Tag: Digital Literacy

JISC case study – Wikimedia in the curriculum

Addressing the challenges of digital and information literacy, digital scholarship and open knowledge at the University of Edinburgh

Summary

The University of Edinburgh is the first university in the UK to appoint a university-wide Wikimedian in Residence as part of its institutional strategy to develop information and digital literacy skills for staff and students, and contribute to the creation and dissemination of open knowledge.

The role of the Wikimedian in Residence is to work with course teams and students across the University, to demonstrate how learning to contribute to Wikipedia can enhance staff and students’ understanding of how knowledge is constructed, curated and contested online. Editing Wikipedia also provides valuable opportunities for students to develop their digital research and communication skills, and enables them to make a lasting contribution to the global pool of open knowledge.

The residency also focuses on redressing the gender balance of Wikipedia articles and has been hugely successful in encouraging more women to become Wikipedia editors.

A growing number of courses at undergraduate and Masters level have successfully incorporated Wikipedia editing activities in the curriculum, and student societies have also developed their own Wikipedia projects.  The University is also engaging with Wikipedia’s newest sister project, Wikidata, in the context of the growing importance of data literacy and open data initiatives.

A number of other UK universities are learning from the Edinburgh experience, and are developing their own projects with Wikimedia UK, the UK chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation.

A strategy for digital and information literacy

Wikimedia UK is the UK chapter of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, which supports a range of open knowledge projects, of which Wikipedia is the best known. Wikimedia UK fosters engagement with these projects through the placement of Wikimedians in Residence within institutions in the education and cultural sectors.

Having seen the potential of the Wikimedian in Residence model, Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh, identified how such a placement could help improve information literacy and digital skills at the University.

An initial Wikipedia editathon, a facilitated event that brings people together to edit the encyclopaedia, was held at the University in 2015, on the topic of women, science and Scottish history.  This editathon was independently evaluated by Professor Alison Littlejohn of the Open University, in order to establish its impact and explore the value of collaboration with Wikimedia UK. Professor Littlejohn found that both formal and informal learning and knowledge creation took place at the editathon.  In two research papers,[i],[ii]she analysed the formation of networks of practice and social capital through participation in editathons, with sufficient momentum generated to sustain engagement after the event itself, and participants valuing it as an important part of their professional development. She also found that, in becoming an active Wikipedia editor, participants engaged in important discussions about how knowledge is created, curated and contested online, and the positive impact that Wikipedia can have in sharing knowledge and addressing knowledge gaps.

As a research-based institution, this evidence of the benefits of engaging with Wikipedia helped to make the business case for integrating Wikipedia editing as part of the University of Edinburgh’s information literacy and digital skills strategy. The following year, the University appointed a new Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew. This was the first residency in the UK with a remit to work right across a university, rather than within a specific area such as a library. Based in the Digital Skills team within the University’s Information Services Group, the Wikimedian in Residence provides a centrally supported service accessible to all staff across the institution. Initially a one-year, part-time appointment, the residency focused on helping colleagues to make connections between their teaching and research and the Wikimedia projects, in order to explore areas of mutual benefit. As a result of the positive response to this service, the Wikimedian in Residence has since become a full-time permanent post.

In addition to providing educational opportunities, the residency supports a number of key institutional missions, including open knowledge and open science; the Scottish Government initiative on creating a data literate workforce; commitments on gender equality including the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women’s Academic Network) charter; and public and community engagement. The residency provides opportunities for the University to expand its civic mission, through new forms of collaboration with city-wide and Scottish national bodies.  

The University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK – shared missions.

Wikimedia in the Curriculum

Wikipedia is integrated into the curriculum at the University of Edinburgh by engaging students in the creation of original Wikipedia articles, on topics that are not currently covered by the encyclopaedia. These included articles of particular relevance to Scotland, e.g. Scottish women in STEM, often created in collaboration with local external partners, and those of more general interest. Students are provided with training on how to edit Wikipedia and how to undertake relevant research, enabling them to write informed articles that are fully and accurately referenced. Writing articles that will be publicly accessible and live on after the end of their assignment has proved to be highly motivating for students, and provides an incentive for them to think more deeply about their research. It encourages them to ensure they are synthesising all the reliable information available, and to think about how they can communicate their scholarship to a general audience. Students can see that their contribution will benefit the huge audience that consults Wikipedia, plugging gaps in coverage, and bringing to light hidden histories, significant figures, and important concepts and ideas. This makes for a valuable and inspiring teaching and learning experience, that enhances the digital literacy, research and communication skills of both staff and students.

Wikimedia curriculum assignments supported by the Wikimedian in Residence have now been incorporated into a number of different disciplines including:

  • Reproductive Biology Honours
  • Translation Studies MSc
  • World Christianity MSc
  • Online History MSc
  • Data Science for Design MSc
  • Global Health Masters courses
  • Intellectual Humility MOOC
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice.

Discussions are also underway to incorporate Wikipedia editing into the curriculum for postgraduate and undergraduate students at the School of Law, and into Masters courses in Digital Society, Psychology in Action, and Digital Education.

Supporting Equality and Diversity

Another significant remit of the University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedia residency has been to support the institution’s commitment to Athena SWAN.  Many of the editathons facilitated by the Wikimedian in Residence focus on addressing the under-representation of women on Wikipedia and encouraging more women to become editors.  A 2011 survey[3]showed that around 90% of English language Wikipedia editors were male.  Since then Wikimedia has made a concerted effort to improve the gender diversity of its community, however women editors are still a minority. In contrast, 69% of participants at University of Edinburgh editathons are women.

These events also help to address the fact that only 17.73% of English Wikipedia biographies are about notable women[4]. To help combat this systemic bias, a range of editathons have focused on women in science and Scottish history, history of medicine, history of veterinary medicine, history of nursing, women in espionage, women and religion, art and feminism, women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), reproductive biology, Gothic literature, and celebrations of Ada Lovelace Day.

Promoting Data Literacy with Wikidata

In line with new open data initiatives supported by government and research councils, there has been growing interest in working other Wikimedia projects such as Wikibooks and Wikidata. The University of Edinburgh has recently been awarded additional public funding to lead the development of a data-literate workforce of the future over the next ten years, equipping them with the data skills necessary to meet the needs of Scotland’s growing digital economy, and helping the city of Edinburgh to become an international centre for data-driven innovation. In order to support this initiative, the University has been exploring the introduction of Wikidata activities in the curriculum.

This provides students with an opportunity to:

  • Engage with issues of data completeness, data processing and analysis, and data ethics.
  • Learn to make practical use of a large range of tools and data visualisation techniques.
  • Work with linked open data on the semantic web, across disciplines ranging from science to digital humanities and cultural heritage.

Initial curriculum activities have focused on converting existing datasets from the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft (1563–1736) database into structured, machine-readable open data and adding it to Wikidata.  This data is then enriched by linking it with other complementary datasets in Wikidata to help build up a semantic open web of knowledge.

Student reaction: formal and informal learning

“It’s a really good exercise in critical thinking … It’s a motivating thing to do to use the knowledge you’ve learnt, to see how it is relevant to the real world and to contribute … Knowing people are finding the article useful is really gratifying.” – University of Edinburgh Reproductive Biology student, Áine Kavanagh, reflecting on a Wikipedia editing exercise

Wikipedia belongs in education.

 

The vast majority of students have reacted extremely positively to engaging with Wikimedia, seeing it as enjoyable and with the added reward of contributing to the common good. Most students quickly become technically adept at using the new Wikipedia Visual Editor interface, which they described as making editing ‘super easy’, ‘fun’, ‘really intuitive’ and ‘addictive as hell’.  A few felt that Wikipedia editing wasn’t for them, but they too benefited from greater understanding of how knowledge is constructed online, and are now well placed to make informed choices about whether or not to actively contribute to its creation in the future.

Reproductive Biology students who took part in an assignment writing Wikipedia articles for previously unpublished medical terms found it provided valuable training in communicating scientific ideas to a lay audience, something they will have to do in their professional careers. One student wrote an article on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most serious and deadly forms of ovarian cancer; this addressed a significant knowledge gap on the encyclopaedia using high-quality scholarly research communicated in non-specialist terms. The high-grade serous carcinoma article, which has now been viewed over 50,000 times, represents a perceptible and lasting contribution to the common good. At the same time, the article has contributed to the student’s professional development, and become a source of lasting satisfaction for them.

The Wikimedia residency has also had a significant impact on students outwith the curriculum. Several student societies, including History, Women in STEM, Law and Technology, Translation, and International Development, have seen the potential for Wikipedia editing to enhance their activities, and have approached the Wikimedian in Residence for help, support and training.  The student History Society held an editathon as part of its programme of activities for Black History Month, adding entries for notable black women not previously represented on Wikipedia.  A key motivator for History Society students was contributing to public understanding of history by improving the coverage of under-represented areas such as social history, women’s history, the history of people of colour, and queer history.

