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.
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.
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.”
This post was co-authored with Jemima John (pictured above), 4th year undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Law and a Digital Skills intern in Information Services. It was written with a focus on Wikipedia and legal education but speaks to Wikipedia’s role in tertiary education more generally. You can watch an interview with Jemima John on Media Hopper.
Uses of Wikipedia in higher education
Since the early 2000’s, Wikipedia has acquired somewhat of a negative reputation for being unreliable. Educators are normally wary of allowing Wikipedia as a source that anyone can edit. This is due to believing it to be a source of misinformation, going directly against their role to reduce misinformation in the world.
However, what if the contrary is true?
What if Wikipedia can be used to reduce misinformation in the world, an often-highlighted problem of our current times. This is the very mission of Wikimedia organization. The Wikimedia projects exist to combat misinformation. Indeed, Wikipedians have been combating fake news for years as source evaluation is a core skill of a Wikipedian. Researchers found that only 7 percent of all Wikipedia edits are considered vandalism and nearly all vandalism edits are reverted instantly by automated programs (bots) which help to patrol Wikipedia for copyright violation, plagiarism and vandalism. If a page is targeted for vandalism it can also be ‘semi-protected’ (essentially locking the page so new edits are reviewed before being added) for one day, two days or longer as required while accounts or IP addresses repeating vandalism can be blocked indefinitely. While Wikipedia is still the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, a recent implementation is new users cannot create new pages until their account has been active for four days and accrued at least ten edits. Within the first four days, however, new users can submit their new pages for review by another editor who quality checks it is sufficiently neutral, notable and well-referenced for inclusion in Wikipedia’s live space.
Due to open licensing of Wikipedia content, it is more visible across the Internet. For example, Google scrapes from Wikipedia biographies to feature as sidebar profiles as part of its ‘Knowledge Graph’ answer engine results for notable people; among many other topics. Wikipedia articles also happen to be within the top five search results due to its preferential status in Google’s ranking algorithm. This is important when one considers ‘search is the way we live now’. According to 2011 figures, Google processed 91% of searches internationally and 97.4% of searches from mobile devices. Google has also been found to have a funneling effect whereby the sources clicked upon the first page of results are clicked on 90% of the time with 42% click through on the first choice alone. Indeed, more recently, research published in 2017 found that Wikipedia and Google have a symbiotic relationship whereby Google depends on Wikipedia – click through rates decrease by 80% if Wikipedia links are removed – and Wikipedia depends on Google – 84.5% of the visits to Wikipedia are attributable to Google. While, just this year, researchers at MIT and the University of Pittsburgh published a paper that evidenced that science is actually shaped by Wikipedia; demonstrating the free encyclopedia’s influence. The randomised control trial the researchers undertook evidenced a strong causal impact that, as one of the most accessed websites in the world, incorporating ideas into Wikipedia leads to those ideas being used more in the scientific literature. 
Today Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website on the Internet and sometimes more trusted than traditional news publications, according to a recent YouGov poll. This poll indicated that Wikipedia was trusted by the British people more than such reputable news sites as the Guardian, BBC, the Telegraph, the Times and others. Wikipedia relies on these sources, and other similar sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy, so would not necessarily advocate trusting a Wikipedia article over these other sites.
However, Wikipedia’s policies on Neutral Point of View (NPOV) and identifying reliable sources do help police its content and plainly increases trust in its content. Research from the Harvard Business School has also discovered that, unlike other more partisan areas of the internet, Wikipedia’s focus on NPOV (neutral point of view) means editors actually become more moderate over time; the researchers seeing this as evidence that editing “Wikipedia helps break people out of their ideological echo chambers”. More than this, it is worth considering what value one would place on having somewhere online like Wikipedia – and unlike many other of the world’s top ten websites – where it is completely, ruthlessly transparent in how pages are put together so that you can see: when edits were made; and by whom; and so that edits can always be checked, challenged and corrected if need be. After all, all edits to a Wikipedia page are recorded in its View History which includes which account or IP address made the edit along with a date, time and edit summary. Importantly, these entries in the View History are all permanent links so that different versions of the page can be compared and, ultimately, so a page can always be reverted back to its last good state if any unhelpful edits are ever made.
