digital collaboration skills. It builds legal research skills through finding relevant sources. Most of all, the ability to synthesize the research in an accessible manner for a non-legal audience is an unique but incredibly valuable skill for any law student. What is amazing about editing and creating Wikipedia articles is that the articles it allows for dialogue and improvement over the article through collaboration with other editors.
Indeed, it was the ‘realness’ and collaborative element of the assignment that appealed to students on the Reproductive Biology Hons. programme along with seizing a rare opportunity to communicate medical knowledge to a lay audience. Being able to communicate to a non-specialist audience is a key skill for new medics just as communicating legal knowledge is a key skill for new entrants to the legal profession.
For History undergraduates, it was the opportunity to improve the public’s understanding of history in a way that was active and not just passively receiving knowledge. More than this, it was recognizing that people’s understanding of the diversity of history would not be improved until staff and students actively engaged with addressing these gaps in representation; particularly in underrepresented areas such as social history, gender history and queer history.
A Wikipedia assignment isn’t just another essay or presentation that students may never return to, but something that has actually been created; a way of demonstrating the relevance of a student’s degree and communicating their scholarship in a real-world application of teaching and learning. Beyond this, the experience of a Wikipedia assignment at Bucknell University was that:
“at the close of the semester, students said that simply knowing that an audience of editors existed was enough to change how they wrote. They chose words more carefully. They double-checked their work for accuracy and reliability. And they began to think about how best they could communicate their scholarship to readers who were as curious, conscientious, and committed and as they were”.
Once the article becomes live on Wikipedia and indexed in Google’s top five results, students realise that there is agency to sharing their scholarship with the world. By way of example, Reproductive Biology Honours student Áine Kavanagh’s scrupulously researched a brand new article on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most deadly and most common forms of ovarian cancer. This article, including over sixty references and open-licensed diagrams Áine herself created, has now been viewed over 33,000 times since it was published in September 2016; adding a well-referenced source of health information to the global Open Knowledge community. Hence, rather than students’ work being disposed of at the end of an assignment, it can become a community project that can then be added to and improved over time; either by the students themselves or by other editors anywhere around the world. This has been a key motivator for students taking part in Wikipedia projects at the University of Edinburgh.
Of these other editors, there are some 2000+ WikiProjects on Wikipedia where editors come together to focus on a particular area of Wikipedia because they are passionate about the subject and/or have expertise in that area. If you check the Talk page of an article on Wikipedia you will see the WikiProject that has been assigned to ‘look after’ the article. In this way, content on Wikipedia is monitored and curated by a team of subject specialists; amateur enthusiasts and professionals alike. WikiProject Law aims to organise the law-related articles that consist of defining concepts spanning jurisdictions. There is a need for more articles focused on Scots law and there is scope to start a WikiProject to organise articles regarding Scots law.
There can be a number of applications within the law school. A Wikipedia assignment can be run in a single afternoon or over the course of an entire semester. It can be done as individual work, paired work or group work. Starting small and building up over time has proven a sensible methodology although best practice has been developed over a number of years at the university and elsewhere if bolder approaches are warranted.
It can be a formative assessed from a student perspective, it should be noted that if software seems too difficult to learn, students may feel like it is not worth the formative assessment and that it should be summative in nature. Indeed, recent experience is that students have been enthused to take part in Wikipedia assignments and put great efforts in to complete the assignment so receiving some feedback on their efforts always goes some way to ensuring they are fully satisfied by the experience: be it a group discussion; using a Wikipedia marking rubric; individual assessment; peer assessment; blogging their reflections on the project; or providing an oral presentation. The timing of the assignment may also help ensure its success. If it is assigned during a time of the term where other summative assessments may be due then the students may be more strategic in where they place their priorities.
Hence, past experience at the University of Edinburgh has suggested that a Wikipedia assignment incorporating such elements as students having discussions around information literacy and learning how to edit/ how to use a new form of educational technology may work best in the first semester as part of inducting the students into good digital research habits for the rest of the year before the course programme becomes busier in the second and third semesters. World Christianity MSc students and Psychology undergraduate students have also reported in recent interviews how the experience of adding references to Wikipedia was both a motivating and “very exciting” moment for them; partly because of the “slick” way Wikipedia allows you to add citations easily and partly because of the fact they were able to draw from relevant news articles and bring them together with books and journal articles (and more) to holistically convey the subject they were writing about.
In terms of how hard or difficult Wikipedia editing now is, Wikipedia has a new WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Visual Editor interface which is easy to learn in an hour and just takes a little practice. It makes use of dropdown menus much like one experiences in word processing applications such as Microsoft Word and WordPress blogging and has been described variously as “super easy”, “fun”, “really intuitive” and “addictive as hell.”
There is also scope for a Wikipedia assignment to form a proportion of the summative element of the course as they have done on the World Christianity MSc. It should be noted that contributions made to Wikipedia are not static, but rather they are picked up by other Wikipedia editors to improve the reliability of the site. In educational contexts, this could be seen negatively but students have intimated that they like their work surviving beyond the life of the assignment and becoming a community project that can be added to over time. Beyond this, students can download their finished pages as a pdf, create books of their finished articles and, because all edits are recorded as permanent links in the View History of a page, they will always have a permanent link to their version of the page, no matter what changes are made to improve or expand it by other editors.
Wikipedia is an useful source but it can never replace formal legal education which teaches specialist knowledge, analytical skills, ethical standards, and importantly impart a love of democracy and justice. Wikipedia in legal education will only supplement these activities.
 McMahon, Connor; Johnson, Isaac; and Hecht, Brent (2017). The Substantial Interdependence of Wikipedia and Google: A Case Study on the Relationship Between Peer Production Communities and Information Technologies.
The 9th annual conference for Open Education research, practice and policy, OER18, took place at the Bristol Watershed Cinema on 18 and 19 April 2018. Its theme was ‘Open to All’ and it featured Wikimedia heavily in its programme.
Good afternoon, thanks for inviting me along today.
My name is Ewan McAndrew and I have been working at the University of Edinburgh for just over two years now in this rather strange sounding role of Wikimedian in Residence.
My background is in English and Media teaching where I worked closely with school librarian colleagues and I’ve recently finished my Information Management MSc so libraries, literacy and learning is kind of my thing.
But I struggled to think what I could tell you in my ten minute section here today.
The reason being that there is a huge discussion right now. It needs to be. I’ll not dwell on the whole Facebook and Cambridge Analytica issue because that’s not what I’m here to speak to you about today but it does speak to a larger issue on what value we place on information literacy and media literacy, what value we place on the transparency of knowledge sharing, what value we place on our students, our staff and members of the public being conversant with the digital intermediaries that govern our daily lives. Because I take the view that there is a huge & pivotal role for libraries to play in this discussion.
”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)
So what can I tell you about the residency to date?
