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
Addressing the challenges of digital and information literacy, digital scholarship and open knowledge at the University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is the first university in the UK to appoint a university-wide Wikimedian in Residence as part of its institutional strategy to develop information and digital literacy skills for staff and students, and contribute to the creation and dissemination of open knowledge.
The role of the Wikimedian in Residence is to work with course teams and students across the University, to demonstrate how learning to contribute to Wikipedia can enhance staff and students’ understanding of how knowledge is constructed, curated and contested online. Editing Wikipedia also provides valuable opportunities for students to develop their digital research and communication skills, and enables them to make a lasting contribution to the global pool of open knowledge.
The residency also focuses on redressing the gender balance of Wikipedia articles and has been hugely successful in encouraging more women to become Wikipedia editors.
A growing number of courses at undergraduate and Masters level have successfully incorporated Wikipedia editing activities in the curriculum, and student societies have also developed their own Wikipedia projects. The University is also engaging with Wikipedia’s newest sister project, Wikidata, in the context of the growing importance of data literacy and open data initiatives.
A number of other UK universities are learning from the Edinburgh experience, and are developing their own projects with Wikimedia UK, the UK chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation.
A strategy for digital and information literacy
Wikimedia UK is the UK chapter of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, which supports a range of open knowledge projects, of which Wikipedia is the best known. Wikimedia UK fosters engagement with these projects through the placement of Wikimedians in Residence within institutions in the education and cultural sectors.
Having seen the potential of the Wikimedian in Residence model, Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh, identified how such a placement could help improve information literacy and digital skills at the University.
An initial Wikipedia editathon, a facilitated event that brings people together to edit the encyclopaedia, was held at the University in 2015, on the topic of women, science and Scottish history. This editathon was independently evaluated by Professor Alison Littlejohn of the Open University, in order to establish its impact and explore the value of collaboration with Wikimedia UK. Professor Littlejohn found that both formal and informal learning and knowledge creation took place at the editathon. In two research papers,[i],[ii]she analysed the formation of networks of practice and social capital through participation in editathons, with sufficient momentum generated to sustain engagement after the event itself, and participants valuing it as an important part of their professional development. She also found that, in becoming an active Wikipedia editor, participants engaged in important discussions about how knowledge is created, curated and contested online, and the positive impact that Wikipedia can have in sharing knowledge and addressing knowledge gaps.
As a research-based institution, this evidence of the benefits of engaging with Wikipedia helped to make the business case for integrating Wikipedia editing as part of the University of Edinburgh’s information literacy and digital skills strategy. The following year, the University appointed a new Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew. This was the first residency in the UK with a remit to work right across a university, rather than within a specific area such as a library. Based in the Digital Skills team within the University’s Information Services Group, the Wikimedian in Residence provides a centrally supported service accessible to all staff across the institution. Initially a one-year, part-time appointment, the residency focused on helping colleagues to make connections between their teaching and research and the Wikimedia projects, in order to explore areas of mutual benefit. As a result of the positive response to this service, the Wikimedian in Residence has since become a full-time permanent post.
In addition to providing educational opportunities, the residency supports a number of key institutional missions, including open knowledge and open science; the Scottish Government initiative on creating a data literate workforce; commitments on gender equality including the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women’s Academic Network) charter; and public and community engagement. The residency provides opportunities for the University to expand its civic mission, through new forms of collaboration with city-wide and Scottish national bodies.
Wikimedia in the Curriculum
Wikipedia is integrated into the curriculum at the University of Edinburgh by engaging students in the creation of original Wikipedia articles, on topics that are not currently covered by the encyclopaedia. These included articles of particular relevance to Scotland, e.g. Scottish women in STEM, often created in collaboration with local external partners, and those of more general interest. Students are provided with training on how to edit Wikipedia and how to undertake relevant research, enabling them to write informed articles that are fully and accurately referenced. Writing articles that will be publicly accessible and live on after the end of their assignment has proved to be highly motivating for students, and provides an incentive for them to think more deeply about their research. It encourages them to ensure they are synthesising all the reliable information available, and to think about how they can communicate their scholarship to a general audience. Students can see that their contribution will benefit the huge audience that consults Wikipedia, plugging gaps in coverage, and bringing to light hidden histories, significant figures, and important concepts and ideas. This makes for a valuable and inspiring teaching and learning experience, that enhances the digital literacy, research and communication skills of both staff and students.
Wikimedia curriculum assignments supported by the Wikimedian in Residence have now been incorporated into a number of different disciplines including:
Reproductive Biology Honours
Translation Studies MSc
World Christianity MSc
Online History MSc
Data Science for Design MSc
Global Health Masters courses
Intellectual Humility MOOC
Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice.
Discussions are also underway to incorporate Wikipedia editing into the curriculum for postgraduate and undergraduate students at the School of Law, and into Masters courses in Digital Society, Psychology in Action, and Digital Education.