Indeed, the process of researching and writing a Wikipedia article demonstrates ‘how the sausage is made’ – how knowledge is created, curated and contested online – and asks students as part of their research to consider what constitutes a reliable source. In this way, students can be introduced to the pros and cons of searching a variety of databases as part of discussions on information and media literacy. Ultimately, whether it is a news article, journal article or Wikipedia article one should always evaluate what one is reading. That much has always been true. Wikipedia, for its part, has as its policy that no Wikipedia page should be cited in an academic paper. Rather Wikipedia considers itself a tertiary source; an encyclopedia of articles made up from citations from high quality published secondary sources. If one cites anything it is these sources that one should cite, not Wikipedia itself. In this way, Wikipedia reframes itself as useful place for pre-researching a topic in order to orientate oneself before delving into the scholarly literature. Hence, it is not the endpoint of research but the beginning; the digital gateway to academic research. In this way, it can then be seen as a valuable resource in itself. 2016 research confirmed that 87.5% of students were using it in this way; in “an introductory and/or clarificatory role” as part of their information gathering and research and finding it ‘academically useful’ in this context. Now in its seventeenth year, Wikipedia has approaching 5.7 million articles in English with about ten edits per second across all Wikimedia projects and nearly 500 articles created each day. As the largest reference work on the internet, it is simply too big to fail now and too important a source of information for the world. Consequently, Wikipedia has realized this and has taken out an endowment to ensure it exists it perpetuity.
Within the boundaries of Wikipedia editing guidelines of notability, reliability, and verifiability, it can prove to be a valuable resource in education. Editing Wikipedia articles builds a number of key skills. It encourages digital creation and digital collaboration skills. It builds legal research skills through finding relevant sources. Most of all, the ability to synthesize the research in an accessible manner for a non-legal audience is an unique but incredibly valuable skill for any law student. What is amazing about editing and creating Wikipedia articles is that the articles it allows for dialogue and improvement over the article through collaboration with other editors.
Indeed, it was the ‘realness’ and collaborative element of the assignment that appealed to students on the Reproductive Biology Hons. programme along with seizing a rare opportunity to communicate medical knowledge to a lay audience. Being able to communicate to a non-specialist audience is a key skill for new medics just as communicating legal knowledge is a key skill for new entrants to the legal profession.
For History undergraduates, it was the opportunity to improve the public’s understanding of history in a way that was active and not just passively receiving knowledge. More than this, it was recognizing that people’s understanding of the diversity of history would not be improved until staff and students actively engaged with addressing these gaps in representation; particularly in underrepresented areas such as social history, gender history and queer history.
A Wikipedia assignment isn’t just another essay or presentation that students may never return to, but something that has actually been created; a way of demonstrating the relevance of a student’s degree and communicating their scholarship in a real-world application of teaching and learning. Beyond this, the experience of a Wikipedia assignment at Bucknell University was that:
“at the close of the semester, students said that simply knowing that an audience of editors existed was enough to change how they wrote. They chose words more carefully. They double-checked their work for accuracy and reliability. And they began to think about how best they could communicate their scholarship to readers who were as curious, conscientious, and committed and as they were”.
Once the article becomes live on Wikipedia and indexed in Google’s top five results, students realise that there is agency to sharing their scholarship with the world. By way of example, Reproductive Biology Honours student Áine Kavanagh’s scrupulously researched a brand new article on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most deadly and most common forms of ovarian cancer. This article, including over sixty references and open-licensed diagrams Áine herself created, has now been viewed over 33,000 times since it was published in September 2016; adding a well-referenced source of health information to the global Open Knowledge community. Hence, rather than students’ work being disposed of at the end of an assignment, it can become a community project that can then be added to and improved over time; either by the students themselves or by other editors anywhere around the world. This has been a key motivator for students taking part in Wikipedia projects at the University of Edinburgh.
