Wikimedian in Residence @emcandre highlights how staff & students are engaging with Wikipedia to address the diversity of editors & content shared online.
“The information that is on Wikipedia spreads across the internet. What is right or wrong or missing on Wikipedia affects the entire internet.” (Wadewitz, 2014)
Wikipedia, the free, online, encyclopaedia is building the largest open knowledge resource in human history. Now aged eighteen, Wikipedia ranks among the world’s top ten sites for scholarly resource lookups and is extensively used by virtually every platform used on a daily basis, receiving over 500 million views per month, from 1.5 billion unique devices. As topics on Wikipedia become more visible on Google, they receive more press coverage and become better known amongst the public.
“Wikipedia is today the gateway through which millions of people now seek access to knowledge.”- (Cronon, 2012)
At the University of Edinburgh, we have quickly generated real examples of technology-enhanced learning activities appropriate to the curriculum and transformed our students, staff andmembers of the public from being passive readers and consumers to being active, engaged contributors. The result is that our community is more engaged with knowledge creation online and readers all over the world benefit from our teaching, research and collections.
Our Wikimedia in the Curriculum activities bring benefits to the students who learn new skills and have immediate impact in addressing both the diversity of editors and diversity of content shared online:
Global Health MSc students add 180-200 words to Global Health related articles e.g. their edits to the page on obesity are viewed 3,000 times per day on average.
Digital Sociology MSc students engage in workshops with how sociology is communicated and how knowledge is created and curated online each year as a response to the recent ASA article.
Translation Studies MSc students gain meaningful published practice by translating 2,000 words to share knowledge between two different language Wikipedias on a topic of their own choosing.
World Christianity MSc students undertake a literature review assignment to make the subject much less about White Northern hemisphere perspectives; creating new articles on Asian Feminist Theology, Sub-Saharan Political Theology and more.
Data Science for Design MSc – Wikipedia’s sister project, Wikidata, affords students the opportunity to work practically with research datasets, like the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database, and surface data to the Linked Open Data Cloud and explore the direct and indirect relationships at play in this semantic web of knowledge to help further discovery.
We also work with student societies (Law & Technology, History, Translation, Women in STEM, Wellcomm Kings) and have held events for Ada Lovelace Day, LGBT History Month, Black History Month and celebrated Edinburgh’s Global Alumni; working with the UncoverEd project and the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission.
Students are addressing serious knowledge gaps and are intrinsically motivated to do so because their scholarship is published and does something lasting for the common good, for an audience of not one but millions.
“It’s an emotional connection… Within, I’d say, less than 2 hours of me putting her page in place it was the top hit that came back in Google when I Googled it and I just thought that’s it, that’s impact right there!” (Hood & Littlejohn, 2018)
Wadewitz, A. (2014). 04. Teaching with Wikipedia: the Why, What, and How. Retrieved from https://www.hastac.org/blogs/wadewitz/2014/02/21/04-teaching-wikipedia-why-what-and-how
McMahon, C.; Johnson, I.; and Hecht, B. (2017). The Substantial Interdependence of Wikipedia and Google: A Case Study on the Relationship Between Peer Production Communities and Information Technologies.
The Wikimedia residency is a free resource available to all staff and students interested in exploring how to benefit from and contribute to the free and open Wikimedia projects.
I attended the 2019 LILAC Information Literacy Conference (Twitter hashtag: #LILAC19) at the University of Nottingham on 24-26 April 2019 with my Academic Support Librarian colleague, Donna Watson. This was my first visit to this conference and I was unsure what to expect and to what extent information professionals attending the conference would welcome and engage with discussing Wikipedia and Information Literacy.
However, I was blown away with the level of enthusiasm to discuss this subject – from discussions on Wikipedia’s role in teaching and learning; on open access; on addressing gender bias online and feminist pedagogy in information literacy instruction; to developing our understanding and a definition of data literacy further; to how better to facilitate the dissemination of accurate health information arising from Ruth Carlyle’s excellent keynote; and how to support a more robust critical information literacy when it came to combating ‘fake news’ (misinformation & disinformation) using the IF I APPLY model instead of the CRAAP Test.
NB: If you are interested then ‘Changing the Way Stories Are Told’ – Melissa Highton on the Edinburgh Seven has audio from her presentation at the Wikipedia Science Conference 2015, and a video presentation at the 2017 Physiological Society event).