Meanwhile the Law and Technology Society ran a Wikipedia editathon focused on improving coverage of technology law and intellectual property rights. The success of this editathon led to discussions with course leaders at the School of Law, initiated by students themselves, about including Wikipedia editing in the course curriculum as a collaborative exercise involving undergraduate and postgraduate students researching and editing topics related to Scottish law for a lay audience.

Digital skills development

Digital skills that the collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK has helped to develop include:

  • Critical information literacy
  • Digital literacy
  • Academic writing and referencing
  • Critical thinking
  • Literature review
  • Writing for different audiences
  • Research skills
  • Communication skills
  • Community building
  • Online citizenship
  • Collaboration

Course leaders experience

Course leaders who have engaged with the University’s Wikipedia in the Curriculum initiatives have found the exercise to be popular with students and successful in achieving desired learning outcomes.  Students learn valuable research and communication skills that contribute to their learning and help prepare them for future careers.  In addition, they are better able to evaluate the quality of Wikipedia articles and the veracity of information they encounter online.

Wikipedia assignments are not presented as an additional overhead for already time-poor course leaders, but rather as an approach that can be used to enhance learning outcomes where they are not being meaningfully achieved by existing course elements.  This has been an important factor in encouraging uptake. For example, the MSc in World Christianity, introduced a successful Wikipedia assignment in place of an existing oral assessment.

Several courses have now run Wikipedia assignments over successive years and the number of departments involved is expanding, in line with the evolution of course planning, and as awareness of the opportunities grows. For academic staff, in addition to the teaching and learning benefits, engaging with Wikimedia has provided useful insight into the editorial process of how Wikipedia pages are created, and information and knowledge is constructed online.

Building sustainability

Sustainability and capacity for expansion has been built into the University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedia residency since its inception.  By focusing on digital skills development and employing a ‘train the trainers’ approach, the Wikimedian in Residence has been able train a large number of staff and students to support Wikipedia editathons and course assignments.  Staff, including learning technologists, digital skills trainers, academic support librarians, digital curators, open educational resource advisors, and deputy directors of IT are now able to lead training across the University.

The Wikimedian in Residence has also developed and curated a wide range of training resources, including:

  • A lesson plan for how to lead a Wikipedia editing workshop, available to download under open licence from TES (https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/how-to-conduct-wikipedia-editing-training-11548391).
  • Over 250 open licensed educational videos and tutorials
  • A growing number of self-directed online tutorials using easy to navigate WordPress SPLOT sites.

The residency is helping the University of Edinburgh to expand and enhance its civic mission, with many opportunities for collaboration with city-wide and Scottish national bodies arising both inside or outside the curriculum.  In order to support growing engagement with Wikipedia in Scotland, Wikimedia UK recruited a Scotland Programme Co-ordinator in April 2018.  Other Scottish institutions that have employed Wikimedians in Residence include the National Library of Scotland, the Scottish Library & Information Council, Museums Galleries Scotland and, most recently, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.  Wales, meanwhile, has a permanent National Wikimedian based at the National Library of Wales.

Lessons learned and wider impact

With interest increasing among academic staff and course leaders in exploring how Wikimedia can be incorporated into their curricula, and appreciation growing of the opportunities Wikipedia offers to engage with the creation and dissemination of open knowledge, the University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedia residency, has successfully demonstrated that engaging with Wikipedia and its sister projects can enhance teaching and learning and benefit the institution’s civic mission.

The residency has also shown how the process of editing Wikimedia can be demystified and made accessible and enjoyable for students through a range of activities and events that provide a variety of opportunities for collaboration and sharing good practice, with scaffolded support and training. Activities such as ‘train the trainer’ workshops expand understanding of how to engage with Wikipedia and support colleagues and students to become editors.

Reaction to the residency has been positive among both staff and students, and has increased understanding of the important role Wikipedia, and increasingly Wikidata, can play in Higher Education and in knowledge creation and sharing more generally.

In order to share their expertise, the Wikimedian in Residence is now developing open educational resources for staff and students that explain quickly and easily how and why to engage with Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects.   Wikipedia training is now embedded in University’s Digital Skills training programme, with introductory ‘How to get started editing Wikipedia’ workshops led by staff within the Digital Skills team. This approach fosters greater sustainability in the longer term, and enables the Wikimedian in Residence to deliver more specialised workshops including:

  • Teaching with Wikipedia
  • Introduction to open data with Wikidata
  • Introduction to Wikisource: The digital hyperlibrary
  • Sharing research on Wikipedia and Wikidata
  • Wiki games: Learning through play
  • Histropedia: The timeline of everything.

The success of the University of Edinburgh residency has helped Wikimedia UK to build new collaborations with education institutions across the UK, and has led the chapter to develop its first Wikipedia in the Classroom publication. This forthcoming booklet of UK case studies will help demonstrate how universities can engage meaningfully with Wikimedia projects, to support their institutional missions and enhance learners’ digital skills. Happily, a growing number of universities across the UK have sought to learn from the Edinburgh experience and have begun exploring their own Wikipedia projects with Wikimedia UK.

 

Find out more

Contact: Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh.

Email: ewan.mcandrew@ed.ac.uk

Web: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:University_of_Edinburgh

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:University_of_Edinburgh/Two_year_review#Working_collaboratively_and_building_sustainability

References

[1]Rehm A, Littlejohn A and Rienties B (2017). Does a formal wiki event contribute to the formation of a network of practice? A social capital perspective on the potential for informal learning. Interactive Learning Environments, 26 (3). tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10494820.2017.1324495

[2]LittlejohnA and Hood N (2018). Becoming an online editor: perceived roles and responsibilities of Wikipedia editors. Information Research, 23 (1). informationr.net/ir/23-1/paper784.html

[3]Wikipedia editors study: results from the editor survey, April 2011. wikimedia.org. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Editor_Survey_Report_-_April_2011.pdf

[4]Figure as of 18 February 2019, WikiProject Women In Red, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Women_in_Red

 

 

Reproductive Medicine Honours undergraduates at the University of Edinburgh (Own work, CC-BY-SA)

 

Attribution

This case study was edited by Lorna M. Campbell, University of Edinburgh, from a case study produced by Jisc in November 2018.  Education consultancy Sero HE was commissioned by Jisc to interview Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University.

CC BY SA, Jisc, Sero HE, and the University of Edinburgh.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

Academia and Wikipedia – a presentation at Maynooth University on 18 June 2018

Below is what I said at the Academia and Wikipedia Conference held at Maynooth University on 18 June 2018. My slides are here.

I have been working at the University of Edinburgh for two and a half years now in this rather strange sounding role of Wikimedian in Residence. My role here today is to explain a little about what I do at the University of Edinburgh and why we think there is a need for all universities to engage with Wikimedia.

So the Academia and Wikipedia conference is a very timely conference for the work we have been doing.

Academia and Wikipedia. This is a huge discussion right now. It needs to be. Not least in terms of what value we as higher education institutions place in students, staff and members of the public being conversant with how knowledge is created, curated and contested online and with the digital intermediaries that govern our daily lives. Beyond this in terms of what value we place on the transparency of knowledge sharing and having somewhere online you can go to orientate yourself on a topic and students can contribute their scholarship for the common good.

Because I take the view that there is a huge & pivotal role for universities to play in this discussion.

Full disclosure, I was not born a Wikimedian. Although I am interested in all the things so perhaps I was. My background is in Software Development, English & Media teaching and Information Management and the work we do at the University of Edinburgh draws on all 3 of these aspects.

So what can I tell you about the residency itself?

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 sharing open knowledge.

Working with Wikimedia ticked all these boxes.

But because the University of Edinburgh is a research-based institution, Professor Allison Littlejohn from the Open University was invited to come along to our first editing event in 2015 to help us make sure there was value in a collaboration with Wikimedia UK and to analyse what was going on in these editing events and what their impact actually was. And what she discovered was that there was indeed genuine formal and informal learning going on at these events and she’s produced two research papers arising from that 1 event.

The first looked at the formation of networks of practice and social capital through participation in an editathon. Through Allison’s work we learned that activity did not stop after the editathon event and participants did see it as an important part of their professional development. The second paper looked at the process of becoming a Wikipedia editor – and how participants felt editing was a form of knowledge activism and helped generate important discussions about how knowledge is created, curated and contested online and how Wikipedia editors can positively impact on the knowledge available to people all around the world and addressing those knowledge gaps. So we had strong evidence there was real merit in universities engaging with Wikipedia editing because of this. This made the business case once we aligned it with our information literacy and digital skills strategy.