I can tell you that it started, and has continued, with information literacy and digital skills at its heart. Our IT director, Melissa Highton, was asked at the time what strategies could be employed to help better meet the information literacy and digital skills needs of our staff and students at the university, and how could we better meet our commitment to share the knowledge we share with the world?
The residency also started with libraries.
Or 1 library in fact. Because we borrowed Ally Crockford, the first Wikimedian in Residence in Scotland, from the National Library of Scotland to help run our first editathon way back in February 2015 focused on Women in Science and Scottish History missing from Wikipedia; and the Edinburgh Seven in particular, the first women ever to matriculate at a British university. Sara Thomas, here today, was also at that event.
An editathon for those who don’t know, is just a Wikipedia editing event with a particular focus on a subject area to help create & improve certain Wikipedia pages. It can be done as in-person event with online resources, physical resources, t-shirts, stickers, cupcakes. But it can also be done as remote online event or can be done as translate-a-thon, image-a-thon, infobox-a-thon or more.
Professor Allison Littlejohn came along to the event and what she discovered was that there was genuine formal and informal learning going on at these events and her research paper has just been published with others to follow.
So there was real merit in universities engaging with Wikipedia editing to surface the knowledge they were creating & curating because of these shared missions. This made the business case once we aligned it with our information literacy and digital skills strategy.
So that’s where I sit in that middle area between Wikimedia and the University of Edinburgh and I’m supported on both sides by people passionate about Open Knowledge.
Since then we have never looked back. While academia and Wikipedia have something of a chequered history, as soon as we started discussing the university taking an informed approach to Wikipedia and knowledge sharing, we found we had a lot to talk about.
And that’s what Wikipedia is about – making connections, wiki-linking from one subject to another, disappearing down the rabbit hole of knowledge. And that’s what the residency has been about, delivering workshops and creating resources which allow colleagues across the whole university to see the connections between their work and the work of the Wikimedia projects. As such we have now created a network of Open Knowledge nodes. We find that when we work with a colleague in one discipline this can often lead to other colleagues being brought in and other disciplines. So far we have worked across all three teaching colleges with an ever-increasing number of disciplines.
Of the in-curriculum work we have done in Reproductive Biology, World Christianity, Translation Studies (case studies) – all of these courses have been repeated year-on-year because of the positive reactions of staff and students (compilation video of staff & student feedback). And we’re adding to these with workshops in Digital Sociology MSc, Global Health MSc, Data Science for Design MSc (adding the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database and 3,219 accused witches to Wikidata) and we’re now discussing which year group we should work with in the Law school because practising research skills and the ability to communicate laws in an accessible way is absolutely something we as a university should be looking to do, and help our students to do.
So we need to talk about Wikipedia and how we engage with it.
Not many people know, for instance, that Wikipedia has a strict conflict of interest policy – you shouldn’t write about anything where you are too close to be impartial. That’s why it was so good to see Glasgow Caledonian University Library recently create the Wikipedia page for Shetland Library.
Libraries should support one another.
Paying it forward for the common good is what Wikipedia is all about.
For instance, a University of Edinburgh Reproductive Biology student, Aine Kavanagh (fantastic video interview with her – well worth watching), scrupulously researched an article on one of the most serious and most deadly forms of ovarian cancer, high grade serous carcinoma, and it has now been viewed over 28,000 times since September 2016, addressing a serious knowledge gap with scholarly research articles. She benefited from the practice academically and she enjoyed doing it personally. Because her scholarship lasted beyond the assignment and did something for the common good. Lots of the students see that as the main benefit of engaging with Wikipedia and are enthusiastic to help because of this.
Now, for the first time, Wikimedia UK is able to produce a booklet of case studies of the Wikipedia in the Classroom work being undertaken in the United Kingdom; which should be available soon and include mention of (among other coursework):
Mia Spiro taking students from her Jewish Studies class at the University of Glasgow to do some research at the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre. Afterwards they were able to create the article on the Garnethill Synagogue and illustrate the page with some pictures from their walking tour of the area.
Telling the story of rural England: Students on the Applied Human Geography course at the University of Portsmouth are tasked with writing articles about a village not currently represented on Wikipedia. So far Scotland has not been touched by their efforts so there is gap there if anyone wants to get their students writing about Scottish towns and villages.
The 21st century skills that a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK help develop include:
A critical Information Literacy
Academic writing & referencing
Writing for different audiences.
Community building / Online citizenship
“Students have said that simply knowing that an audience of editors existed was enough to change how they wrote. They chose words more carefully. They double-checked their work for accuracy and reliability. And they began to think about how best they could communicate their scholarship to readers who were as curious, conscientious, and committed as they were.” https://wikiedu.org/blog/2014/10/14/wikipedia-student-writing/
Wikipedia is not the end point of research. It is where you orientate yourself at the start.
Wikipedia does not want you to cite it either.
It is an encyclopaedia, a tertiary source made of articles which in turn cite from reliable published secondary sources. If you cite anything it should be these references that Wikipedia not Wikipedia itself.
The point is that everything on Wikipedia is out in the open, completely, ruthlessly transparent where every change is recorded in permanent links in the View History of the page so every edit can checked, challenged and corrected if need be.
Whether it is a news article, journal article or Wikipedia article – we should be evaluating what we read and deciding if the information is credible.
School and HEI libraries can help lead the way on this by providing students, staff & members of the public with guidance on taking an informed approach to using Wikipedia and other databases as our Academic Support Librarians do and by sharing the high-quality research and image collections you have in your repositories for the common good.
You have the artefacts and the expertise. Wikipedia has the online audience.
Why is this important?
Well because knowledge builds understanding and there is precious little of that in the world right now. And because search is the way we live now.
Google processed 91% of searches internationally and 97.4% of searches from mobile devices. (2011 figures in Hillis, Petit and Jarret, 2013).
Google has a “funnelling effect” – The sources clicked on are reduced to the 1st page of results 90% of the time. (Beel & Gipp, 2009)
With 42% click through on first choice alone.
So because Wikipedia pages are given a high ranking by Google’s algorithm, there is real agency to Wikipedia editing which our editors find inspiring that they can be a knowledge activist.
And it’s never been easier to contribute because of the Visual Editor – particularly citations which autogenerate (video) from a url, stable DOI codes, Pubmed IDs or ISBN numbers – and it’s never been harder to vandalise because of the increased checks & balances put in place by the Wikipedia community.
We also need to talk about the little fun things you can do to contribute open knowledge.
Contributing to Wikipedia doesn’t have to involve a heavy time component. You can use your phone to upload a pic on the Wikimedia Commons Android App in seconds. You can create timelines, you can nominate pages to be included on Wikipedia’s front page in the In the News section, Did You Know section or On this Day sections as we did when we nominated noted sociologist Mary Susan McIntosh to the front page (from not having a page about her at all – she suddenly had 7000 views in 1 day!)
Internet Archive’s – Fix Dead Links tool. (this has rescued over 2.7 million+ dead links on Wikipedia).