Of these other editors, there are some 2000+ WikiProjects on Wikipedia where editors come together to focus on a particular area of Wikipedia because they are passionate about the subject and/or have expertise in that area. If you check the Talk page of an article on Wikipedia you will see the WikiProject that has been assigned to ‘look after’ the article. In this way, content on Wikipedia is monitored and curated by a team of subject specialists; amateur enthusiasts and professionals alike. WikiProject Law aims to organise the law-related articles that consist of defining concepts spanning jurisdictions. There is a need for more articles focused on Scots law and there is scope to start a WikiProject to organise articles regarding Scots law.
There can be a number of applications within the law school. A Wikipedia assignment can be run in a single afternoon or over the course of an entire semester. It can be done as individual work, paired work or group work. Starting small and building up over time has proven a sensible methodology although best practice has been developed over a number of years at the university and elsewhere if bolder approaches are warranted.
It can be a formative assessed from a student perspective, it should be noted that if software seems too difficult to learn, students may feel like it is not worth the formative assessment and that it should be summative in nature. Indeed, recent experience is that students have been enthused to take part in Wikipedia assignments and put great efforts in to complete the assignment so receiving some feedback on their efforts always goes some way to ensuring they are fully satisfied by the experience: be it a group discussion; using a Wikipedia marking rubric; individual assessment; peer assessment; blogging their reflections on the project; or providing an oral presentation. The timing of the assignment may also help ensure its success. If it is assigned during a time of the term where other summative assessments may be due then the students may be more strategic in where they place their priorities.
Hence, past experience at the University of Edinburgh has suggested that a Wikipedia assignment incorporating such elements as students having discussions around information literacy and learning how to edit/ how to use a new form of educational technology may work best in the first semester as part of inducting the students into good digital research habits for the rest of the year before the course programme becomes busier in the second and third semesters. World Christianity MSc students and Psychology undergraduate students have also reported in recent interviews how the experience of adding references to Wikipedia was both a motivating and “very exciting” moment for them; partly because of the “slick” way Wikipedia allows you to add citations easily and partly because of the fact they were able to draw from relevant news articles and bring them together with books and journal articles (and more) to holistically convey the subject they were writing about.
In terms of how hard or difficult Wikipedia editing now is, Wikipedia has a new WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Visual Editor interface which is easy to learn in an hour and just takes a little practice. It makes use of dropdown menus much like one experiences in word processing applications such as Microsoft Word and WordPress blogging and has been described variously as “super easy”, “fun”, “really intuitive” and “addictive as hell.”
There is also scope for a Wikipedia assignment to form a proportion of the summative element of the course as they have done on the World Christianity MSc. It should be noted that contributions made to Wikipedia are not static, but rather they are picked up by other Wikipedia editors to improve the reliability of the site. In educational contexts, this could be seen negatively but students have intimated that they like their work surviving beyond the life of the assignment and becoming a community project that can be added to over time. Beyond this, students can download their finished pages as a pdf, create books of their finished articles and, because all edits are recorded as permanent links in the View History of a page, they will always have a permanent link to their version of the page, no matter what changes are made to improve or expand it by other editors.
Wikipedia is an useful source but it can never replace formal legal education which teaches specialist knowledge, analytical skills, ethical standards, and importantly impart a love of democracy and justice. Wikipedia in legal education will only supplement these activities.
 McMahon, Connor; Johnson, Isaac; and Hecht, Brent (2017). The Substantial Interdependence of Wikipedia and Google: A Case Study on the Relationship Between Peer Production Communities and Information Technologies.
With about 17 billion page views every month, it’s safe to say that most of us have heard of Wikipedia and maybe even use it on a regular basis. However, most people don’t realise that Wikipedia is the tip of the iceberg. Its sister sites include a media library (Wikimedia Commons), a database (Wikidata), a library of public domain texts (Wikisource), and even a dictionary (Wiktionary) – along with many others, these form the Wikimedia websites.
While the content is all crowd-sourced, the Wikimedia Foundation in the US maintains the hardware and software the websites run on. Wikimedia UK is one of dozens of sister organisations around the globe who support the mission of the Wikimedia websites to share the world’s knowledge.
Today, Wikipedia is the number one information site in the world, visited by 500 million visitors a month; the place that students and staff consult for pre-research on a topic. And considered, according to a 2014 Yougov survey, to be trusted more than the Guardian, BBC, Telegraph and Times. Perhaps because its commitment to transparency is an implicit promise of trust to its users where everything on it can be checked, challenged and corrected.