Since then we have never looked back. As the university’s new resource, I could have been twiddling my thumbs or treated as a snake oil salesman but I’ve never been busier. 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 further collaborations and other colleagues being brought in and other disciplines. The number of connections and positive quality interactions that a collaboration with Wikimedia affords makes, I think, working in this space finding areas of mutual benefit makes this the most exciting in academia right now, because it is so emergent but it has so much potential to make a really “significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to the world”.

I’m supported on all sides by a growing number of people all passionate for the sharing of Open Knowledge. There’s our IT Director Melissa, and Anne-Marie her deputy. Our Open Education team, our digital curator, our academic support librarians. Our course leaders from year one in Translation studies, World Christianity and Reproductive Biology. The team at Wikimedia UK, course leaders from year two. Course leaders in Digital Sociology, Reproductive Biology, Anthropology, English Literature, Design Informatics, Data Science for Design. A growing number of Wikimedians in Residence. And, latterly, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was tweeting his support of Wikimedia UK recently too.

So “if you build it they will come”.

And it grows over time.

Timelines of engagement

Of the in-curriculum work we have done – all of these courses have been repeated because of the positive reactions of staff and students. And we’re adding to these with workshops in Digital Sociology MSc, Global Health MSc, Data Science for Design MSc. We’re also now discussing which year group we should work with in the Law school – postgraduate, undergraduate, or both – because supporting digital research skills and the ability to communicate their scholarship an accessible way is absolutely something we as a university should be looking to do.

By way of example of our work with students , Reproductive Biology Hons. student, Áine Kavanagh scrupulously researched an article on one of the most serious and most deadly forms of ovarian cancer, backing up her work with over sixty references and creating her own openly-licensed diagram in Photoshop to help illustrate the article. The artice has now been viewed over 40,000 times since 2016, addressing a serious knowledge gap with scholarly research. Áine 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.

The reason being: “Search is the way we live now”.

Google and Wikipedia have a symbiotic relationship where they depend on one another. Google is the #1 search engine and Wikipedia is the go-to information site, powering Google’s Knowledge Graph. 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. They become an activist for knowledge.

And it’s never been easier to contribute because of the new Visual Editor interface and all the little fun things you can do to add citations, images, links and more – while it’s also never been harder to vandalise because of the increased checks & balances put in place.

So there is lots to talk about in terms of Wikimedia in education… but I’ll let our students and staff speak to this and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

* Everything about Wikipedia is relentlessly transparent so here is its ‘warts & all’ history:

Danah Boyd also wrote some articles back in 2005 on academia & wikipedia which make for interesting reading… if for nothing other than Jimmy Wales’s ‘Wikipedia as steakhouse’ analogy which deserves to be read:

Danah also wrote an article entitled Did Media Literacy backfire? last year which has a very pertinent point to the discussion of Wikipedia in academic contexts:

“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.”

How useful has  this approach been to date?

 

Sifting fact from fake news – International Worker’s Day

CC BY 2.0-licensed photo by CEA+ | Artist: Nam June Paik, “Electronic Superhighway. Continental US, Alaska & Hawaii” (1995).

Woodward and Bernstein, the eminent investigative journalists involved in uncovering the Watergate Scandal, just felt compelled to assert that the media were not ‘fake news’ at a White House Correspondents Dinner the US President failed to attend. In the same week, Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, felt compelled to create a new site, WikiTribune, to combat fake news.

This is where we are this International Worker’s Day where the most vital work one can undertake seems to be keeping oneself accurately informed.

We live in the information age and the aphorism ‘one who possess information possesses the world’ of course reflects the present-day reality.” – (Vladimir Putin in Interfax, 2016).

 

Sifting fact from fake news

In the run up to the Scottish council elections, French presidential elections and a ‘strong and stable‘ UK General Election, what are we to make of the ‘post-truth’ landscape we supposedly now inhabit; where the traditional mass media appears to be distrusted and waning in its influence over the public sphere (Tufeckzi in Viner, 2016) while the secret algorithms’ of search engines & social media giants dominate instead?

The new virtual agora (Silverstone in Weichert, 2016) of the internet creates new opportunities for democratic citizen journalism but also has been shown to create chaotic ‘troll’ culture & maelstroms of information overload. Therefore, the new ‘virtual generation’ inhabiting this ‘post-fact’ world must attempt to navigate fake content, sponsored content and content filtered to match their evolving digital identity to somehow arrive safely at a common truth. Should we be worried what this all means in ‘the information age’?

Information Literacy in the Information Age

Facebook defines who we are, Amazon defines what we want

and Google defines what we think.”

(Broeder, 2016)

The information age is defined as “the shift from traditional industry that the Industrial Revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based on computerization or digital revolution” (Toffler in Korjus, 2016). There are now 3 billion internet users on our planet, well over a third of humanity (Graham et al, 2015). Global IP traffic is estimated to treble over the next 5 years (Chaudhry, 2016) and a hundredfold for the period 2005 to 2020 overall. This internet age still wrestles with both geographically & demographically uneven coverage while usage in no way equates to users being able to safely navigate, or indeed, to critically evaluate the information they are presented with via its gatekeepers (Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft et al). Tambini (2016) defines these aforementioned digital intermediaries as “software-based institutions that have the potential to influence the flow of online information between providers (publishers) and consumers”. So exactly how conversant are we with the nature of their relationship with these intermediaries & the role they play in the networks that shape our everyday lives?

Digital intermediaries

Digital intermediaries such as Google and Facebook are seen as the new powerbrokers in online news, controlling access to consumers and with the potential even to suppress and target messages to individuals.” (Tambini, 2016)

 

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg may downplay Facebook’s role as “arbiters of truth” (Seethaman, 2016) in much the same way that Google downplay their role as controllers of the library “card catalogue” (Walker in Toobin, 2015) but both represent the pre-eminent gatekeepers in the information age. 62% of Americans get their news from social media (Mint, 2016) with 44% getting their news from Facebook. In addition, a not insubstantial two million voters were encouraged to register to vote by Facebook, while Facebook’s own 2012 study concluded that it “directly influenced political self-expression, information seeking and real-world voting behaviour of millions of people.” (Seethaman, 2016)

 

image003Figure 1 Bodies of Evidence (The Economist, 2016)

This year has seen assertion after assertion made which bear, upon closer examination by fact-checking organisations such as PolitiFact (see Figure 1 above) absolutely no basis in truth. For the virtual generation, the traditional mass media has come to be treated on a par with new, more egalitarian, social media with little differentiation in how Google lists these results. Clickbait journalism has become the order of the day (Viner, 2016); where outlandish claims can be given a platform as long as they are prefixed with “It is claimed that…”

Now no one even tries proving ‘the truth’. You can just say anything. Create realities.” (Pomerantzev in the Economist, 2016)

The problem of ascertaining truth in the information age can be attributed to three main factors:

  1. The controversial line “people in this country have had enough of experts” (Gove in Viner, 2016) during the EU referendum demonstrated there has been a fundamental eroding of trust in, & undermining of, the institutions & ‘expert’ opinions previously looked up to as subject authorities. “We’ve basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers…There is nobody: you can’t go to anybody and say: ‘Look, here are the facts’” (Sykes in the Economist, 2016)
  2. The proliferation of social media ‘filter bubbles’ which group like-minded users together & filter content to them accordingly to their ‘likes’. In this way, users can become isolated from viewpoints opposite to their own (Duggan, 2016) and fringe stories can survive longer despite being comprehensively debunked elsewhere. In this way, any contrary view tends to be either filtered out or met with disbelief through what has been termed ‘the backfire effect’ (The Economist, 2016).
  3. The New York Times calls this current era an era of data but no facts’ (Clarke, 2016). Data is certainly abundant; 90% of the world’s data was generated in the last two years (Tuffley, 2016). Yet, it has never been more difficult to find ‘truth in the numbers’ (Clarke, 2016) with over 60 trillion pages (Fichter and Wisniewski, 2014) to navigate and terabytes of unstructured data to (mis)interpret.

The way forward

We need to increase the reputational consequences and change the incentives for making false statements… right now, it pays to be outrageous, but not to be truthful.”

(Nyhan in the Economist, 2016)

Original image by Doug Coulter, The White House (The White House on Facebook) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Modified by me.
Since the US election, and President Trump’s continuing assault on the ‘dishonest media’, the need for information to be verified has been articulated as never before with current debates raging on just how large a role Russia, Facebook & fake news played during the US election. Indeed, the inscrutable ‘black boxes’ of Google & Facebook’s algorithms constitute a real dilemma for educators & information professionals.