We need to talk about gaps in representation (English Wikipedia is by largest Wikipedia with 5.5. million articles but it has been estimated that it should have 104 million articles plus if it was coming anywhere close to representing the sum of all knowledge) and how incredibly motivating that has been for editors during the residency in helping to address these gaps. And we need to talk about the uneven spread of knowledge between different language Wikipedias and about how Wikipedia’s new Content Translation tool helps proficient bilingual and multilingual students share knowledge easily between languages.
Students on the Translation Studies MSc can achieve meaningful published practice before they enter the world of work. Over four semesters they have translated the best quality articles on Wikipedia (featured articles) into another language including:
Rōjinbi – A demonic flame that supposedly appears deep in the mountains on rainy nights was translated from Japanese to English.
and many many more.
We need to talk diversity and how WikiProject Women in Red is the 2nd most active project on Wikipedia (out of some 2000+ Wikiprojects), creating 1000-2000 new women role models for young and old alike every single month. Hosting Women in Red events – where we turn red-linked articles about notable women which don’t yet exist into blue clickable ones that do – helps meet the university’s commitment to Athena SWAN and there is interest keeping this going in ten disciplines for the next four years to inspire more women to enter STEM fields. (Read about the 19 women petitioners to the Chemical Society or the Eagle House suffragettes – there were hardly any pages on Wikipedia about these fabulous women until Women in Red editors sat down to write them).
We need to talk open access and how Strathclyde and Leeds libraries have identified their top research articles on Wikipedia and ensured they are have the open access link rather than the pay-walled link. And about how Wikipedia signals an article is open access with little coloured Open Access icons in the references to increase visibility and clickthrough.
e.g. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a travel guide, Edinburgh (1914).
This was a text recently uploaded to Wikisource from a djvu scan on the Internet Archive. The text was OCR-ed and proofread by two Wikisource users to ensure it was correct. Now it is 100% searchable HTML and the images have been cropped out so they can be shared individually as openly-licensed images on Wikimedia Commons.
As a result we now have:
The illustrated text described as “to the Scot it ought to be a sort of Bible” in 100% searchable HTML on Wikisource.
A new Wikipedia article created on the book with a link to these images and to the text on Wikisource. 1 click away!
A link to the text on Wikisource added to the Wikipedia page for Edinburgh so that the text is surfaced on a relevant page where people can discover it.
Don’t believe me about the 100% searchable HTML? Type “moist eyebrows” into the search bar on Wikisource and see if it can find where Stevenson uses it in one of his novels. Make sure you use the speech marks so it can find the exact phrase.
We definitelydefinitely need to talk about Wikidata and about creating the date literate workforce of the next ten years. The residency’s next big adventure.
Wikidata is Wikipedia’s exciting new sister project and it may just overtake Wikipedia in years to come as the dominant project – because it has two distinct advantages over Wikipedia in that it is information not just from Wikipedia but from other databases too (like Historic Environment Scotland) stored as machine readable linked open data with multilingual labels.
The implementation of Wikidata in the curriculum therefore presents a massive opportunity for educators, researchers and data scientists alike; not least in honouring the university’s commitment to the creating, curating & dissemination of open knowledge. A Wikidata assignment allows students to develop their understanding of, and engagement with, issues such as: data completeness; data ethics; digital provenance; data analysis; data processing; as well as making practical use of a raft of tools and data visualisations. By structuring the data in Wikidata it helps you to see any anomalies in the data. The fact that Wikidata is also linked open data means that students can help connect to & leverage from a variety of other datasets in multiple languages; helping to fuel discovery through exploring the direct and indirect relationships at play in this semantic web of knowledge. This real-world application of teaching and learning enables insights in a variety of disciplines; be it in open science, digital humanities, cultural heritage, open government and much more besides. Wikidata is also a community-driven project so this allows students to work collaboratively and develop the online citizenship skills necessary in today’s digital economy.
The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft – Wikidata in the Classroom
At the University of Edinburgh, we supported our first Wikidata in the Classroom assignment last semester on the Data Science for Design MSc course. At the course’s Data Fair on 26th October 2017, researchers from across the university presented the 45 masters students in Design Informatics with approximately 13 datasets to choose from to work on in groups of three. Happily, two groups were enthused to import the university’s Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database into Wikidata (the choice of database to propose was suggested by a colleague). This fabulous resource began life in the 1990s before being realised in 2001-2003. It had as its aim to collect, collate and record all known information about accused witches and witchcraft belief in early modern Scotland (from 1563 to 1736) in a Microsoft Access database and to create a web-based user interface for the database. Since 2003, the data has remained static in the Access database and so students at the 2018 Data Fair were invited to consider what could be done if the data were exported into Wikidata, given multilingual labels and linked to other datasets? Beyond this, what new insights & visualisations of the data could be achieved?
We now have 3219 items of data on the accused witches in Wikidata (Spanning 1563 to 1736). We also now have data on 2356 individuals involved in trying these accused witches. Finally we have 3210 witch trials themselves. This means we can link and enrich the data further by adding location data, dates, occupations, places of residence, social class, marriages, and penalties arising from the trial.
But we also need to talk about the ingrained revenue generation model too. If you examine the actually revenue brought in and costs associated with image sales from the beginning to end of the process and then add in how much you would normally expect to pay for the kind of marketing that Wikipedia offers for free and then add in that by sharing images to Commons that you can still retain a higher-resolution image for sale on your own site then the increased exposure, engagement and reputational gain from the move to open looks like a pretty good deal.
In terms of finding bodies to help you, there is a new Scotland Co-ordinator at Wikimedia UK, and a Wikipedia community ready, willing and able to help share your collections. There are staff at your institutions, digital champions, there are students, there are volunteers, friends of the library who if you said the word that you wanted to share your collections they would jump at the chance, I’m sure.
At the University of Edinburgh, we now have our own Equality Images intern opening up some of our image collections to make them more discoverable and usable with a focus on identifying role models, women in science, women in medicine, diverse groups and positive representations.
It has 120,000 regular contributors (of which only 3455 or so are considered ‘very active’ Wikipedians which means a village the size of Pitlochry is trying to curate the world’s knowledge).
500 million visitors per month
1.5 billion monthly unique devices
Trusted more than the BBC, ITV, the Times, the Telegraph, The Guardian and more according to Yougov survey (2014).
And in last week, where Youtube have arguably take billions of dollars of value from Wikipedia, the single greatest Open Education Resource the world has ever seen for granted, we need to think about what value we place in having Wikipedia as the largest referenced work on the internet; free, open, and dedicated to sharing verifiable open knowledge transparently.
Wikipedia doesn’t take itself for granted, and we shouldn’t either. While it is volunteer-built and 100% donated funded, it is too important to fail now so it has created an endowment now to ensure it exists in perpetuity.