I have many other highlights from the warm welcome I received over the three days I spent at the University of Nottingham including the conference dinner and disco at Colwick Hall (Lord Byron’s ancestral home apparently); the introduction we received and anecdotes shared on the D.H. Lawrence archival collection; and discussing with Caroline Ball and Jonathan White about their own Wikipedia in the Curriculum project at the University of Derby. Staff and student feedback does seem extraordinarily clear on the benefits of engaging with Wikipedia in teaching and learning over any abstinence-only approach. So it does seem to me that Wikipedia editing events, ‘editathons’, have indeed reached a ‘tipping point’ moment where we can have these conversations about how best to engage across the library and education sectors and beyond.
My presentation, which Donna Watson co-presented with me, is below.
Embedding Wikimedia in the Curriculum
My name is Ewan McAndrew and I work at the University of Edinburgh as the Wikimedian in Residence. Melissa Highton, our Director of IT at the University was to have been here today to speak about why she wanted a Wikimedian in post but she’s otherwise engaged so I’m delighted my Academic Support Librarian colleague, Donna Watson, has agreed to share her perspective on the residency.
Because that’s what we found to be the case over the last three years.
Can you tell me three words that come to mind when I mention Wikipedia?
Would they be Don’t Use Wikipedia?
Or have we moved away from that into a different way of thinking about Wikipedia?
Let’s start with a short video of staff & student reaction to the residency to see if things have moved on.
This is a video submission which was shortlisted for the 2019 LILAC Information Literacy Awards for the work of the Wikimedia Residency at the University of Edinburgh.
I have been working at the University of Edinburgh for over 3 years now as the Wikimedian in Residence. It has been something of an experiment, a proof of concept, the first role of its kind in the UK supporting the whole university.
But it has been a successful one. And I’m pleased to see Wikimedian roles at Oxford University, Maynooth University, Coventry University and Wiki work being taken up in unis up and down the country.
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 and libraries to engage. You can find more about the residency and its work by typing Wikipedia:University of Edinburgh into the search bar of Wikipedia. You can find our 254 videos and video tutorials at tinyurl.com/StudentVids and you can find some ‘need-to-know’ state of the project facts at bit.ly/Wikipedia2019
So this conference is a very timely conference for reflecting on the work we have been doing over the last 3 years. In thinking about how we support developing a more robust critical information literacy. And looking at how to do things differently in a rapidly changing digital world.
”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)
This is a huge discussion right now. It needs to be. Not least in terms of what value we in higher education, and information professionals in general, place in students, staff and members of the public being conversant with how knowledge is created, curated and contested online and their being conversant with the big digital intermediaries that govern our daily lives. Particularly when one thinks “search is the way we now live”.
“When you turn on a tap you expect clean water to come out and when you do a search you expect good information to come out”
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 where students, staff and members of the public can all contribute their scholarship for the common good.
Because I take the view that there is a huge & pivotal role for information professionals to play in this discussion. A role based on asserting our values in order to shape the open web for the better.
So I’ll start with a bit of context.
A year ago, Tim Berners-Lee was on Channel 4 News being interviewed about the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal and he said this.
“We need to rethink our attitude to the internet.
It is not enough just to keep the web open and free because we must also keep a track of what people are building on it.
Look at the systems that people are using, like the social networks and look at whether they are actually helping humanity.
Are they being constructive or are they being destructive?”
And he’s later reiterated this point that he feels the open web is at something of a crossroads and could go either way. So I do think that the time has come to talk of many things and consider how the web is working. I quite like these quotes in thinking about the pervasiveness and black box nature of the algorithms and the data gathering going on behind the scenes.
So you have these big digital intermediaries acting somewhat like gatekeepers. And you have Wikipedia. The free and open encyclopaedia, just turned 18 years old and the fifth most visited website on the planet. And happily, Sir Tim had cheered up a little by May 2018 when he gave his Turing Award lecture in Amsterdam.
It IS amazing that humanity has produced Wikipedia. And he’s right. That’s my experience of working with Wikipedia. People do feel they are doing something inherently good, and worthwhile in sharing verifiable open knowledge. Today it is the largest collaboratively-built encyclopaedia in history with 49 million articles in roughly 300 languages. Every month, 10 million edits are made in Wikipedia by 250,000 users.