Wikimedia at an ancient university
The Edinburgh residency
In January 2016, the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK partnered to host a Wikimedian in Residence for twelve months. This residency marks something of a paradigm shift as the first in the UK in supporting the whole university as part of its commitment to skills development and open knowledge.
Background to the residency
The University of Edinburgh held its first editathon – a workshop where people learn how to edit Wikipedia and start writing – during the university’s midterm Innovative Learning Week in February 2015. Ally Crockford (Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland) and Sara Thomas (Wikimedian in Residence at Museums & Galleries Scotland) came to help deliver the ‘Women, Science and Scottish History’ editathon series which celebrated the Edinburgh Seven; the first group of matriculated undergraduate female students at any British university.
“The striking thing for me was how quickly colleagues within the University took to the idea and began supporting each other in developing their skills and sharing knowledge amongst a multi-professional group. This inspired me to commission some academic research to look at the connections and networking amongst the participants and to explore whether editathons were a good investment in developing workplace digital skills.”– Melissa Highton – Assistant Principal for Online Learning.
This research, conducted by Professor Allison Littlejohn, found that there was clear evidence of informal & formal learning going on. Further, that “all respondents reported that the editathon had a positive influence on their professional role. They were keen to integrate what they learned into their work in some capacity and believed participation had increased their professional capabilities.”
Since successfully making case for hosting a Wikimedian in Residence, the residency’s remit has been to advocate for knowledge exchange and deliver training events & workshops across the university which further both the quantity & quality of open knowledge and the university’s commitment to embedding information literacy & digital literacy in the curriculum.
Wikimedia UK and the University of Edinburgh – shared missions
Edinburgh was the first university to be founded with a ‘civic’ mission; created not by the church but by the citizens of Edinburgh for the citizens of Edinburgh in 1583. The mission of the university of Edinburgh is “the creation, curation & dissemination of knowledge”. Founded a good deal later, Wikipedia began on January 15th 2001; the free encyclopaedia is now the largest & most popular reference work on the internet.
Wikimedia’s vision is “imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge”. It is 100% funded by donations and is the only non-profit website in the top ten most popular sites.
Addressing the knowledge gap
While Wikipedia is the free encyclopaedia that anyone can edit, not everyone does. Of the 80,000 or so monthly contributors to Wikipedia, only around 3000 are termed very active Wikipedians; meaning the world’s knowledge is often left to be curated by a population the size of a village (roughly the size of Kinghorn in Fife… or half of North Berwick). While 5.4 million articles in English Wikipedia is the largest of the 295 active language Wikipedias, it is estimated that there would need to be at least 104 million articles on English Wikipedia alone to cover all the notable subjects in the world. That means as of last month, English Wikipedia is missing approximately 99 million articles.
Less than 15% of women edit Wikipedia and this skews the content in much the same way with only 17.1% of biographies about notable women. The University of Edinburgh has a commitment to equality and diversity and our Wikimedia residency therefore has a particular emphasis on open practice and engaging colleagues in discussing why some areas of open practice do have a clear gender imbalance. In this way many of our Wikipedia events focused on addressing the gender gap as part of the university’s commitment to Athena Swan; creating new role models for young and old alike. Role models like Janet Anne Galloway, advocate for higher education for women in Scotland, Helen Archdale (journalist and suffragette), Mary Susan McIntosh (sociologist and LGBT campaigner) among many many more.
That’s why it is enormously pleasing that over the whole year, 65% of attendees at our events were female.
The residency has, at its heart, been about making connections. Both across the university’s three teaching colleges and beyond; with the city of Edinburgh itself. Demonstrating how staff, students and members of the public can most benefit from and contribute to the development of the huge open knowledge resource that are the Wikimedia projects. And we made some significant connections over the last year in all of these areas.
Inviting staff & students from all different backgrounds and disciplines to contribute their time and expertise to the creation & improvement of Wikipedia articles in a number of events has worked well and engendered opportunities for collaborations and knowledge exchange across the university, with other institutions across the UK; and across Europe in the case of colleagues from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine working with research partner labs.
