Last week I attended the eighth Open Educational Resources conference (OER17) at Resource for London. Themed on ‘the Politics of Open‘. Little did we know when these themes were announced this time last year just how timely this conference would be.
I presented 4 sessions at the conference:
- Building Bridges Not Walls: Wikipedia’s new Content Translation tool (slides) (video)
- Citation Needed: Digital Provenance in the era of Post-Truth Politics. (Jointly presented with Dr. Martin Poulter, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Oxford). (slides) (video).
- 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).
- ‘Lo and Behold: Reveries of a Connected Campus’ – Reflections of the Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh. (slides).
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.
Today, Wikipedia is the number one information site in the world with 500 million visitors a month; the place that students and staff consult for pre-research on a topic. And considered, according to a 2014 Yougov survey, to be trusted more than the Guardian, BBC, Telegraph and Times. Perhaps because unlike the secret algorithms of Google and Facebook, on Wikipedia everything is out in the open. Its commitment to transparency is an implicit promise of trust to its users where everything on it can be checked, challenged and corrected.
In 2011, ten years after Wikipedia first launched, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by the vice president of Oxford University of Press acclaiming that ‘Wikipedia had come of age’ and that it was time Wikipedia played “a vital role in formal education settings“.
In 2013, two years after this article was published, Scotland got its first ever Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland, Ally Crockford. Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching & Web Services at the University of Edinburgh, invited both Ally Crockford and the newly installed Wikimedian in Residence at the Museums and Galleries Scotland, Sara Thomas, to hold an editathon during the university’s February 2015 term break. This editathon, themed on Women, Science and Scottish History was to help recognise and celebrate the achievements of the Edinburgh 7, the first female medical students in Britain, with new and improved Wikipedia pages. At the event, Melissa Highton invited Professor Allison Littlejohn to conduct some research to see if there was actually some formal and informal learning going on at these Wikipedia editing events. This research was then shared later that year at the Wikipedia Science Conference organised by the Wikimedian in Residence at the Bodleian Library, Martin Poulter.
Happily the research bore out that there was real merit in having a Wikimedian in an education setting because there was indeed informal and formal learning going on at editathon events. Up until this point all the residencies had tended to be GLAM oriented (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) so Melissa was quite bold in arguing for a Wikimedian on a university-wide remit. And I’m pleased to say that calculated risk worked out.
The University of Edinburgh residency began in January 2016 and its remit was threefold:
- To raise awareness of Wikipedia and its sister projects
- To design and deliver digital skills engagement events such as editathons (groups of staff & student editors coming together to edit Wikipedia pages on a focused theme – both inside and outside the curriculum)
- To work with colleagues all across the institution to find ways in which the University – as a knowledge creation organisation – can most benefit and contribute to the development of this huge open knowledge resource.
But how to go about serving the university as their newest resource? Wikipedia in education is well established elsewhere but we were in slightly uncharted territory at the university so I could have been sat twiddling my thumbs for the year; waiting for take-up that may never have come (although I don’t think for a moment this would have happened). I could also have been treated as a snake oil salesman peddling the educational equivalent of fast food.
If I had been I would have been given short shrift. Thankfully, this ancient university is a thoroughly innovative modern one and among its 36,000 students and 13,000 staff there are a great many proponents of Open Knowledge.
I have never been busier.
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.
Further, by tidying up and putting citation data in Wikidata, as 2 million plus citations now are, it means we can also have a central bibliographic repository of linked citation data allowing the data to be queried in any number of ways.
And that’s the thing. Wikipedia doesn’t want you to cite it. It is a tertiary source; an aggregator of articles built on citations from reliable secondary sources. In this way it is reframing itself as the front matter to all research. And should be understood as such.
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.
Anyone can teach Wikipedia in the Classroom.
We have case studies for the World Christianity MSc Wikipedia literature review assignment; balancing up a hitherto Western-oriented field with new articles from perspectives in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia and more.
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:
- Making learning engaging and accessible.
- Building on prior knowledge.
- Sharing good practice.
We have a number of big events planned including a Celtic and Indigenous Languages Wikipedia Conference and a Swahili translate-a-thon to look forward to.
But my main task is to finish the residency in January 2018 leaving behind a sustainable way for involvement with Wikimedia to continue.
That, for me, is a mixture of People and Process. Identifying the people who are going to take this on and work with them to support others but also preparing enough materials so that the process of involvement is easy enough for anyone to pick it up and get started.
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.
- Anyone can edit Wikipedia BUT there are checks and balances to help revert unhelpful edits in minutes. (Only 7% of edits are considered vandalism).
- 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.
- Share your research & library collections’ material to Wikipedia the right way and open it up to a global Open Knowledge community of millions demonstrating impact with detailed metrics.
- 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.