No longer just a “weird community project” or the bane of librarians and scholars. Today, Wikipedia currently ranks among the world’s top 10 sites for scholarly resource lookups. Estimated by Crossref to be in the top five or six referrers to DOIs at least.
Because its content is open-licensed, Wikipedia is extensively used by virtually every platform you use on a daily basis from Google to Youtube to Facebook powering their search & knowledge graph backends. It informs the structure of various ontologies and categories, and it is ingested into Neuro Linguistic Programming & other Machine Learning technologies.
So, in the words of Katherine Maher, the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation..
“It may not be too much of a stretch to consider that Wikipedia today — with all of our imperfections — has gone from being the least trusted source in the room into perhaps among the most. Serving today as a kind of accidental epistemic backbone of the internet“
So for this reason, and many more, at the University of Edinburgh, we felt working with Wikimedia UK was something we could not ignore.
Many have since told us they’d love to host a Wikimedian but they can’t afford to.
Our experience is you can’t afford not to.
Not least because Universities must invest in the development of digital skills for staff and for students. There are so many reports urging universities to pay attention to digital skills. Why? Because it is widely recognised that digital capabilities are a key component of graduate employability. “to support and drive research and innovation throughout the economy” in order to stay competitive globally.
Universities do invest- some more than others. Some buy Ipads and give them out to students like its a cure-all. Some buy a site-wide license for Lynda.com. My residency is placed alongside our digital skills trainers as a free resource available to anyone at the university and working with free and open projects.
Full disclosure, in case you’re wondering where you get Wikimedians from, 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. Other Wikimedians in Residence have come from library backgrounds, event management backgrounds and more. I was recruited not for my Wiki skills, which I learnt, but for my teaching background, and the ability to communicate how & why of contributing to the greatest open education resource the world has ever seen.
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 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. If Melissa was here she’d tell you that her view is that universities offer an environment in which Wikipedia can thrive. It has a higher than normal concentration of librarians and information professionals, and networks of people interested in discussing and writing about just about every topic under the sun.
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 one 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 Wikipedia editing 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. This strong evidence helped 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, working closely with academic support colleagues, course leaders and student societies. 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 online we found we had a lot to talk about. And this is why I’m here today, at an information literacy conference.
So the Wikipedia editing event or ‘editathon’ is a model which has found its tipping point moment. Things obviously happen slowly in higher education, but once those key people have been introduced to how rewarding an editathon can be, they are increasingly hosting them themselves.
Our experience at Edinburgh is that there are enough people who get it and been excited & motivated to run with it that we have quickly generated real examples of technology enhanced learning activities appropriate to the curriculum which can be embedded in all sorts of disciplines. Here are a few which have been run multiple times.
WTF here means “what teaching fun” as opposed to the other WTF that perhaps reflected historic attitudes.
Because that’s what Wikipedia is about – making connections, building on prior learning, using digital research skills and 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. Both students and staff feel empowered and motivated to suggest collaborations.
Jemima (pictured above here) is an undergraduate at the School of Law and she suggested and lead an editing event for Law students. As a result of her enthusiasm, we’ve been discussing with her course leaders 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 the law, medicine, what have you, and “world leading research” more generally, in an accessible lay way is absolutely something we as a university should be looking to do.
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 positive quality interactions that a collaboration with Wikimedia affords makes, I think, working in this space the most exciting in academia right now, because it is so emergent but it also has so much potential to make, and I’m quoting the university’s mission here: a really “significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to the world”.
To make it work, 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 academic support librarians. The team at Wikimedia UK, course leaders from years one and two. An ever growing number of Wikimedians in Residence. And, latterly, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was tweeting his support of Wikimedia UK recently too.
So far from Wikipedia being anathema in academic contexts. It really is a case of “if you build it they will come”.
And it grows over time. Planting the seed and watching it grow.
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, Korean Studies MSc.
I’ll pass over to my academic support librarian colleague, Donna Watson, now to speak more on this and her experience & perspective.
The Academic Support Librarian perspective on engaging with Wikipedia:
My colleague Ruth Jenkins assists with the Reproductive Biology sessions, and this was her experiences of the process of learning and then helping to host sessions. As Ruth points out- everyone is already using it. The ‘Just say No’ approach has not worked. So do we ignore it or help students understand how to use it to best effect- understanding the pros and cons.
The journey from not knowing how to do (or even thinking it was a good idea to learn) is something I can completely agree with. Editing during the teaching sessions has developed to publishing for fun- I have yet to reach that stage, but an article about the Hob Hole pumping station in Lincolnshire is on my list!