Reappraising information & media literacy education

The European Commission, the French Conseil d’Etat and the UK Government are all re-examining the role of ‘digital intermediaries’; with OfCom being asked by the UK government to prepare a new framework for assessing the intermediaries’ news distribution & setting regulatory parameters of ‘public expectation’ in place (Tambini, 2016). Yet, Cohen (2016) asserts that there is a need for greater transparency of the algorithms being used in order to provide better oversight of the digital intermediaries. Further, that the current lack of public domain data available in order to assess the editorial control of these digital intermediaries means that until the regulatory environment is strengthened so as to require these ‘behemoths’ (Tambini, 2016) to disclose this data, this pattern of power & influence is likely to remain unchecked.

Somewhere along the line, media literacy does appear to have backfired; our students were told that Google was trustworthy and Wikipedia was not (Boyd, 2016). The question is how clicking on those top five Google results instead of critically engaging with the holistic overview & reliable sources Wikipedia offers is working out?

A lack of privacy combined with a lack of transparency

Further, privacy seems to be the one truly significant casualty of the information age. Broeder (2016) suggests that, as governments focus increasingly on secrecy, at the same time the individual finds it increasingly difficult to retain any notions of privacy. This creates a ‘transparency paradox’ often resulting in a deep suspicion of governments’ having something to hide while the individual is left vulnerable to increasingly invasive legislation such as the UK’s new Investigatory Powers Act – “the most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy.” (Snowden in Ashok, 2016). This would be bad enough if their public & private data weren’t already being shared as a “tradeable commodity” (Tuffley, 2016) with companies like Google and Apple, “the feudal overlords of the information society” (Broeder, 2016) and countless other organisations.

The Data Protection Act (1998), Freedom of Information Act (2000) and the Human Rights Act (1998) should give the beleaguered individual succour but FOI requests can be denied if there is a ‘good reason’ to do so, particularly if it conflicts with the Official Secrets Act (1989), and the current government’s stance on the Human Rights Act does not bode well for its long-term survival. The virtual generation will also now all have a digital footprint; a great deal of which can been mined by government & other agencies without our knowing about it or consenting to it. The issue therefore is that a line must be drawn as to our public lives and our private lives. However, this line is increasingly unclear because our use of digital intermediaries blurs this line. In this area, we do have legitimate cause to worry.

The need for a digital code of ethics

  • “Before I do something with this technology, I ask myself, would it be alright if everyone did it?
  • Is this going to harm or dehumanise anyone, even people I don’t know and will never meet?
  • Do I have the informed consent of those who will be affected?” (Tuffley, 2016)

Educating citizens as to the merits of a digital code of ethics like the one above is one thing, and there are success stories in this regard through initiatives such as StaySafeOnline.org but a joined-up approach marrying up librarians, educators and instructional technologists to teach students (& adults) information & digital literacy seems to be reaping rewards according to Wine (2016). While recent initiatives exemplifying the relevance & need for information professionals assisting with political literacy during the Scottish referendum (Smith, 2016) have found further expression in other counterparts (Abram, 2016).

This challenge is not just for school librarians to prepare the next generation to be informed but for all librarians to assist the whole population.” (Abram, 2016)

Trump’s administration may or may not be in ‘chaos’ but recent acts have exposed worrying trends. Trends which reveal an eroding of trust: in the opinions of experts; in the ‘dishonest’ media; in factual evidence; and in the rule of law. Issues at the heart of the information age have been exposed: there exists a glut of information & a sea of data to navigate with little formalised guidance as to how to find our way through it. For the beleaguered individual, this glut makes it near impossible to find ‘truth in the numbers’ while equating one online news source to be just as valid as another, regardless of its credibility, only exacerbates the problem. All this, combined with an increasing lack of privacy and an increasing lack of transparency, makes for a potent combination.

There is a place of refuge you can go, however. A place where facts, not ‘alternate facts’, but actual verifiable facts, are venerated. A place that holds as its central tenets, principles of verifiability, neutral point of view, and transparency above all else. A place where every edit made to a page is recorded, for the life of that page, so you can see what change was made, when & by whom. How many other sites give you that level of transparency where you can check, challenge & correct the information presented if it does hold to the principles of verifiability?

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Now consider that this site is the world’s number one information site; visited by 500 million visitors a month and considered, by British people, to be more trustworthy than the BBC, ITV, the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph according to a 2014 Yougov survey.

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While Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website in the world, the other internet giants in the top ten cannot compete with it for transparency; an implicit promise of trust with its users. Some 200+ factors go into constructing how Google’s algorithm determines the top ten results for a search term yet we have no inkling what those factors are or how those all-important top ten search results are arrived at. Contrast this opacity, and Facebook’s for that matter, with Wikimedia’s own (albeit abortive) proposal for a Knowledge Engine (Sentance, 2016); envisaged as the world’s first transparent non-commercial search engine and consider what that transparency might have meant for the virtual generation being able to trust the information they are presented with.

Wikidata (Wikimedia’s digital repository of free, openly-licensed structured data) represents another bright hope. It is already used to power, though not exclusively, many of the answers in Google’s Knowledge Graph without ever being attributed as such.

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Wikidata is a free linked database of knowledge that can be read and edited by both humans and machines. It acts as central storage for the structured data of its Wikimedia sister projects including Wikipedia, Wikivoyage, Wikisource, and others. The mission behind Wikidata is clear: if ‘to Google’ has come to stand in for ‘to search’ and “search is the way we now live” (Darnton in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013, p.5) then ‘to Wikidata’ is ‘to check the digital provenance’. And checking the digital provenance of assertions is pivotal to our suddenly bewildered democracy.

While fact-checking websites exist & more are springing up all the time, Wikipedia is already firmly established as the place where students and staff conduct pre-research on a topic; “to gain context on a topic, to orient themselves, students start with Wikipedia…. In this unique role, it therefore serves as an ideal bridge between the validated and unvalidated Web.” (Grathwohl, 2011)

Therefore, it is vitally important that Wikipedia’s users know how knowledge is constructed & curated and the difference between fact-checked accurate information from reliable sources and information that plainly isn’t.

Knowledge creates understanding – understanding is sorely lacking in today’s world. Behind every article on Wikipedia is a Talk page is a public forum where editors hash it out; from citations, notability to truth.” (Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, December 2016)

The advent of fake news means that people need somewhere they can turn to where the information is accurate, reliable and trustworthy. Wikipedia editors have been evaluating the validity and reliability of sources and removing those facts not attributed to a reliable published source for years. Therefore engaging staff and students in Wikipedia assignments embeds source evaluation as a core component of the assignment. Recent research by Harvard Business School has also shown that the process of editing Wikipedia has a profound impact on those that participate in it; whereby editors that become involved in the discourse of an article’s creation with a particular slanted viewpoint or bias actually become more moderate over time. This means editing Wikipedia actually de-radicalises its editors as they seek to work towards a common truth. Would that were true of other much more partisan sectors of the internet.

Further, popular articles and breaking news stories are often covered on Wikipedia extremely thoroughly where the focus of many eyes make light work in the construction of detailed, properly cited, accurate articles. And that might just be the best weapon to combat fake news; while one news source in isolation may give one side of a breaking story, Wikipedia often provides a holistic overview of all the news sources available on a given topic.

Wikipedia already has clear policies on transparency, verifiability, and reliable sources. What it doesn’t have is the knowledge that universities have behind closed doors; often separated into silos or in pay-walled repositories. What it doesn’t have is enough willing contributors to meet the demands of the 1.5 billion unique devices that access it each month in ensuring its coverage of the ever-expanding knowledge is kept as accurate, up-to-date & representative of the sum of all knowledge as possible.

This is where you come in.

 

Conclusion

It’s up to other people to decide whether they give it any credibility or not,” (Oakeshott in Viner, 2016)

The truth is out there. But it is up to us to challenge claims and to help verify them. This is no easy task in the information age and it is prone to, sometimes very deliberate, obfuscation. Infoglut has become the new censorship; a way of controlling the seemingly uncontrollable. Fact-checking sites have sprung up in greater numbers but they depend on people seeking them out when convenience and cognitive ease have proven time and again to be the drivers for the virtual generation.

We know that Wikipedia is the largest and most popular reference work on the internet. We know that it is transparent and built on verifiability and neutral point of view. We know that it has been combating fake news for years. So if the virtual generation are not armed with the information literacy education to enable them to critically evaluate the sources they encounter and the nature of the algorithms that mediate their interactions with the world, how then are they to make the informed decisions necessary to play their part as responsible online citizens?

It is the response of our governments and our Higher Education institutions to this last question that is the worry.