Ultimately, what you wanted attendees to get from the experience was this; the idea that knowledge is most useful when it is used; engaged with; built upon. Contributing to Wikipedia can also help demonstrate research impact as there is a lot of work going on to ensure that Wikipedia citations to scholarly works use the DOI. The reason being that Wikipedia is already the fifth largest referrer of traffic through the DOI resolver and this is thought to be an underestimate of its true position.
Not just Wikipedia
Introducing staff and students to the work of the Wikimedia Foundation and the other 11 projects has been a key part of the residency with a Wikidata & Wikisource Showcase held during Repository Fringe in August 2016 which has resulted in some out-of-copyright PhD theses being uploaded to Wikisource, and linked to from Wikipedia, just one click away.
Wikisource is a free digital library which hosts out-of-copyright texts including: novels, short stories, plays, poems, songs, letters, travel writing, non-fiction texts, speeches, news articles, constitutional documents, court rulings, obituaries, and much more besides. The result is an online text library which is free to anyone to read with the added benefits that the text is quality assured, searchable and downloadable.
Wikidata is our most exciting project with many predicting it will overtake Wikipedia in years to come as the dominant project. A free linked database of machine-readable knowledge, Wikidata acts as central storage for the structured data of all 295 different language Wikipedias and all the other Wikimedia sister projects.
“How can you trust Wikipedia when anyone can edit it?”
This is the main charge levelled against involvement with Wikipedia and the residency has been making the case for re-evaluating Wikipedia and for engendering a greater critical information literacy in staff & students. And that’s the thing. Wikipedia doesn’t want you to cite it. It is a tertiary source; an aggregator of articles built on citations from reliable published secondary sources. In this way it is reframing itself as the ‘front matter to all research.’
Wikipedia has clear policy guidelines to help ensure its integrity.
Verifiability – every single statement on Wikipedia needs to be backed up with a citation from a reliable published secondary source. So an implicit promise is made to our users that you can go on there and check, challenge and correct the verifiability of any statement made on Wikipedia.
No original research – while knowledge is created everyday, until it is published by a reliable secondary source, it should not be on Wikipedia. The presence of editorial oversight is a key consideration in source evaluation therefore, however well-researched, someone’s personal interpretation is not to be included.
Neutral point of view – many subjects on Wikipedia are controversial so can we find common truth in fact? The rule of thumb is you can cover controversy but don’t engage in it. Wikipedians therefore present the facts as they exist.
Automated programmes (bots) patrol Wikipedia and can revert unhelpful edits & copyright violations within minutes. The edit history of a page is detailed such that it is very easy to revert a page to its last good state and block IP addresses of users who break the rules.
“What underlies Wikipedia, at its very heart, is this fundamental idea that more people want to good than harm, more people want to create knowledge than destroy, more people want to share than contain. At its core Wikipedia is about human generosity.” – Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation in December 2016.
This idea that more people want to good than harm has also been borne out by researchers who found that only seven percent of edits could be considered vandalism.
Wikipedia in the Classroom
Developing information literacy, online citizenship and digital research skills.
The residency has met with a great many course leaders across the entire university and the interactions have all been extremely fruitful in terms of understanding what each side needs to ensure a successful assignment and lowering the threshold for engagement.
Translation Studies MSc students have completed the translation of a Wikipedia article of at least 4000 words into a different language Wikipedia last semester and are to repeat the assignment this semester. This time asking students to translate in the reverse direction from last semester so that the knowledge shared is truly a two-way exchange.
World Christianity MSc students undertook an 11-week Wikipedia assignment as part of the ‘Selected Themes in the Study of World Christianity’ class. This core course offers candidates the opportunity to study in depth Christian history, thought and practice in and from Africa, Asia and Latin America. The assignment comprised of writing a new article, following a literature review, on a World Christianity term hitherto unrepresented on Wikipedia.
“When you hand in an essay the only people that generally read it are you and your lecturer. And then once they both read it, it kind of disappears and you don’t look at it again. No one really benefits from it. With a Wikipedia assignment, other people contribute to it, you put it out there for everyone to read, you can keep coming back to it, keep adding to it, other people can do as well. It becomes more of a community project that everyone can read and access. I really enjoyed it.” – Nuam Hatzaw, World Christianity MSc student.