I have, like Ruth, helped to prepare editathons and offered help to others during sessions- a steep learning curve, but we have Ewan there to help us help others. It is great CPD!
We took the Editathon to the EAHIL 2018 conference and the feedback was very positive. Ewan unfortunately couldn’t come with us but we had great help from the National Wikimedian from the national Library of Wales- Jason Evans. The wiki community is really supportive
So why my colleagues and I see using Wikipedia as useful
It is familiar to people so more acceptable to use.
It is easy to use and access- not like some databases or catalogues.
Many students will enjoy the sessions as it is slightly different- some will feel more tentative.
What I see is gained:
Using Wikipedia in teaching, I’m not saying it gives you everything that other tasks would not, but I see it as a tool in the arsenal of techniques that should be available when teaching. My thought come from a healthcare perspective, but are applicable to other areas of study.
You use the same research techniques as you would when doing work in a more traditional format. It allows attendees to an opportunity to develop their research skills, which is paramount in many subjects. I have had to use material I would not usually use- for example newspapers, historical texts. This is the same for session attendees- exposing them to a wide range of literature formats, building searches, using a variety of resources, problem solving where to find literature, seeing how different resources allow searching. All of this is good practice.
I am aware that Wikipedia has been used to help find keyword or phrases for search strategies.
Once you have performed the research you need to be able to discern the relevant points and summarise these- EFFECTIVELY. The guidelines Wikipedia give means this is really important. Understanding the style of writing formally for an encyclopaedia is sometimes different to how you might write an essay or email. Picking out relevant points and knowing they should be backed up requires decision making on behalf of the writer.
As the output is for the general public it means the way the summary is written should be in plain understandable language. We need to move beyond the technical jargon and make what is said accessible and understandable to all. My thoughts are that for medics this is especially important and can help them realise what they will need to consider when conversing with patients.
One of the backbones of Wikipedia is the referencing- articles must reference thoroughly- backing up the findings and allowing others to follow the path that lead to the finished article. It also can show how to use Wikipedia for your own research- by citation tracking.
Copyright compliance is important and Wikipedia is strong on this. Learning about licenses can help in other areas work. Images and copyright can always be problematic and the access you get to licensed images is very helpful.
Producing a Wikipedia page means for many learning new skills and for the first time putting material out to the wider world. Other text based ways of teaching do not always offer the opportunity to learn technical skills and undergo a digital stretch. Healthcare professionals are having to develop their digital skills in order to enter an ever evolving landscape in the NHS. Telemedicine, e-prescribing, robotic surgery are but a few of the reasons why having a high level of digital skills is important. Putting an opinion out for public scrutiny can be daunting- but training as a healthcare professional often means putting your opinion out for all to hear and see- from patients and colleagues.
The digital stretch is not only for session attendees, but also for the trainers. I had to build my skills so I could assist others not just do my own work. The amount of work that goes into setting up a session should not be underestimated- thanks go to Ewan. So everyone has the opportunity to upskill their digital assets.
Lastly during the research and writing up stage you start to critically assess the validity and reliability of the sources you use. Ensuring the output is balanced (lacks bias), relevant, evidence based and inclusive- all important parts of the process. This can be a good place to start the critical thinking process.
[Donna handed back to myself to continue presenting at this point.]
In the field of medicine our best estimates indicate that the nearly 200,000 articles about health & medical topics accessed on desktop across over 200 Wikipedia languages… attract more traffic than the US National Institutes of Health websites, or WebMD.
Contributing accurate up-to-date health information is therefore vitally important. Wikipedia played a major role in providing access in local languages on medical information on Ebola, extracted from often paywalled literature, during the 2014 outbreak in West Africa. Receiving more local readership than CDC, CNN and WHO.
“Of course, if it’s on Wikipedia it must be true” is sometimes scoffed. But that makes me a little cross when you think of volunteers giving up their time to scrupulously research and share open knowledge for the benefit of the world. There are some excellent articles on Wikipedia. I know because our students and staff helped create and improve them. There are also some missing articles and some needing lots of improvement. Wikipedia is always going to be a work in progress but if everyone contributed even a little then would be an even more amazing resource than it is today.