In closing, I take Tim Berners-Lee’s view:
“We need to rethink our attitude to the internet. It is not enough just to keep the web open and free because we must also keep a track of what people are building on it.
Look at the systems that people are using, like the social networks and look at whether they are actually helping humanity.
In these terms, in terms of the internet we want to see and the digital landscape we want to help people navigate and engage with, I believe libraries have a huge role, the most important role to play, in supporting learners, in fuelling discovery, in driving engagement and in displaying the kind of leadership – local, national and international – in building a civic digital society we can be proud of.
10 Reasons to work with Wikimedia UK
Wikipedia is not the end point research, it is the beginning. It is a useful place to orientate yourself at the start of your research.
A recent study found 87.5% of students use Wikipedia for their academic work and found it “academically useful”. It is also a source of health care information for half to nearly three-quarters of physicians and more than 90 percent of medical students. (Anecdotally, reference librarians at the Mitchell Library also directed a customer to Wikipedia when asked where the best place to start finding out information about the Bermuda Triangle was).
Staff, students and members of the public 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?
Wikipedia is only ever as good as the editors who engage with it and gaps in the knowledge possesses occur because of this. So as a postscript, here are ten reasons to engage with Wikipedia:
Our attendees tell us the new Visual Editor is super easy to learn, fun and addictive.
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
I have been working as Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh for just over two years now (one year part-time and one year full-time) so now seems a good time to start the deep delving of reflecting back. (I’m also, it has to be said, contractually obliged to reflect back now I am undertaking my CMALT).
The importance of reflection in my role, or any role for that matter, is not lost on me… and not a new experience either. My background is in English and Media teaching at secondary school level and the yearly soul-searching and evidencing of continuous professional development is something other teachers will recognise. Teaching, it has to be said, can be a very solitary profession at times. Aside from tea and lunch breaks you often spend the lion’s share of your day working autonomously in your own classroom; reflecting on your work and intuitively planning to better meet the needs of your students. Like most teachers, I tried to lead by example, offering support, guidance, humour when needed, cajoling when needed, and generally trying to remove any barriers to learning. Like most teachers, I needed to train myself to remember all the good things achieved during each day rather than dwelling on the work still outstanding or the things that hadn’t worked out.
The volunteering I did in various archives too (University of Glasgow Archives, Glasgow School of Art Archives and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Archives) was solitary in nature a great deal of the time. I didn’t mind that. There was something immensely gratifying about the process of quietly sorting* through the archives, looking for buried treasures and helping to catalogue & write about them so others could learn about them. A world away from the noise of the classroom. Though I’ll confess that those moments when I felt I made a difference in the classroom and helped inspire a love of learning in others (not to mention the daily barrage of humour that was released on me) is something one can’t help but miss.
Teaching and volunteering in libraries/archives were two aspects of my life for a while; and I felt they complemented one another perfectly. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was that these aspects could be combined in one role working as the Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh.
The difference now is that I am no longer just a teacher. I learn justas much as I teach… which I love. Such is the fast-developing nature of the Wikimedia projects, there is always something new to learn and to share with others once mastered. Beyond this, after completing four courses of study in higher education, I was well versed in being a student but found I had a lot to learn about the inner workings of a university; especially one like the University of Edinburgh with some 35,000 students and 13,000 staff. Working to support the whole university across all the teaching colleges and support groups to see how the university could benefit from, and contribute to, the Wikimedia projects is a very new role; the first in the United Kingdom so I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to break new ground. I have never wavered in my belief that there are huge areas of crossover between universities and the Wikimedia projects and therefore huge opportunities to explore the untapped potential of collaborating with one another. This has been hugely exciting, hugely rewarding…. and, at times, more than a little daunting because there is so much that could and should be done. And in those few quiet moments when I have had my head too far buried in my laptop to see the wood for the trees and my inner Eeyore has taken over this can feel like another solitary role.
Only it hasn’t been. Not really.
And this, more than anything else, is why I believe that the residency is working.
Because I work in an incredibly supportive environment and learn everyday from the example of brilliant, inspiring women. Reflecting back, my two years at the University of Edinburgh has been characterised by, and shaped by, the fantastic female colleagues I work with. Even today at our International Women’s Day Wikipedia event to celebrate the lives and contributions of the suffragettes, I was struck by the absolute enthusiasm for editing Wikipedia by our all-female group of attendees. “This is soooo addictive.” was proclaimed multiple times this afternoon. Which is unfailingly awesome to hear as Wikipedia has (historically) been seen as the preserve of white techy males.
Not anymore. Not on the evidence of the last two years. Things are definitely changing for the better. Though there is still a way to go. #PressForProgress
So, I would like to pay tribute on International Women’s Day to the inspiring women that I feel honoured to work with and learn from. You’ve helped champion the work of the residency, of Wikimedia UK and the sharing of open knowledge. You’ve pointed me in the right direction (sometimes literally), provided advice, ideas, support, carved turnips, Periodic table cupcakes, guided me, forced me to take pictures of strip clubs for Wiki Loves Monuments, made me laugh, made me see things differently, challenged me to grow as a practitioner; and demonstrated just what it means to be dedicated & brilliant professional.
I am not normally one to pay compliments or give enough credit where credit is due as a general rule. A fault I know.
But in the dying moments of International Women’s Day I thought I could sneak this out.
I am endlessly grateful so I doff my hat to you all!
Melissa Highton – Twas bold to be first to host a university-wide Wiki residency. And Melissa has been never less than brilliantly supportive throughout.
Wikipedia: the internet’s favourite website for information
As Wikipedia celebrates its 17th birthday this month, we are once again asking our colleagues to help share some fact-checked knowledge to Wikipedia as part of the global #1Lib1Ref campaign (1 Librarian adding 1 Reference) and help assert that facts, not alternative facts, matter.
The campaign runs from January 15th to February 3rd 2018. Everyone is welcome to participate (it is a global open platform after all).
Wikipedia is already the 5th most visited website, the largest reference work on the internet and the single greatest open education resource in existence today. And that’s with only 120,000 regular contributors. Of whom, only around 3455 are considered ‘very active‘ Wikipedians.
That’s the population of a village like Pitlochry curating the world’s knowledge.
Imagine if the 13,000 staff and 36,000 at the University of Edinburgh all contributed a little of their time and expertise to improving the free encyclopedia.
Imagine if ALL universities contributed.
Imagine if ALL libraries contributed.
While Pitlochry is near the famous 18ft ‘Soldier’s Leap’ at Killiecrankie (worth a visit)#1Lib1Ref is your invitation to take a small step to find out how everyone can help improve Wikipedia. Simply add 1 citation to 1 fact on Wikipedia that has been tagged as needing verified with a ‘Citation Needed‘ tag between now and February 3rd 2018.
87.5% of students report using Wikipedia for their academic work.
Used by 90% of medical students and 50-75% of physicians.
It is the place people turn to orientate themselves on a topic.