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Postscript – Wikimedia at the University of Edinburgh

As the Wikimedia residency at the University of Edinburgh moves further into its second year we are looking to build on the success of the first year and work with other course leaders and students both inside and outside the curriculum. Starting small has proven to be a successful methodology but bold approaches like the University of British Columbia’s WikiProject Murder, Madness & Mayhem can also prove extremely successful. Indeed, bespoke solutions can often be found to individual requirements.

 

Time and motivation are the two most frequent cited barriers to uptake. These are undoubted challenges to academics, students & support staff but the experience of this year is that the merits of engagement & an understanding of how Wikipedia assignments & edit-a-thons operate overcome any such concerns in practice. Once understood, Wikipedia can be a powerful tool in an educator’s arsenal. Engagement from course leaders, information professionals and support from the institution itself go a long way to realising that the time & motivation is well-placed.

For educators, engaging with Wikipedia:

  • meets the information literacy & digital literacy needs of our students.
  • enhances learning & teaching in the curriculum
  • helps develop & share knowledge in their subject discipline
  • raises the visibility & impact of research in their particular field.

In this way, practitioners can swap out existing components of their practice in favour of Wikimedia learning activities which develop:

  • Critical information literacy skills
  • Digital literacy
  • Academic writing & referencing
  • Critical thinking
  • Literature review
  • Writing for different audiences
  • Research skills
  • Community building
  • Online citizenship
  • Collaboration.

This all begins with engaging in the conversation.

Wikipedia turned 16 on January 15th 2017. It has long been the elephant in the room in education circles but it is time to articulate that Wikipedia does indeed belong in education and that it plays an important role in our understanding & disseminating of the world’s knowledge. With Oxford University now also hosting their own Wikimedian in Residence on a university-wide remit, it is time also to articulate that this conversation is not going away. Far from it, the information & digital literacy needs of our students and staff will only intensify. Higher Education institutions must need formulate a response. The best thing we can do as educators & information professionals is to be vigilant and to be vocal; articulating both our vision for Open Knowledge & the pressing need for engagement in skills development as a core part of the university’s mission and give our senior managers something they can say ‘Yes’ to.

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

  • Want to become a Wikipedia editor?
  • Want to become a Wikipedia trainer?
  • Want to run a Wikipedia course assignment?
  • Want to contribute images to Wikimedia Commons?
  • Want to contribute your research to Wikipedia?
  • Want to contribute your research data to Wikidata?

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Wikipedia in Education: If not now then when? #OER17

Last week I attended the eighth Open Educational Resources conference (OER17) at Resource for London. Themed on ‘the Politics of Open‘. Little did we know when these themes were announced this time last year just how timely this conference would be.

I presented 4 sessions at the conference:

This last presentation outlined the work the Wikimedia residency at the University of Edinburgh over the last fifteen months; the lessons learnt and the recommendations.

It was not recorded so here’s what I said:

Lo and Behold: Reveries of a Connected Campus

The Wikimedia residency at the University of Edinburgh began in January 2016 so I am about to write my 15th month report this week. An infographic for the first 12 months is available to view at tinyurl.com/WikiResidency.

I should say that the reason for the title of the talk, Lo and Behold, is because I am massive fan of Werner Herzog and the film that bears the name. Potentially the subtitle for this talk could have been ‘a year of chaos, hostility and murder’. Thankfully, the reverse was true.

A year of chaos, hostility and murder? Au contraire…

But the residency has also, at its heart, been about making connections. Both across the university’s three teaching colleges and beyond; with the city of Edinburgh itself. Demonstrating how staff, students and members of the public can most benefit from and contribute to the development of the huge open knowledge resource that are the Wikimedia projects. And we made some significant connections over the last year in all of these areas.

 

But first some context as to how this came to be. In 1583 the University of Edinburgh came to be then a short time later in 2001 Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia was established.

Today, Wikipedia is the number one information site in the world with 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 unlike the secret algorithms of Google and Facebook, on Wikipedia everything is out in the open. Its commitment to transparency is an implicit promise of trust to its users where everything on it can be checked, challenged and corrected.

In 2011, ten years after Wikipedia first launched, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by the vice president of Oxford University of Press acclaiming that ‘Wikipedia had come of age and that it was time Wikipedia played “a vital role in formal education settings“.

A timeline of Wikimedia residencies in Scotland (and Martin Poulter’s work at the University of Oxford).

 

In 2013, two years after this article was published, Scotland got its first ever Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland, Ally Crockford. Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching & Web Services at the University of Edinburgh, invited both Ally Crockford and the newly installed Wikimedian in Residence at the Museums and Galleries Scotland, Sara Thomas, to hold an editathon during the university’s February 2015 term break. This editathon, themed on Women, Science and Scottish History was to help recognise and celebrate the achievements of the Edinburgh 7, the first female medical students in Britain, with new and improved Wikipedia pages. At the event, Melissa Highton invited Professor Allison Littlejohn to conduct some research to see if there was actually some formal and informal learning going on at these Wikipedia editing events. This research was then shared later that year at the Wikipedia Science Conference organised by the Wikimedian in Residence at the Bodleian Library, Martin Poulter.

Happily the research bore out that there was real merit in having a Wikimedian in an education setting because there was indeed informal and formal learning going on at editathon events. Up until this point all the residencies had tended to be GLAM oriented (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) so Melissa was quite bold in arguing for a Wikimedian on a university-wide remit. And I’m pleased to say that calculated risk worked out.

The University of Edinburgh residency began in January 2016 and its remit was threefold:

  • To raise awareness of Wikipedia and its sister projects
  • To design and deliver digital skills engagement events such as editathons (groups of staff & student editors coming together to edit Wikipedia pages on a focused theme – both inside and outside the curriculum)
  • To work with colleagues all across the institution to find ways in which the University – as a knowledge creation organisation – can most benefit and contribute to the development of this huge open knowledge resource.

But how to go about serving the university as their newest resource? Wikipedia in education is well established elsewhere but we were in slightly uncharted territory at the university so I could have been sat twiddling my thumbs for the year; waiting for take-up that may never have come (although I don’t think for a moment this would have happened). I could also have been treated as a snake oil salesman peddling the educational equivalent of fast food.

If I had been I would have been given short shrift. Thankfully, this ancient university is a thoroughly innovative modern one and among its 36,000 students and 13,000 staff there are a great many proponents of Open Knowledge.

I have never been busier.

Shared missions

 

The trick, if there was one, was to get colleagues to see there was a link between the Wikimedia projects and the work they were doing; to see there was a shared mission; to recognise that both were knowledge producers and, for want of a better word, ‘ideas factories’. And that collaborations between the university and Wikimedia could be fruitful for both sides. More than the sum of their parts. That involved engaging people in the conversation. Getting in the room. Because once in the room, colleagues could see the connections and did start to look at Wikipedia differently.

The Visual Editor interface

 

One of the biggest factors in the residency’s success was the new WYSIWYG Visual Editor interface, making editing so much easier and more akin to using WordPress and Ms Word through its drop-down menus.

But we had to get people in the room first of all to give it a go.  That’s why the ‘edit-a-thon’ model proved particularly successful. Hosting an event on a particular theme for editors to come together and create or improve Wikipedia articles on that theme.

The Edinburgh editathons

 

So we’d fit in with other events already happening in the academic calendar and stage our own when people were likely to be able to attend. Be it a Women in Espionage themed editathon for Spy Week; a Festival of Samhuinn event for Halloween to improve articles about those passed away; or Ada Lovelace Day to celebrate Women in STEM; inviting colleagues from STEM subjects, English, History, Scottish Studies and more to come take part in these events.

We’d also draw in other institutions like the National Library of Scotland and the University of Sheffield’s Centre for the Gothic in our Robert Louis Stevenson Day event themed on Gothic writers.

Edinburgh Gothic – Pic my Mihaela Bodlovic (CC-BY-SA)

And in our third year of running the History of Medicine we have colleagues sharing Open Knowledge from across the university and beyond including the Royal College of Physicians (Edinburgh), the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (Glasgow), the Surgeons’ Hall Museums, the Lothian Health Service Archives and more.

So once people were engaged and their curiosity piqued then we could begin to show how the other Wikimedia projects link with Wikipedia and how information literacy is improved through engagement with Wikipedia.

Ultimately, what you wanted attendees to get from the experience was this; the idea that knowledge is most useful when it is used; engaged with; built upon.

The University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK – shared missions.

 

And that housing knowledge in silos, of any kind, be they Wikimedia projects or university repositories, is missing a trick when that knowledge could be engaged with and built upon.

RLS and the Web of Knowledge

That’s why in the Wikimedia universe, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Wikipedia article has a link to his out-of-copyright longer works on Wikisource, the free content library. It also links to images related to RLS hosted on Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. And it has a link to the Wikidata page on RLS where all the machine-readable structured linked data about RLS is kept.