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, high grade serous carcinoma, backing up her work with over sixty references and creating her own openly-licensed diagram in Photoshop to help illustrate the article. The article has now been viewed over 60,000 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 is published, lasting long beyond the assignment and doing 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 been shown to have something of 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 knowledge activists.
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 images, links and more –learning through play, particularly citations which autogenerate from a url, stable DOI, Pubmed IDs or ISBN numbers –– while it’s also never been harder to vandalise because of the increased checks & balances put in place.
University of Glasgow researchers published research last year which found that:
“Preliminary analysis reveals (∼90%) of the vandalism or foul edits are done by unregistered users… community reaction seemed to be immediate: most vandalisms were reverted within 5 mins on average” – Alkharashi, A. and Jose, J. (2018)
We host Women in Red editing events every single month – where we turn red-linked articles about notable women which don’t yet exist into blue clickable ones that do. This has motivated many to become involved with 69% of our attendees being women. Bucking Wikipedia’s normal 10% average. Creating pages and increasing the visibility of inspirational female role models online that can also help inform and shape our physical environments to inspire the next generation. You can’t be what you can’t see.
There is now a commitment to keep this going in ten disciplines for the next four years written into our Athena Swan plan to inspire more women to enter STEM fields. Higher Education shares addressing gender inequality with Wikipedia. It is not enough to say that the world of Wikipedia- and science in general- is ‘neutral and fact driven’ and thus free from bias.
This has been a key part and a key motivator during the residency to date.
Students on the World Christianity MSc were motivated to make the subject of World Christianity much less about White Northern hemisphere perspectives and created articles on Asian Feminist Theology, Sub-Saharan Political Theology and more. Students on the Translation Studies Masters similarly have been motivated for the last 3 years to gain meaningful published practice ahead of the world of work by sharing knowledge from one language Wikipedia to another. We’ve also hosted events for LGBT History Month, Black History Month and celebrated Edinburgh’s Global Alumni.
But it’s not just Wikipedia. The implementation of Wikidata in the curriculum, Wikipedia’s sister project, presents a massive opportunity for student learners, educators, researchers, repository managers and data scientists alike. Especially when there is a pressing need to meet the demands of our digital economy for developing a data literate workforce.
“A common critique of data science classes is that examples are static and student group work is embedded in an ‘artificial’ and ‘academic’ context. We look at how we can make teaching data science classes more relevant to real-world problems. Student engagement with real problems—and not just ‘real-world data sets’—has the potential to stimulate learning, exchange, and serendipity on all sides, and on different levels: noticing unexpected things in the data, developing surprising skills, finding new ways to communicate, and, lastly, in the development of new strategies for teaching, learning and practice“.Corneli, J, Murray-Rust, D & Bach, B 2018, Towards Open-World Scenarios: Teaching the Social Side of Data Science.
A Wikidata assignment, of the kind we have done over the last two years on the Data Science for Design MSc, allows students to develop their understanding of, and engagement with, issues such as: data completeness; data ethics; digital provenance; data analysis; data processing; as well as making practical use of a raft of tools and data visualisations. The fact that Wikidata is also linked open data means that students can help connect to & leverage from a variety of other datasets in multiple languages; helping to fuel discovery through exploring the direct and indirect relationships at play in this semantic web of knowledge.
This real-world application of teaching and learning enables insights in a variety of disciplines; be it in open science, digital humanities, cultural heritage, open government and much more besides. Wikidata is also a community-driven project so this allows students to work collaboratively and develop the online citizenship skills necessary in today’s digital economy.
And it’s all free. Wikimedia’s suite of open knowledge projects are all free, open and powered by volunteers around the world, giving of their free time and passionate to share open knowledge with the rest of the world for the benefit of the world.
So there is lots to talk about in terms of Wikimedia in education… not least in developing the skills and experiences we want to see our students come out with, in terms of collaborative working, digital research and developing a critical information literacy, and I really like this quote from a paper on developing Political Literacy, which came out of a project at the University of Strathclyde Library to support political literacy during the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum.
“The 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. Political literacy can be learned.
Only I think this challenge is too big, too vitally important, to leave solely in the lap of librarians when higher education, and education as a whole, can play a central and pivotal role here too.
Lots to talk about. But we need to be talking. Our staff and students are clear, we can’t go on pretending Wikipedia does not have SO MUCH to offer in teaching and learning. We need to consider how well the open web is working, how we can best support developing a critical information literacy, and how well this current abstinence-only approach has served us. Especially when there is a great love affair between Wikipedia and Education in the offing.