Did Media Literacy backfire?
“Too many students I met were being told that Wikipedia was untrustworthy and were, instead, being encouraged to do research. As a result, the message that many had taken home was to turn to Google and use whatever came up first. They heard that Google was trustworthy and Wikipedia was not.” (Boyd, 2017)
“Search is the way we live now” – Google and Wikipedia
Google depends on Wikipedia. Click through rate decreases by 80% if Wikipedia links are removed.
Wikipedia depends on Google. 84.5% of visits to Wikipedia are attributable to Google.
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.
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 means that addressing knowledge gaps on Wikipedia will surface the knowledge to Google’s top ten results and increase clickthrough and knowledge-sharing. Wikipedia editing can therefore be seen as a form of activism in the democratisation of access to information.
Did you know that you can nominate Wikipedia pages to be included on Wikipedia’s front page (viewed 25 million times a day on average)? We did just that for the noted sociologist Mary Susan McIntosh‘s Wikipedia page which was created for International Women’s Day in March 2017. From not having a Wikipedia page at all to 7000 views in 1 single day.
The University of Edinburgh are looking to support the development of a data-literate workforce over the next ten years to support Scotland’s growing digital economy. This therefore represents a huge opportunity for educators, researchers and data scientists to support students in this aim. The first Wikidata in the Classroom assignment at the university is taking place this semester on the Data Science for Design MSc course and two groups of students are working on a project to import the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database into Wikidata to see what possibilities surfacing this data as structured linked open data can achieve.
“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)
”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)
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 student, this glut makes it near impossible to find ‘truth in the numbers’. Therefore there are huge areas of convergence in developing information & data literacy in the next generation and developing Wikidata as a linked hub of verifiable data; fueling discovery and surfacing open knowledge through Google’s Knowledge Graph but, importantly, providing the digital provenance so it can be checked.
Meeting the information & data literacy needs of our students
The implementation of Wikidata in the curriculum therefore presents a massive opportunity for educators, researchers and data scientists alike; not least in honouring the university’s commitment to the creating, curating & dissemination of open knowledge. A Wikidata assignment allows students to develop their understanding of, and engagement with, issues such as: data completeness; data ethics; digital provenance; data analysis; data processing; as well as making practical use of a raft of tools and data visualisations. The fact that Wikidata is also linked open data means that students can help connect to & leverage from a variety of other datasets in multiple languages; helping to fuel discovery through exploring the direct and indirect relationships at play in this semantic web of knowledge. This real-world application of teaching and learning enables insights in a variety of disciplines; be it in open science, digital humanities, cultural heritage, open government and much more besides. Wikidata is also a community-driven project so this allows students to work collaboratively and develop the online citizenship skills necessary in today’s digital economy.
Data Science for Design MSc – Importing the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database into Wikidata
At the University of Edinburgh, we have begun our first Wikidata in the Classroom assignment this semester on the Data Science for Design MSc course. At the course’s Data Fair on 26th October 2017, researchers from across the university presented the 45 masters students in Design Informatics with approximately 13 datasets to choose from to work on in groups of three. Happily, two groups were enthused to import the university’s Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database into Wikidata (the choice of database to propose was suggested by a colleague). This fabulous resource began life in the 1990s before being realised in 2001-2003. It had as its aim to collect, collate and record all known information about accused witches and witchcraft belief in early modern Scotland (from 1563 to 1736) in a Microsoft Access database and to create a web-based user interface for the database. Since 2003, the data has remained static in the Access database and so students at the 2018 Data Fair were invited to consider what could be done if the data were exported into Wikidata, given multilingual labels and linked to other datasets? Beyond this, what new insights & visualisations of the data could be achieved?
A similar methodology to managing Wikipedia assignments was employed; making the transition from managing a Wikipedia assignment to managing a Wikidata assignment an easy one. The two groups of students underwent a 1.5 hour practical induction on working with Wikidata and third party applications such as Histropedia, the timeline of everything, before being introduced to the Access database. They then discussed collaboratively how best to divide the task of analysing and exporting the data before deciding one group would work on (1) importing records for the 3,212 accused witches while the other group would work on (2) the import of the witch trial records and (3) the people associated with these trials (lairds, judges, ministers, prosecutors, witnesses etc).
At this current juncture, the groups have researched and now submitted their data models for review. Now the proposed data model has been checked and agreed upon, the students are ready to process the data from the Access database into a format Wikidata can import (making use of the Wikidata plug-in on Google Spreadsheets). Once this stage is complete, the students can then choose how to visualise the linked data in a number of ways; such as maps, timelines, graphs, bubble charts and more. The students are to complete their project by presenting their insights and data visualisations in an engaging way of their choice on the 30th of November 2017.
The power of linked open data to share knowledge between different institutions, between geographically and culturally separated societies, and between languages is a beautiful thing. Here’s to many more Wikidata in the Classroom assignments.
The collaboration with the School of Chemistry this year came about because it was suggested I should meet Dr. Michael Seery, Reader in Chemistry Education, on a completely different subject; his work with digital badges. During the tail end of the conversation, Michael expressed a certain scepticism about Wikipedia being used in academic contexts and I took the opportunity (and great delight) in proving him wrong… or at least in providing him with what I saw as a more informed approach to Wikipedia’s role in the creation, curation and dissemination of knowledge globally.
I can’t be sure what it was during that brief exchange that prompted Michael to start his own investigations yet investigate he did. And it resulted in his epic Twitter rant and this blog post re-appraising Wikipedia’s role in chemistry education*.
After our meeting and discussions, it was as a process of writing his first Wikipedia article on the English chemist Mildred May Gostling, and seeing the work involved, that he began to move “closer to the light“. (His words not mine). The fact that Michael was able to move from sceptic to activist and teach himself how to create such a page within the space of an evening should evidence how much easier editing Wikipedia has become in the last 2-3 years with the new Visual Editor interface making it possible to pick up the basics of Wikipedia editing in as little as 25 minutes.
*NB: Before I get carried away and completely misrepresent Michael, this was no Road to Damascus volte-face on his part. I prefer to think of it as a rational educator responding to rational arguments; making connections between the work he does and the work of the Wikimedia community. For the record, a certain amount of (healthy) scepticism is fine. An unhealthy quasi-prejudiced scepticism is a whole other kettle of fish. In any case, I’ll always make the case that an informed approach to engaging with Wikipedia trumps pretending it doesn’t exist each and every time.
It was Michael who brought the Letter of 19 to my attention. I confess I had not heard of the nineteen British women chemists who petitioned the Chemical Society in 1904 to afford women the same basic rights of Fellowship as their male counterparts. Shamefully, only a handful of the nineteen were represented on Wikipedia this Summer, the world’s number one information site. Hence, if providing more Women in STEM role models helps show that STEM careers are not just viable but something to be emulated then ensuring these fabulously notable women & their achievements were represented on Wikipedia had to be the #1 focus for our editing event for Ada Lovelace Day. (And it didn’t hurt that one of the 19, Ida Freund, had invented the Periodic Table of cupcakes as a teaching tool… which over a hundred years later would help inspire & fuel our editors while they worked).