Reproductive Biology Honours students in September 2015 researched, synthesised and developed a first-rate Wikipedia entry of a previously unpublished reproductive medicine term: neuroangiogenesis. The following September, the next iteration was more ambitious. All thirty-eight students were trained to edit Wikipedia and worked collaboratively in groups to research and produce the finished written articles. The assignment developed the students’ research skills, information literacy, digital literacy, collaborative working, academic writing & referencing.
One particular deadly form of ovarian cancer, High grade serous carcinoma, was unrepresented on Wikipedia and Reproductive Biology student Áine Kavanagh took great care to thoroughly research and write the article to address this; even developing her own openly-licensed diagrams to help illustrate the article. Her scholarship has now been viewed over sixteen thousand times adding an important source of health information to the global Open Knowledge community.
“It was a really good exercise in scientific writing and writing for a lay audience.As a student it’s a really good opportunity. It’s a really motivating thing to be able to do; to relay the knowledge you’ve learnt in lectures and exams, which hasn’t really been relevant outside of lectures and exams, but to see how it’s relevant to the real world and to see how you can contribute.” –ÁineKavanagh.
Following a successful multidisciplinary approach, including students and staff all collaborating in the co-creation & sharing of knowledge, the residency has been extended into a third year until January 2019. Twenty members of staff have also now been trained to provide Wikipedia training and advice to colleagues to help with the sustainability of the partnership in tandem with support from Wikimedia UK.
While also ensuring Wikipedia editing is both embedded in regular digital skills workshops, demystifying how to begin editing Wikipedia has been a core focus of the residency, utilising Wikipedia’s new easy-to-use Visual Editor interface. Over two hundred videos and video tutorials, lesson plans, case studies, booklets and handouts have been created & curated in order to lower the threshold for staff and students to be able to engage with the Wikimedia projects in the years ahead.
The way ahead
Ten years after Wikipedia first launched, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by the vice president of Oxford University of Press acclaiming that ‘Wikipedia had come of age’ and that it was time Wikipedia played a vital role in formal education settings. Since that article, the advent of ‘Fake News’ has engendered discussions around how best to equip students with a critical information literacy. For Wikipedia editors this is nothing new as they have been combatting fake news for years and source evaluation is one of the Wikipedian’s core skills.
In fact, there is increasing synchronicity in that the skills and experiences that universities and PISA are articulating they want to see students endowed with are ones that Wikipedia assignments help develop. The assignments we have run this year have all demonstrated this and are to be repeated as a result. The case for Wikipedia playing a vital role in formal education settings has never been stronger.
Is now the time for Wikipedia to come of age?
If not now, then when?
Postscript: All three assignments from 2016/2017 are continuing in 2017/2018 because of the positive feedback from staff and students alike.
These are being augmented with collaborations with:
two student societies; the History Society for Black History Month and the Translation Society on a Wikipedia project to give their student members much-needed published translation practice.
Library and University Collections to add source metadata from 27,000 records in the Edinburgh Research Archive to Wikidata and 20+ digitised theses to Wikisource
a further three in-curriculum collaborations in Digital Sociology MSc, Global Health and Anthropology MSc and Data Science for Design MSc.
the Fruitmarket Gallery and the university’s Centre for Design Informatics for a Scottish Contemporary Artists editathon.
A Litlong editathon as part of the AHRC ‘Being Human’ festival.
The School of Chemistry for Ada Lovelace Day to celebrate women in STEM.
the University Chaplaincy to mark the International Storytelling Festival.
Teeside University to run a ‘Regeneration’ themed editathon.
As we have shown, there are huge areas of convergence between the Wikimedia projects and higher education. The Edinburgh residency has demonstrated that collaborations between universities and Wikimedia are mutually beneficial and that Wikipedia plays a vitally important role in the development of information literacy, digital research skills and the dissemination of academic knowledge for the common good.
That all begins with engaging in the conversation. Building an informed understanding of the Wikimedia projects and the huge opportunities that working together create.