And yes, I am comparing Anthony Hopkins in Remains of the Day to the (hopefully) historic abstinence-only approach when thinking of Wikipedia in education.
If you’re interested we have produced interviews and video tutorials at tinyurl.com/WikiHopper and resources at tinyurl.com/timeforopen.
As to the future, we are publishing our first booklet of case studies of UK examples of Wikipedia in the Classroom which include numerous examples from the University of Edinburgh along with case studies of Wikipedia in secondary education as part of the Welsh Baccalaureate and Jewish Studies MSc students at the University of Glasgow collaboratively researching, writing & illustrating the Wikipedia article on the Garnethill Synagogue. So there are many opportunities for secondary schools, universities, and libraries to benefit from and contribute to the knowledge available online through Wikimedia’s free and open projects.
Shaping the open web for the better, constructively.
Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh, 26 April 2019.
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.”
Smith, L.N. (2016). ‘School libraries, political information and information literacy provision: findings from a Scottish study’ Journal of Information Literacy, vol 10, no. 2, pp.3-25.DOI:10.11645/10.2.2097
This post was authored by Ruth Jenkins, Academic Support Librarian at the University of Edinburgh.
For some time, Wikipedia has been shown to be a resource to engage with, rather than avoid. Wikipedia is heavily used for medical information by students and health professionals – and the fact that it is openly available is crucial for people finding health information, particularly in developing countries or in health crises. Good quality Wikipedia articles are an important contribution to the body of openly available information – particularly relevant for improving health information literacy. In fact, some argue that updating Wikipedia should be part of every doctor’s work, contributing to the dissemination of scientific knowledge.
With that in mind, Academic Support Librarians for Medicine Marshall Dozier, Ruth Jenkins and Donna Watson recently co-presented a workshop on How to run a Wikipedia editathon, at the European Association for Health Information and Libraries (EAHIL) Conference in Cardiff in July. Ewan McAndrew, our Wikimedian in Residence here at the University of Edinburgh, was instrumental in the planning and structuring of the workshop, giving us lots of advice and help. On the day, we were joined by Jason Evans, Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Wales, who spoke about his role at NLW and the Wikimedia community and helped support participants during editing.
We wanted our workshop to give participants experience of editing Wikipedia and build their confidence using Wikipedia as part of the learning experience for students and others. Our workshop was a kind of train-the-trainer editathon. An editathon is an event to bring people together at a scheduled time to create entries or edit Wikipedia on a specific topic, and they are valuable opportunities for collaborating with subject experts, and to involve students and the public.
Where a typical editathon would be a half-day event, we only had 90 minutes. As such, our workshop was themed around a “micro-editathon” – micro in scale, timing and tasks. We focused on giving participants insights into running an editathon, offered hands-on experience, and small-scale edits such as adding images and missing citations to articles.
We are waiting on feedback from the event, but anecdotally, the main response was a wish for a longer workshop, with more time to get to know Wikipedia better! There was lots of discussion about take-home ideas, and we hope they are inspired to deliver editathon events in their own organisations and countries. We also spotted that some of our participants continued to make edits on Wikipedia in the following weeks, which is a great sign.
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.
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.
Gamifying Wikimedia; Learning Through Play workshop. Jointly presented with Dr. Martin Poulter, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Oxford). (slides). A fun-filled hour where we played a Wiki Race game (e.g. Youtube video example of a Wiki War) challenging participants to navigate, using only the wiki links in the body of a Wikipedia article from Open Educational Resources to Holloway Road in Wikipedia’s own version of ‘Six degrees of separation’. Other games we looked at were WikiShootme – a fun way of crowdsourcing pictures for notable locations without one online – and Citation Hunt (where participants are invited to find a reference to back up one statement on Wikipedia flagged as requiring one by the [Citation Needed] tag).
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.
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.
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“.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The new Visual Editor is super easy to learn, fun and addictive.
Wikidata – query, analyse & visualise the largest reference work on the internet. Add your research data to combine datasets on Wikidata.
WikiCite – tidying up the citations on Wikipedia to make a consistent, queryable bibliographic repository enhancing the visibility and impact of research.
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.
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.
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.
Develop students’ information literacy, digital literacy & research skills.
Fake news is prevalent. Engaging with Wikipedia helps develop a critical information literate approach to its usage and to other online sources of information.