Happily, as a result of last week’s cupcake-fuelled editathon event, ALL nineteen of the signatories to the petition are now represented on Wikipedia. In addition, we also now have a brand new article about the 1904 petition itself where you can access all of the nineteen biographies.
Wikipedia is a concept that shouldn’t work when you think about it.
A free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit, crowd-sourced from volunteers. Yet work it does, miraculously so. It’s always been predicated on the notion that more people want to good than harm. And this is borne out by my own experience of editors and, perhaps more importantly, by research which found that only 7% of edits can be considered vandalism; meaning 93% is well-intentioned.
The 5th most popular website in the world receives 17 billion pageviews a month and 7,000 new articles are created each day. A recent article by WikiProject Medicine(recommended reading) found that Wikipedia is a source of health information for half to nearly three-quarters of physicians and more than 90% of medical students. It is also estimated to be 1,500 times more cost-effective than traditional ways of spreading information such as presenting at academic conferences. With recent analysis showing that people spend more time on Wikipedia’s mobile site than any other news or information site, issues of inaccuracy or under-representation matter.
But they can only be solved by greater engagement. Of the 80,000 regular contributors to Wikipedia, only 3,000 are considered ‘very active’ – meaning a community the size of the village of Kinghorn in Fife is often left to curate the world’s knowledge. Having more eyes on articles improves those articles immeasurably. That’s why it is so important to address areas of under-representation, to involve subject specialists, and to share the (often pay-walled) knowledge universities possess. Only then can Wikipedia begin to get anywhere close to truly being the sum of all human knowledge.
And people do respond to this call-to-arms. Correcting systemic bias and areas of under-representation has motivated many to help create and improve articles since the Edinburgh residency began in January 2016. I am convinced it also motivated Michael Seery to contribute and his advocacy, in turn, helped bring in many others within the School of Chemistry.
More generally, the lack of female Wikipedia editors is a clear & ongoing concern – with numbers routinely under 15% this skews the content on Wikipedia in much the same way. Two years ago, the number of biographies on Wikipedia about notable women was roughly 15% too. Thankfully, there are editors all around the world determined to address this. WikiProject Women in Red is the second most active WikiProject on Wikipedia (out of some 2000+ WikiProjects) and its editors are motivated to turn red-linked articles about notable women which don’t yet exist into blue clickable links which do. As such they have been hugely successful in helping correct this systemic bias and the number of female biographies has shifted; currently standing at 17.12%. So moving in the right direction but still a long way to go to achieving gender parity.
Issues of fairness and representation are felt keenly. Changing the way stories are told matters. That’s why it is so amazing to see people engage with Wikipedia; to see articles like the 1904 petition be created; to see new role models be uncovered and (hopefully) inspire new generations. 65% of our editathon attendees last year were women and, while I haven’t totted up the latest figures, I can tell you that this trend has not changed one iota this year.
“Hello, this isn’t a very Wikipedian comment but I just wanted to thank you personally for creating an entry for my motherAnn Katharine Mitchell. She is in residential care with Alzheimers, serene and contented, and largely lives in the past. She was told recently that she had a Wikipedia entry and was flattered and delighted to see it (I’ve now made some revisions). It isn’t the purpose of your editing to give the subjects pleasure, of course, but thanks for doing so!”
Michael himself created articles for two of the 19 including the British chemist, Margaret Seward. This article was first drafted by a participant (User:ActuallyDutch14) at a Royal Society of Chemistry event this Summer but, as sometimes happens, never finished. After writing the 1904 petition article, Michael simply took the half-finished article on Margaret Seward and helped complete it using information provided in an excellent source identified by Alice White, Wikimedian in Residence at the Wellcome Library, and ordered into the University of Edinburgh’s Murray Library by Rowena Stewart, Academic Support Librarian: ‘Chemistry was Their Life: Pioneer British Women Chemists, 1880–1949’ by Marelene Rayner-Canham and Geoff Rayner-Canham.
To do my bit, I reached out to the various universities these 19 brilliant women chemists were working at around the turn of the century including: Royal Holloway College; Bangor University; Bristol University; University of Manchester; Girton College and Newnham College in Cambridge; the University of Zurich; University College London; and Somerville College in Oxford. So far, I have been extremely impressed by the responses I have received in helping illustrate these new pages with images provided from their archives.
We already have a picture supplied by Royal Holloway Archives of Mildred May Gostling’s study and Royal Holloway are also looking to provide the group image of Elizabeth Eleanor Field at the School of Chemistry (below). Somerville College in Oxford have today provided a first class image of Margaret Seward taken in 1885 when she must have been 21 years old. Wikipedia articles with images are at least 20-30% more likely to be read but somehow an image on a biography article, like Seward’s, can also make that person come to life and seem that little bit more real.
Many institutions will often try to sell such images in their collections as revenue generation is such an ingrained, and persuasive, model. Yet it is not the only model and it is not only reason to share images. Sharing images, even low resolution images, for the rest of the world to engage and learn about a person or subject is, more often than not, hugely rewarding in of itself. Especially with the global reach that Wikipedia delivers.
Looking at the newly uploaded picture of Margaret Seward generously shared on her Wikipedia page, which itself didn’t exist until a week ago, and thinking of all the people involved in the article’s creation who gave of themselves to tell her story over a hundred years later, it really does make me marvel both at Margaret’s life & achievements AND the kindness of strangers in bringing her story to the world’s attention.
I recently wrote 3 articles of the 19 petitioners and was struck both by my increasingly difficulty to find sources and by the following passage from ‘Chemistry was their life’:
“Of the early women research workers in traditional areas of chemistry the three most productive in the period before 1905 were Aston and Micklethwait at University College, London, and Fortey at University College, Bristol. None of these, or indeed any of the slightly later and notably productive women chemists such as Marsden, Renouf, Alice Emily Smith or Isaac, produced a substantial body of independent work. Most of their publications are joint with eminent male co-authors, and almost the only records of their research careers are those co-authored papers in the technical journals. They appear, therefore, in the role of assistants rather than partners. Micklethwait, the most outstanding in terms of number of co-authored publications, was described by her obituarist as being ‘of a modest and retiring disposition’, which ‘was reflected in her preference for working in collaboration rather than striking out on lines of her own’.
Their records of joint publications would seem to suggest that, generally speaking compared with the women biochemists, most of the women researchers in established areas of chemistry were of a similar ‘modest and retiring disposition’ – a curious coincidence….