And, in terms of raising awareness of these sister projects, we have had a showcase about Wikisource, the free content library, which has resulted in some digitised PhD theses being uploaded and linked to from Wikipedia, just one click away. Sharing open knowledge.

Thomas Jehu’s PhD thesis is now digitised and transcribed to Wikisource, one click away from his Wikipedia page.

 

We have also had a number of Wikidata showcase events as Wikidata represents the bright future of the Wikimedia projects. Machine-readable, language independent, this central hub acts as a repository of linked structured data for all the Wikimedia projects and the wider internet beyond. This means the data from the largest reference work on the internet can be queried, analysed & visualised as never before.

Further, by tidying up and putting citation data in Wikidata, as 2 million plus citations now are, it means we can also have a central bibliographic repository of linked citation data allowing the data to be queried in any number of ways.

And that’s the thing. Wikipedia doesn’t want you to cite it. It is a tertiary source; an aggregator of articles built on citations from reliable secondary sources. In this way it is reframing itself as the front matter to all research. And should be understood as such.

The Front Matter to All Research

Another important factor is the work Wikipedia is doing with Altmetric and Crossref to ensure more permanent DOIs are used as citations which can then be tracked for impact. Wikipedia is now the number 5 most prolific DOI referrer according to Crossref… and even that is thought to be a gross underestimate of its actual standing.

The new Content Translation tool, developed in the last two years, has made a big impact as it allows one Wikipedia article to be translated, using machine translation to take all the formatting across paragraph by paragraph to create a new article in a different language Wikipedia. Thereby building understanding.

And this is something our Translation Studies MSc students were motivated to address as they could see exactly how knowledge was unevenly spread throughout the different language Wikipedias.

The uneven spread of knowledge between the 295 different language Wikipedias

Similarly, one really important factor was this idea of taking ownership to help redress areas of under-representation and systemic bias on Wikipedia. In this way many of our Wikipedia events focused on addressing the gender gap.

Redressing the Gender Gap

Less than 15% of women edit Wikipedia and this skews the content in much the same way with only 16.85% of biographies about notable women. Given that the gender gap is real and that a lot of institutions will be undertaking initiatives as part of  their commitment to Athena Swan, the creating of new role models for young and old alike goes a long way to engage people in helping to address this issue.

Role models like Janet Anne Galloway, advocate for higher education for women in Scotland, Helen Archdale (suffragette), sociologist and LGBT campaigner Mary Susan McIntosh among many many more.

Changing the way stories are told

That’s why it is enormously pleasing that over the whole year, 65% of attendees at our events were female.

Over the course of this same year, Fake News has come to the fore. For Wikipedia editors this is nothing new as they have been combatting Fake news for years. Evaluating sources is core skill for a Wikipedia editor.

The skills Wikipedia assignments help develop

 In fact, all the skills and experiences that universities and PISA are articulating they want to see students imbued with at this moment in time are ones that Wikipedia assignments help develop. And that’s not just hot air. The assignments we have run this year actually have delivered on these.

As a result of colleagues seeing connections with, and benefits of, a Wikipedia assignment we have run three Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments and three online assignments.

Anyone can teach Wikipedia in the Classroom.

Teaching with Wikipedia is even easier with the new WYSIWYG Visual Editor interface

We have case studies for the World Christianity MSc Wikipedia literature review assignment; balancing up a hitherto Western-oriented field with new articles from perspectives in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia and more.

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

We have a case study of students in Reproductive Biology Hons. researching and writing new articles about reproductive health such as High-Grade Serous Carcinoma and thereby improving their research & communication skills and contributing their knowledge to the global Open Knowledge community. This is set to run for its third year this September.

We have a case study of students on the Translation Studies MSc course translating 4000 words from one language Wikipedia to another using the Content Translation tool  as part of their Independent Study module; thereby getting much-needed published practice in translation. This has been such a success that we have continued for a second semester and Edinburgh University Translation Society are also publishing their own Wikipedia translations now too.

The approach taken

Translation has been a massive part of the residency; communicating how both sides can benefit massively from one another. My approach has been based on my background. Teaching in the Far East helped me see how to engage learners through stimulating, engaging & accessible activities; graded to their needs. In this way, my approach with translating Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines into a way that educators can engage with has been to:

  • Making learning engaging and accessible.
  • Building on prior knowledge.
  • Sharing good practice.

What’s next?

We have a number of big events planned including a Celtic and Indigenous Languages Wikipedia Conference and a Swahili translate-a-thon to look forward to.

But my main task is to finish the residency in January 2018 leaving behind a sustainable way for involvement with Wikimedia to continue.

That, for me, is a mixture of People and Process. Identifying the people who are going to take this on and work with them to support others but also preparing enough materials so that the process of involvement is easy enough for anyone to pick it up and get started.

Making the residency sustainable

That’s why I’m working to embed this in our Digital Skills programme and have already trained 12 Wikimedia ambassadors to support the Wikimedia activities in their area of the university. That’s why I have created and curated 110 videos and video tutorials on the university’s Media Hopper channel. That’s why I’ve written up case studies and shared a reusable lesson plan on TES so anyone can teach Wikipedia editing. There is nothing worse than people struggling on their own to edit Wikipedia and becoming frustrated when they get told they are doing it the wrong way. Well, by sharing the right way and by showing how easy it now is I believe we can make this sustainable across Edinburgh and beyond.

Key learning points

  • Sharing good practice & working collaboratively is crucially important.
  • Creating a variety of stimulating events where practitioners from different backgrounds participate in an open knowledge community has proved to be a successful approach.
  • Wikipedia & its sister projects offer a great deal to Higher Education and can be successfully integrated to enhance the learning & teaching within the curriculum.
  • Areas of under-representation and systemic bias have proven to be extremely important motivators for participants.
  • Demystifying Wikipedia through presentations, workshops & scaffolded resources has yielded positive reactions & an increased understanding of Wikipedia’s important role in academia.

Reasons why other universities should also look into hosting a Wikimedian as part of their digital skills team.

Wikipedia comes of Age

 

  1. The new Visual Editor is super easy to learn, fun and addictive.
  2. Anyone can edit Wikipedia BUT there are checks and balances to help revert unhelpful edits in minutes. (Only 7% of edits are considered vandalism).
  3. Wikidata – query, analyse & visualise the largest reference work on the internet. Add your research data to combine datasets on Wikidata.
  4. WikiCite – tidying up the citations on Wikipedia to make a consistent, queryable bibliographic repository enhancing the visibility and impact of research.
  5. Wikisource – Quotations and images from long ago can still touch and inspire. Out of copyright texts such as digitised PhD theses can be uploaded & linked to from Wikipedia.
  6. Content Translation – The new tool allows Translation Students to get much-needed published translation practice and help share knowledge globally; correcting areas of under-representation and building understanding.
  7. The gender gap is real and working with Wikipedia helps address this as part of Athena Swan initiatives; creating new roles models for young & old alike.
  8. Develop students’ information literacy, digital literacy & research skills.
  9. Share your research & library collections’ material to Wikipedia the right way and open it up to a global Open Knowledge community of millions demonstrating impact with detailed metrics.
  10. Fake news is prevalent. Engaging with Wikipedia helps develop a critical information literate approach to its usage and to other online sources of information.
Wikipedia vs. Fake News

So there’s your summary of why you too should engage with Wikimedia. 10 good solid reasons why the cost of a Wikimedian, as just one more digital skills trainer among all your others, is peanuts compared to what the university as a whole can benefit out of the experience. Indeed, staff and students are already consulting Wikipedia for pre-research purposes so why not ensure gaps in representation and inaccuracies are addressed? Because if not you then who?

In conclusion

I began by saying the Chronicle of Higher Education acclaimed “Wikipedia had Come of Age” way back in 2011. With Wikipedia now 16 (going on 17) and this being the Politics of Open, I’ll leave you with one final thought, has Wikipedia now come of age? Is now the time for Wikipedia in Education?

And, to paraphrase our First Minister, if not now then when?

Wikipedia in Education: if not now then when?

Postscript

But don’t just take my word for it, here are the staff and students who have taken part in Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments at the University of Edinburgh this year.

Reflections on the Wikipedia assignments (video).

The feedback from the assignments this year has been really positive – from both staff and students.

We are not in a post-fact world: Wikipedia vs. claims of fake news

We are not in a post truth world
We are not in a post truth world – Screengrab of Wikimedia’s “We are not in a post-fact world” video by Victor Grigas, CC-BY-SA).

A question on the ‘virtual generation’: “Friends live with their computers rather than their brothers and sisters. All they do all day is use social networks to stay in touch, play online games with people around the world, and download (sometimes illegally) their favourite music and films.  Is this an exaggeration? Should we, as information professionals and custodians of the information society, worry?” (Hyatt, University of Northumbria, 2016)

We are not in a post-fact world: Wikipedia vs. ‘fake’ news

We live in the information age and the aphorism ‘one who possess information possesses the world’ of course reflects the present-day reality.”