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?
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?
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.
Wikipedia is much more straightforward using the newVisual Editor interfacewhich makes editing Wikipedia nowas easy as using Microsoft Word. Students can be taught how to edit in approximately 60 minutes and thereafter can research and write, with academic rigour, brand new Wikipedia articles.
The video interview provided by the University of Edinburgh’s Dr. Chris Harlow illustrates the Wikipedia research session he ran in September 2015.
A practical example of engaging with Wikipedia in teaching and learning – watch Dr. Chris Harlow speak about his recent experiences introducing Wikipedia to his 3rd year Honours students to researching & writing a Wikipedia article.
Teaching with Wikipedia – Dr. Chris Harlow (Reproductive Biology research session)
In addition, UCL also ran a Wikipedia session for familiarising Year 1 undergraduates with using sources – making good use of the Wiki Education project dashboard to allow educators to manage & monitor class Wikipedia assignments & communicate with students from a central hub:https://prezi.com/apxnjcabgtdd/when-ucl-students-write-wikipedia.
This one also includes how Wikipedia work complements UCL’s educational strategic aims.
Telling the stories of rural England with Wikipedia – The University of Portsmouth. Dr Humphrey Southall, Reader in Geography, University of Portsmouth, written with Dr Martin Poulter, describe a Wikipedia-based assignment given to first-year students in Applied Human Geography and also looking at how academics can inform the widest public about their subject, and raise awareness of the reliable sources used in research.
In addition – Wiki Education resources
Wiki Education has a variety of materials which may be helpful.
You can also find two pdf brochures: Case Studies and Theories, the first of which contains descriptions of classes and learning outcomes, the second contains class descriptions alongside discussion questions and a bibliography for courses.
Euro Stem Cell Editathon at Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Edinburgh. Editathon for UoE staff and Eurostemcell partner labs in Europe & at the Wellcome Library.
Wikidata (& WikiSource) Showcase (with Pauline Ward & Histropedia’s Navino Evans) at the John McIntyre Conference Centre JMCC – 1st & 2nd August 2016
Reproductive Medicine Edit-a-thon (with Dr. Chris Harlow) – 21 September and 28 September. Partnering with West Virginia University.
Vet School Wikipedia research session – Edit-a-thon event for Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies students to research & create new Wikipedia articles on Veterinary Medicine. Proposed for October 5th 2016.
International Alumni project – Celebrating the international students who studied at Edinburgh University and gone on to have a huge impact abroad (including simultaneous editathons, hopefully, in Singapore & Hong Kong to create a global edit-a-thon). Mooted for early October 2016 for Black History Month.
Ada Lovelace Day – Tuesday 11th October 2016 – celebrating the achievements of Women in STEM with a particular focus on female mentors given that Mary Somerville will grace the new £10 note. Truly noteworthy.
Day of the Dead editathon – Monday 31st October 2016 – using the obituaries from Scottish & UK newspapers to recognise & celebrate the lives of those sadly passed away.
Edinburgh Gothic (agreed a partnership with the National Library of Scotland) – Saturday 12th November. Marking the day before Robert Louis Stevenson Day, the National Library of Scotland will join us to celebrate the best of Edinburgh Gothic, releasing Robert Louis Stevenson images into the public domain to Wikicommons (wherever possible) and any additional material not yet transcribed onto Wikisource. Looking to see if we can combine efforts in gothic art, gothic history, gothic costume design, gothic music, gothic film, gothic literature etc. to fill any gaps on Wikipedia… in the most macabre way.
The Kelvin Hall relaunch (in Glasgow) – mooted for late November / early December 2016 (again in collaboration with the National Library of Scotland). The idea is to create an edit-a-thon based on the Moving Image Archive by showing participants short films from the archive on the Video Wall there, creating Wikipedia articles for the films & filmmakers, and showing a longer film afterwards at the Hunterian cinema.
Translate-a-thon – Reaching out to bilingual and multi-lingual students to translate articles from English Wikipedia to their own native language Wikipedia (& vice versa) using Wikipedia’s new Content Translation tool.
Festival of Architecture 2016 – An architecture-themed editathon to celebrate the achievements of architects for the Festival of Architecture 2016.
And the whisky? It seems my less than unsubtle hints following my trip to Skye in April resulted in my getting a fair few bottles for my birthday.
Projects and whisky galore. Lots to be excited about and lots to get on with!