Both Freund and Thomas, two other life-long professional academics in traditional areas chemistry, are remembered as teachers rather than as researchers: Thomas’s original work was all collaborative, and Freund’s most important publication was her classic textbook. Thus, for the most part, British women of this period who were interested in doing research in the chemical sciences at anything beyond the assistant level generally found their opportunities in areas other than the established branches of the field. A similar pattern has been noted in the careers of American women chemists of the turn of the century…
The difficulties encountered by women chemists in establishing themselves as independent workers and being recognized as such are emphasized further by comparisons with fields other than biochemistry. In geology, for instance, a discipline in which in Britain during the late nineteenth century there were less than half as many women active in research as in chemistry, several women made major independent contributions, which were recognized by the Geological Society by the award of notable honours (not-withstanding the fact that women were not accepted as Fellows of the Society until 1919).
…..It is also the case that of these seven prominent women scientists only four held salaried positions…. Ogilvie Gordon, Donald and Sargant were independent research workers, living on family funds in a manner more typical of the ‘amateur’ male scientists of an earlier era, and not competing for salaried positions despite life-long commitments to first class scientific work.
Despite professional recognition by their peers and notable honours, these scientists, the ablest of the women researchers in their fields, were on the very margins of the scientific community as far as consideration for such positions was concerned. Nevertheless, they and the women biochemists whose careers are outlined above did achieve success as independent researchers. Corresponding success and recognition by the established chemical community for women in traditional areas of chemistry is hard to find.”
The context in which these women made these achievements makes them all the more remarkable.
With about 17 billion page views every month, it’s safe to say that most of us have heard of Wikipedia and maybe even use it on a regular basis. However, most people don’t realise that Wikipedia is the tip of the iceberg. Its sister sites include a media library (Wikimedia Commons), a database (Wikidata), a library of public domain texts (Wikisource), and even a dictionary (Wiktionary) – along with many others, these form the Wikimedia websites.
While the content is all crowd-sourced, the Wikimedia Foundation in the US maintains the hardware and software the websites run on. Wikimedia UK is one of dozens of sister organisations around the globe who support the mission of the Wikimedia websites to share the world’s knowledge.
Today, Wikipedia is the number one information site in the world, visited by 500 million visitors a month; the place that students and staff consult for pre-research on a topic. And considered, according to a 2014 Yougov survey, to be trusted more than the Guardian, BBC, Telegraph and Times. Perhaps because its commitment to transparency is an implicit promise of trust to its users where everything on it can be checked, challenged and corrected.
Wikimedia at an ancient university
The Edinburgh residency
In January 2016, the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK partnered to host a Wikimedian in Residence for twelve months. This residency marks something of a paradigm shift as the first in the UK in supporting the whole university as part of its commitment to skills development and open knowledge.
Background to the residency
The University of Edinburgh held its first editathon – a workshop where people learn how to edit Wikipedia and start writing – during the university’s midterm Innovative Learning Week in February 2015. Ally Crockford (Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland) and Sara Thomas (Wikimedian in Residence at Museums & Galleries Scotland) came to help deliver the ‘Women, Science and Scottish History’ editathon series which celebrated the Edinburgh Seven; the first group of matriculated undergraduate female students at any British university.
“The striking thing for me was how quickly colleagues within the University took to the idea and began supporting each other in developing their skills and sharing knowledge amongst a multi-professional group. This inspired me to commission some academic research to look at the connections and networking amongst the participants and to explore whether editathons were a good investment in developing workplace digital skills.”– Melissa Highton – Assistant Principal for Online Learning.
This research, conducted by Professor Allison Littlejohn, found that there was clear evidence of informal & formal learning going on. Further, that “all respondents reported that the editathon had a positive influence on their professional role. They were keen to integrate what they learned into their work in some capacity and believed participation had increased their professional capabilities.”
Since successfully making case for hosting a Wikimedian in Residence, the residency’s remit has been to advocate for knowledge exchange and deliver training events & workshops across the university which further both the quantity & quality of open knowledge and the university’s commitment to embedding information literacy & digital literacy in the curriculum.
Wikimedia UK and the University of Edinburgh – shared missions
Edinburgh was the first university to be founded with a ‘civic’ mission; created not by the church but by the citizens of Edinburgh for the citizens of Edinburgh in 1583. The mission of the university of Edinburgh is “the creation, curation & dissemination of knowledge”. Founded a good deal later, Wikipedia began on January 15th 2001; the free encyclopaedia is now the largest & most popular reference work on the internet.
Wikimedia’s vision is “imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge”. It is 100% funded by donations and is the only non-profit website in the top ten most popular sites.
Addressing the knowledge gap
While Wikipedia is the free encyclopaedia that anyone can edit, not everyone does. Of the 80,000 or so monthly contributors to Wikipedia, only around 3000 are termed very active Wikipedians; meaning the world’s knowledge is often left to be curated by a population the size of a village (roughly the size of Kinghorn in Fife… or half of North Berwick). While 5.4 million articles in English Wikipedia is the largest of the 295 active language Wikipedias, it is estimated that there would need to be at least 104 million articles on English Wikipedia alone to cover all the notable subjects in the world. That means as of last month, English Wikipedia is missing approximately 99 million articles.
Less than 15% of women edit Wikipedia and this skews the content in much the same way with only 17.1% of biographies about notable women. The University of Edinburgh has a commitment to equality and diversity and our Wikimedia residency therefore has a particular emphasis on open practice and engaging colleagues in discussing why some areas of open practice do have a clear gender imbalance. In this way many of our Wikipedia events focused on addressing the gender gap as part of the university’s commitment to Athena Swan; creating new role models for young and old alike. Role models like Janet Anne Galloway, advocate for higher education for women in Scotland, Helen Archdale (journalist and suffragette), Mary Susan McIntosh (sociologist and LGBT campaigner) among many many more.
That’s why it is enormously pleasing that over the whole year, 65% of attendees at our events were female.
The residency has, 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.
Inviting staff & students from all different backgrounds and disciplines to contribute their time and expertise to the creation & improvement of Wikipedia articles in a number of events has worked well and engendered opportunities for collaborations and knowledge exchange across the university, with other institutions across the UK; and across Europe in the case of colleagues from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine working with research partner labs.
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. Contributing to Wikipedia can also help demonstrate research impact as there is a lot of work going on to ensure that Wikipedia citations to scholarly works use the DOI. The reason being that Wikipedia is already the fifth largest referrer of traffic through the DOI resolver and this is thought to be an underestimate of its true position.
Not just Wikipedia
Introducing staff and students to the work of the Wikimedia Foundation and the other 11 projects has been a key part of the residency with a Wikidata & Wikisource Showcase held during Repository Fringe in August 2016 which has resulted in some out-of-copyright PhD theses being uploaded to Wikisource, and linked to from Wikipedia, just one click away.
Wikisource is a free digital library which hosts out-of-copyright texts including: novels, short stories, plays, poems, songs, letters, travel writing, non-fiction texts, speeches, news articles, constitutional documents, court rulings, obituaries, and much more besides. The result is an online text library which is free to anyone to read with the added benefits that the text is quality assured, searchable and downloadable.