(Vladimir Putin in Interfax, 2016).

 

What are we to make of the ‘post-truth’ landscape we supposedly now inhabit; where traditional mass media appears to be distrusted and waning in its influence over the public sphere (Tufeckzi in Viner, 2016) while the secret algorithms’ of search engines & social media giants dominate instead? The new virtual agora (Silverstone in Weichert, 2016) of the internet creates new opportunities for democratic citizen journalism but also has been shown to create chaotic ‘troll’ culture & maelstroms of information overload. Therefore, the new ‘virtual generation’ inhabiting this post-fact world must attempt to navigate fake content, sponsored content and content filtered to match their evolving digital identity to somehow arrive safely at a common truth. Should we be worried what this all means in ‘the information age’?

Higher Education in the Information Age

Facebook defines who we are, Amazon defines what we want

and Google defines what we think.”

(Broeder, 2016)

The information age is defined as “the shift from traditional industry that the Industrial Revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based on computerization or digital revolution” (Toffler in Korjus, 2016). There are now 3 billion internet users on our planet, well over a third of humanity (Graham et al, 2015). Global IP traffic is estimated to treble over the next 5 years (Chaudhry, 2016) and a hundredfold for the period 2005 to 2020 overall. This internet age still wrestles with both geographically & demographically uneven coverage while usage in no way equates to users being able to safely navigate, or indeed, to critically evaluate the information they are presented with via its gatekeepers (Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft et al). Tambini (2016) defines these aforementioned digital intermediaries as “software-based institutions that have the potential to influence the flow of online information between providers (publishers) and consumers”. So exactly how conversant are our students & staff with the nature of their relationship with these intermediaries & the role they play in the networks that shape their everyday lives?

Digital intermediaries

Digital intermediaries such as Google and Facebook are seen as the new powerbrokers in online news, controlling access to consumers and with the potential even to suppress and target messages to individuals.” (Tambini, 2016)

 

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg may downplay Facebook’s role as “arbiters of truth” (Seethaman, 2016) in much the same way that Google downplay their role as controllers of the library “card catalogue” (Walker in Toobin, 2015) but both represent the pre-eminent gatekeepers in the information age. 62% of Americans get their news from social media (Mint, 2016) with 44% getting their news from Facebook. In addition, a not insubstantial two million voters were encouraged to register to vote by Facebook, while Facebook’s own 2012 study concluded that it “directly influenced political self-expression, information seeking and real-world voting behaviour of millions of people.” (Seethaman, 2016)

 

image003Figure 1 Bodies of Evidence (The Economist, 2016)

This year has seen assertion after assertion made which bear, upon closer examination by fact-checking organisations such as PolitiFact (see Figure 1 above) absolutely no basis in truth. For the virtual generation, the traditional mass media has come to be treated on a par with new, more egalitarian, social media with little differentiation in how Google lists these results. Clickbait journalism has become the order of the day (Viner, 2016); where outlandish claims can be given a platform as long as they are prefixed with “It is claimed that…”

Now no one even tries proving ‘the truth’. You can just say anything. Create realities.” (Pomerantzev in the Economist, 2016)

The problem of ascertaining truth in the information age can be attributed to three factors:

  1. The controversial line “people in this country have had enough of experts” (Gove in Viner, 2016) during the EU referendum demonstrated there has been a fundamental eroding of trust in, & undermining of, the institutions & ‘expert’ opinions previously looked up to as subject authorities. “We’ve basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers…There is nobody: you can’t go to anybody and say: ‘Look, here are the facts’” (Sykes in the Economist, 2016)
  2. The proliferation of social media ‘filter bubbles’ which group like-minded users together & filter content to them accordingly to their ‘likes’. In this way, users can become isolated from viewpoints opposite to their own (Duggan, 2016) and fringe stories can survive longer despite being comprehensively debunked elsewhere. In this way, any contrary view tends to be either filtered out or met with disbelief through what has been termed ‘the backfire effect’ (The Economist, 2016).
  3. The New York Times calls this current era an era of data but no facts’ (Clarke, 2016). Data is certainly abundant; 90% of the world’s data was generated in the last two years (Tuffley, 2016). Yet, it has never been more difficult to find ‘truth in the numbers’ (Clarke, 2016) with over 60 trillion pages (Fichter and Wisniewski, 2014) to navigate and terabytes of unstructured data to (mis)interpret.

The way forward

We need to increase the reputational consequences and change the incentives for making false statements… right now, it pays to be outrageous, but not to be truthful.”

(Nyhan in the Economist, 2016)

Since the US election, and President Trump’s continuing assault on the ‘dishonest media’, the need for information to be verified has been articulated as never before with current debates raging on just how large a role Russia, Facebook & fake news played during the US election. Indeed, the inscrutable ‘black boxes’ of Google & Facebook’s algorithms constitute a real dilemma for educators & information professionals.

Reappraising information & media literacy education

The European Commission, the French Conseil d’Etat and the UK Government are all re-examining the role of ‘digital intermediaries’; with OfCom being asked by the UK government to prepare a new framework for assessing the intermediaries’ news distribution & setting regulatory parameters of ‘public expectation’ in place (Tambini, 2016). Yet, Cohen (2016) asserts that there is a need for greater transparency of the algorithms being used in order to provide better oversight of the digital intermediaries. Further, that the current lack of public domain data available in order to assess the editorial control of these digital intermediaries means that until the regulatory environment is strengthened so as to require these ‘behemoths’ (Tambini, 2016) to disclose this data, this pattern of power & influence is likely to remain unchecked.

Somewhere along the line, media literacy does appear to have backfired; our students were told that Google was trustworthy and Wikipedia was not (Boyd, 2016). The question is how clicking on those top five Google results instead of critically engaging with the holistic overview & reliable sources Wikipedia offers is working out?

A lack of privacy combined with a lack of transparency

Further, privacy seems to be the one truly significant casualty of the information age. Broeder (2016) suggests that, as governments focus increasingly on secrecy, at the same time the individual finds it increasingly difficult to retain any notions of privacy. This creates a ‘transparency paradox’ often resulting in a deep suspicion of governments’ having something to hide while the individual is left vulnerable to increasingly invasive legislation such as the UK’s new Investigatory Powers Act – “the most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy.” (Snowden in Ashok, 2016). This would be bad enough if their public & private data weren’t already being shared as a “tradeable commodity” (Tuffley, 2016) with companies like Google and Apple, “the feudal overlords of the information society” (Broeder, 2016) and countless other organisations.

The Data Protection Act (1998), Freedom of Information Act (2000) and the Human Rights Act (1998) should give the beleaguered individual succour but FOI requests can be denied if there is a ‘good reason’ to do so, particularly if it conflicts with the Official Secrets Act (1989), and the current government’s stance on the Human Rights Act does not bode well for its long-term survival. The virtual generation will also now all have a digital footprint; a great deal of which can been mined by government & other agencies without our knowing about it or consenting to it. The issue therefore is that a line must be drawn as to our public lives and our private lives. However, this line is increasingly unclear because our use of digital intermediaries blurs this line. In this area, we do have legitimate cause to worry.

The need for a digital code of ethics

  • “Before I do something with this technology, I ask myself, would it be alright if everyone did it?
  • Is this going to harm or dehumanise anyone, even people I don’t know and will never meet?
  • Do I have the informed consent of those who will be affected?” (Tuffley, 2016)

Educating citizens as to the merits of a digital code of ethics like the one above is one thing, and there are success stories in this regard through initiatives such as StaySafeOnline.org but a joined-up approach marrying up librarians, educators and instructional technologists to teach students (& adults) information & digital literacy seems to be reaping rewards according to Wine (2016). While recent initiatives exemplifying the relevance & need for information professionals assisting with political literacy during the Scottish referendum (Smith, 2016) have found further expression in other counterparts (Abram, 2016).

This challenge is not just for school librarians to prepare the next generation to be informed but for all librarians to assist the whole population.” (Abram, 2016)

Trump’s administration may or may not be in ‘chaos’ but recent acts have exposed worrying trends. Trends which reveal an eroding of trust: in the opinions of experts; in the ‘dishonest’ media; in factual evidence; and in the rule of law. Issues at the heart of the information age have been exposed: there exists a glut of information & a sea of data to navigate with little formalised guidance as to how to find our way through it. For the beleaguered individual, this glut makes it near impossible to find ‘truth in the numbers’ while equating one online news source to be just as valid as another, regardless of its credibility, only exacerbates the problem. All this, combined with an increasing lack of privacy and an increasing lack of transparency, makes for a potent combination.