Wikidata is our most exciting project with many predicting it will overtake Wikipedia in years to come as the dominant project. A free linked database of machine-readable knowledge, Wikidata acts as central storage for the structured data of all 295 different language Wikipedias and all the other Wikimedia sister projects.
“How can you trust Wikipedia when anyone can edit it?”
This is the main charge levelled against involvement with Wikipedia and the residency has been making the case for re-evaluating Wikipedia and for engendering a greater critical information literacy in staff & students. 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 published secondary sources. In this way it is reframing itself as the ‘front matter to all research.’
Wikipedia has clear policy guidelines to help ensure its integrity.
Verifiability – every single statement on Wikipedia needs to be backed up with a citation from a reliable published secondary source. So an implicit promise is made to our users that you can go on there and check, challenge and correct the verifiability of any statement made on Wikipedia.
No original research – while knowledge is created everyday, until it is published by a reliable secondary source, it should not be on Wikipedia. The presence of editorial oversight is a key consideration in source evaluation therefore, however well-researched, someone’s personal interpretation is not to be included.
Neutral point of view – many subjects on Wikipedia are controversial so can we find common truth in fact? The rule of thumb is you can cover controversy but don’t engage in it. Wikipedians therefore present the facts as they exist.
Automated programmes (bots) patrol Wikipedia and can revert unhelpful edits & copyright violations within minutes. The edit history of a page is detailed such that it is very easy to revert a page to its last good state and block IP addresses of users who break the rules.
“What underlies Wikipedia, at its very heart, is this fundamental idea that more people want to good than harm, more people want to create knowledge than destroy, more people want to share than contain. At its core Wikipedia is about human generosity.” – Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation in December 2016.
This idea that more people want to good than harm has also been borne out by researchers who found that only seven percent of edits could be considered vandalism.
Wikipedia in the Classroom
Developing information literacy, online citizenship and digital research skills.
The residency has met with a great many course leaders across the entire university and the interactions have all been extremely fruitful in terms of understanding what each side needs to ensure a successful assignment and lowering the threshold for engagement.
Translation Studies MSc students have completed the translation of a Wikipedia article of at least 4000 words into a different language Wikipedia last semester and are to repeat the assignment this semester. This time asking students to translate in the reverse direction from last semester so that the knowledge shared is truly a two-way exchange.
World Christianity MSc students undertook an 11-week Wikipedia assignment as part of the ‘Selected Themes in the Study of World Christianity’ class. This core course offers candidates the opportunity to study in depth Christian history, thought and practice in and from Africa, Asia and Latin America. The assignment comprised of writing a new article, following a literature review, on a World Christianity term hitherto unrepresented on Wikipedia.
“When you hand in an essay the only people that generally read it are you and your lecturer. And then once they both read it, it kind of disappears and you don’t look at it again. No one really benefits from it. With a Wikipedia assignment, other people contribute to it, you put it out there for everyone to read, you can keep coming back to it, keep adding to it, other people can do as well. It becomes more of a community project that everyone can read and access. I really enjoyed it.” – Nuam Hatzaw, World Christianity MSc student.
Reproductive Biology Honours students in September 2015 researched, synthesised and developed a first-rate Wikipedia entry of a previously unpublished reproductive medicine term: neuroangiogenesis. The following September, the next iteration was more ambitious. All thirty-eight students were trained to edit Wikipedia and worked collaboratively in groups to research and produce the finished written articles. The assignment developed the students’ research skills, information literacy, digital literacy, collaborative working, academic writing & referencing.
One particular deadly form of ovarian cancer, High grade serous carcinoma, was unrepresented on Wikipedia and Reproductive Biology student Áine Kavanagh took great care to thoroughly research and write the article to address this; even developing her own openly-licensed diagrams to help illustrate the article. Her scholarship has now been viewed over sixteen thousand times adding an important source of health information to the global Open Knowledge community.
“It was a really good exercise in scientific writing and writing for a lay audience.As a student it’s a really good opportunity. It’s a really motivating thing to be able to do; to relay the knowledge you’ve learnt in lectures and exams, which hasn’t really been relevant outside of lectures and exams, but to see how it’s relevant to the real world and to see how you can contribute.” –ÁineKavanagh.
Following a successful multidisciplinary approach, including students and staff all collaborating in the co-creation & sharing of knowledge, the residency has been extended into a third year until January 2019. Twenty members of staff have also now been trained to provide Wikipedia training and advice to colleagues to help with the sustainability of the partnership in tandem with support from Wikimedia UK.
While also ensuring Wikipedia editing is both embedded in regular digital skills workshops, demystifying how to begin editing Wikipedia has been a core focus of the residency, utilising Wikipedia’s new easy-to-use Visual Editor interface. Over two hundred videos and video tutorials, lesson plans, case studies, booklets and handouts have been created & curated in order to lower the threshold for staff and students to be able to engage with the Wikimedia projects in the years ahead.
The way ahead
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. Since that article, the advent of ‘Fake News’ has engendered discussions around how best to equip students with a critical information literacy. For Wikipedia editors this is nothing new as they have been combatting fake news for years and source evaluation is one of the Wikipedian’s core skills.
In fact, there is increasing synchronicity in that the skills and experiences that universities and PISA are articulating they want to see students endowed with are ones that Wikipedia assignments help develop. The assignments we have run this year have all demonstrated this and are to be repeated as a result. The case for Wikipedia playing a vital role in formal education settings has never been stronger.
Is now the time for Wikipedia to come of age?
If not now, then when?
Postscript: All three assignments from 2016/2017 are continuing in 2017/2018 because of the positive feedback from staff and students alike.
These are being augmented with collaborations with:
two student societies; the History Society for Black History Month and the Translation Society on a Wikipedia project to give their student members much-needed published translation practice.
Library and University Collections to add source metadata from 27,000 records in the Edinburgh Research Archive to Wikidata and 20+ digitised theses to Wikisource
a further three in-curriculum collaborations in Digital Sociology MSc, Global Health and Anthropology MSc and Data Science for Design MSc.
the Fruitmarket Gallery and the university’s Centre for Design Informatics for a Scottish Contemporary Artists editathon.
A Litlong editathon as part of the AHRC ‘Being Human’ festival.
The School of Chemistry for Ada Lovelace Day to celebrate women in STEM.
the University Chaplaincy to mark the International Storytelling Festival.
Teeside University to run a ‘Regeneration’ themed editathon.
As we have shown, there are huge areas of convergence between the Wikimedia projects and higher education. The Edinburgh residency has demonstrated that collaborations between universities and Wikimedia are mutually beneficial and that Wikipedia plays a vitally important role in the development of information literacy, digital research skills and the dissemination of academic knowledge for the common good.
That all begins with engaging in the conversation. Building an informed understanding of the Wikimedia projects and the huge opportunities that working together create.
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?