There is a place of refuge you can go, however. A place where facts, not ‘alternate facts’, but actual verifiable facts, are venerated. A place that holds as its central tenets, principles of verifiability, neutral point of view, and transparency above all else. A place where every edit made to a page is recorded, for the life of that page, so you can see what change was made, when & by whom. How many other sites give you that level of transparency where you can check, challenge & correct the information presented if it does hold to the principles of verifiability?

image004

Now consider that this site is the world’s number one information site; visited by 500 million visitors a month and considered, by British people, to be more trustworthy than the BBC, ITV, the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph according to a 2014 Yougov survey.

image006

While Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website in the world, the other internet giants in the top ten cannot compete with it for transparency; an implicit promise of trust with its users. Some 200+ factors go into constructing how Google’s algorithm determines the top ten results for a search term yet we have no inkling what those factors are or how those all-important top ten search results are arrived at. Contrast this opacity, and Facebook’s for that matter, with Wikimedia’s own (albeit abortive) proposal for a Knowledge Engine (Sentance, 2016); envisaged as the world’s first transparent non-commercial search engine and consider what that transparency might have meant for the virtual generation being able to trust the information they are presented with.

Wikidata (Wikimedia’s digital repository of free, openly-licensed structured data) represents another bright hope. It is already used to power, though not exclusively, many of the answers in Google’s Knowledge Graph without ever being attributed as such.

image009

Wikidata is a free linked database of knowledge that can be read and edited by both humans and machines. It acts as central storage for the structured data of its Wikimedia sister projects including Wikipedia, Wikivoyage, Wikisource, and others. The mission behind Wikidata is clear: if ‘to Google’ has come to stand in for ‘to search’ and “search is the way we now live” (Darnton in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013, p.5) then ‘to Wikidata’ is ‘to check the digital provenance’. And checking the digital provenance of assertions is pivotal to our suddenly bewildered democracy.

While fact-checking websites exist & more are springing up all the time, Wikipedia is already firmly established as the place where students and staff conduct pre-research on a topic; “to gain context on a topic, to orient themselves, students start with Wikipedia…. In this unique role, it therefore serves as an ideal bridge between the validated and unvalidated Web.” (Grathwohl, 2011)

Therefore, it is vitally important that Wikipedia’s users know how knowledge is constructed & curated and the difference between fact-checked accurate information from reliable sources and information that plainly isn’t.

Knowledge creates understanding – understanding is sorely lacking in today’s world. Behind every article on Wikipedia is a Talk page is a public forum where editors hash it out; from citations, notability to truth.” (Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, December 2016)

The advent of fake news means that people need somewhere they can turn to where the information is accurate, reliable and trustworthy. Wikipedia editors have been evaluating the validity and reliability of sources and removing those facts not attributed to a reliable published source for years. Therefore engaging staff and students in Wikipedia assignments embeds source evaluation as a core component of the assignment. Recent research by Harvard Business School has also shown that the process of editing Wikipedia has a profound impact on those that participate in it; whereby editors that become involved in the discourse of an article’s creation with a particular slanted viewpoint or bias actually become more moderate over time. This means editing Wikipedia actually de-radicalises its editors as they seek to work towards a common truth. Would that were true of other much more partisan sectors of the internet.

Further, popular articles and breaking news stories are often covered on Wikipedia extremely thoroughly where the focus of many eyes make light work in the construction of detailed, properly cited, accurate articles. And that might just be the best weapon to combat fake news; while one news source in isolation may give one side of a breaking story, Wikipedia often provides a holistic overview of all the news sources available on a given topic.

Wikipedia already has clear policies on transparency, verifiability, and reliable sources. What it doesn’t have is the knowledge that universities have behind closed doors; often separated into silos or in pay-walled repositories. What it doesn’t have is enough willing contributors to meet the demands of the 1.5 billion unique devices that access it each month in ensuring its coverage of the ever-expanding knowledge is kept as accurate, up-to-date & representative of the sum of all knowledge as possible.

This is where you come in.

 

Conclusion

It’s up to other people to decide whether they give it any credibility or not,” (Oakeshott in Viner, 2016)

The truth is out there. But it is up to us to challenge claims and to help verify them. This is no easy task in the information age and it is prone to, sometimes very deliberate, obfuscation. Infoglut has become the new censorship; a way of controlling the seemingly uncontrollable. Fact-checking sites have sprung up in greater numbers but they depend on people seeking them out when convenience and cognitive ease have proven time and again to be the drivers for the virtual generation.

We know that Wikipedia is the largest and most popular reference work on the internet. We know that it is transparent and built on verifiability and neutral point of view. We know that it has been combating fake news for years. So if the virtual generation are not armed with the information literacy education to enable them to critically evaluate the sources they encounter and the nature of the algorithms that mediate their interactions with the world, how then are they to make the informed decisions necessary to play their part as responsible online citizens?

It is the response of our governments and our Higher Education institutions to this last question that is the worry.

image010

Wikimedia at the University of Edinburgh

As the Wikimedia residency at the University of Edinburgh moves into its second year we are looking to build on the success of the first year and work with other course leaders and students both inside and outside the curriculum. Starting small has proven to be a successful methodology but bold approaches like the University of British Columbia’s WikiProject Murder, Madness & Mayhem can also prove extremely successful. Indeed, bespoke solutions can often be found to individual requirements.

 

Time and motivation are the two most frequent cited barriers to uptake. These are undoubted challenges to academics, students & support staff but the experience of this year is that the merits of engagement & an understanding of how Wikipedia assignments & edit-a-thons operate overcome any such concerns in practice. Once understood, Wikipedia can be a powerful tool in an educator’s arsenal. Engagement from course leaders, information professionals and support from the institution itself go a long way to realising that the time & motivation is well-placed.

For educators, engaging with Wikipedia:

  • meets the information literacy & digital literacy needs of our students.
  • enhances learning & teaching in the curriculum
  • helps develop & share knowledge in their subject discipline
  • raises the visibility & impact of research in their particular field.

In this way, practitioners can swap out existing components of their practice in favour of Wikimedia learning activities which develop:

  • Critical information literacy skills
  • Digital literacy
  • Academic writing & referencing
  • Critical thinking
  • Literature review
  • Writing for different audiences
  • Research skills
  • Community building
  • Online citizenship
  • Collaboration.

This all begins with engaging in the conversation.

Wikipedia turned 16 on January 15th 2017. It has long been the elephant in the room in education circles but it is time to articulate that Wikipedia does indeed belong in education and that it plays an important role in our understanding & disseminating of the world’s knowledge. With Oxford University now also hosting their own Wikimedian in Residence on a university-wide remit, it is time also to articulate that this conversation is not going away. Far from it, the information & digital literacy needs of our students and staff will only intensify. Higher Education institutions must need formulate a response. The best thing we can do as educators & information professionals is to be vigilant and to be vocal; articulating both our vision for Open Knowledge & the pressing need for engagement in skills development as a core part of the university’s mission and give our senior managers something they can say ‘Yes’ to.

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

  • Want to become a Wikipedia editor?
  • Want to become a Wikipedia trainer?
  • Want to run a Wikipedia course assignment?
  • Want to contribute images to Wikimedia Commons?
  • Want to contribute your research to Wikipedia?
  • Want to contribute your research data to Wikidata?

References

Abram, S. (2016). Political literacy can be learned! Internet@Schools, 23(4), 8-10. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/docview/1825888133?accountid=10673

Alcantara, Chris (2016).“Wikipedia editors are essentially writing the election guide millions of voters will read”. Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-12-10.

Ashok, India (2016-11-18). “UK passes Investigatory Powers Bill that gives government sweeping powers to spy”International Business Times UK. Retrieved 2016-12-11.

Bates, ME 2016, ‘Embracing the Filter Bubble’, Online Searcher, 40, 5, p. 72, Computers & Applied Sciences Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 10 December 2016.

Blumenthal, Helaine (2016).“How Wikipedia is unlocking scientific knowledge”. Wiki Education Foundation. 2016-11-03. Retrieved 2016-12-10.

Bode, Leticia (2016-07-01). “Pruning the news feed: Unfriending and unfollowing political content on social media”. Research & Politics. 3 (3): 2053168016661873. doi:10.1177/2053168016661873ISSN 2053-1680.

Bojesen, Emile (2016-02-22). “Inventing the Educational Subject in the ‘Information Age'”. Studies in Philosophy and Education. 35 (3): 267–278. doi:10.1007/s11217-016-9519-2ISSN 0039-3746.

Boyd, Danah (2017-01-05). “Did Media Literacy Backfire?”. Data & Society: Points. Retrieved 2017-02-01.

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