Supporting Equality and Diversity
Another significant remit of the University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedia residency has been to support the institution’s commitment to Athena SWAN. Many of the editathons facilitated by the Wikimedian in Residence focus on addressing the under-representation of women on Wikipedia and encouraging more women to become editors. A 2011 surveyshowed that around 90% of English language Wikipedia editors were male. Since then Wikimedia has made a concerted effort to improve the gender diversity of its community, however women editors are still a minority. In contrast, 69% of participants at University of Edinburgh editathons are women.
These events also help to address the fact that only 17.73% of English Wikipedia biographies are about notable women. To help combat this systemic bias, a range of editathons have focused on women in science and Scottish history, history of medicine, history of veterinary medicine, history of nursing, women in espionage, women and religion, art and feminism, women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), reproductive biology, Gothic literature, and celebrations of Ada Lovelace Day.
Promoting Data Literacy with Wikidata
In line with new open data initiatives supported by government and research councils, there has been growing interest in working other Wikimedia projects such as Wikibooks and Wikidata. The University of Edinburgh has recently been awarded additional public funding to lead the development of a data-literate workforce of the future over the next ten years, equipping them with the data skills necessary to meet the needs of Scotland’s growing digital economy, and helping the city of Edinburgh to become an international centre for data-driven innovation. In order to support this initiative, the University has been exploring the introduction of Wikidata activities in the curriculum.
This provides students with an opportunity to:
Engage with issues of data completeness, data processing and analysis, and data ethics.
Learn to make practical use of a large range of tools and data visualisation techniques.
Work with linked open data on the semantic web, across disciplines ranging from science to digital humanities and cultural heritage.
Initial curriculum activities have focused on converting existing datasets from the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft (1563–1736) database into structured, machine-readable open data and adding it to Wikidata. This data is then enriched by linking it with other complementary datasets in Wikidata to help build up a semantic open web of knowledge.
Student reaction: formal and informal learning
“It’s a really good exercise in critical thinking … It’s a motivating thing to do to use the knowledge you’ve learnt, to see how it is relevant to the real world and to contribute … Knowing people are finding the article useful is really gratifying.” –University of Edinburgh Reproductive Biology student, Áine Kavanagh, reflecting on a Wikipedia editing exercise
The vast majority of students have reacted extremely positively to engaging with Wikimedia, seeing it as enjoyable and with the added reward of contributing to the common good. Most students quickly become technically adept at using the new Wikipedia Visual Editor interface, which they described as making editing ‘super easy’, ‘fun’, ‘really intuitive’ and ‘addictive as hell’. A few felt that Wikipedia editing wasn’t for them, but they too benefited from greater understanding of how knowledge is constructed online, and are now well placed to make informed choices about whether or not to actively contribute to its creation in the future.
Reproductive Biology students who took part in an assignment writing Wikipedia articles for previously unpublished medical terms found it provided valuable training in communicating scientific ideas to a lay audience, something they will have to do in their professional careers. One student wrote an article on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most serious and deadly forms of ovarian cancer; this addressed a significant knowledge gap on the encyclopaedia using high-quality scholarly research communicated in non-specialist terms. The high-grade serous carcinoma article, which has now been viewed over 50,000 times, represents a perceptible and lasting contribution to the common good. At the same time, the article has contributed to the student’s professional development, and become a source of lasting satisfaction for them.
The Wikimedia residency has also had a significant impact on students outwith the curriculum. Several student societies, including History, Women in STEM, Law and Technology, Translation, and International Development, have seen the potential for Wikipedia editing to enhance their activities, and have approached the Wikimedian in Residence for help, support and training. The student History Society held an editathon as part of its programme of activities for Black History Month, adding entries for notable black women not previously represented on Wikipedia. A key motivator for History Society students was contributing to public understanding of history by improving the coverage of under-represented areas such as social history, women’s history, the history of people of colour, and queer history.
Meanwhile the Law and Technology Society ran a Wikipedia editathon focused on improving coverage of technology law and intellectual property rights. The success of this editathon led to discussions with course leaders at the School of Law, initiated by students themselves, about including Wikipedia editing in the course curriculum as a collaborative exercise involving undergraduate and postgraduate students researching and editing topics related to Scottish law for a lay audience.
Digital skills development
Digital skills that the collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK has helped to develop include:
Critical information literacy
Academic writing and referencing
Writing for different audiences
Course leaders experience
Course leaders who have engaged with the University’s Wikipedia in the Curriculum initiatives have found the exercise to be popular with students and successful in achieving desired learning outcomes. Students learn valuable research and communication skills that contribute to their learning and help prepare them for future careers. In addition, they are better able to evaluate the quality of Wikipedia articles and the veracity of information they encounter online.
Wikipedia assignments are not presented as an additional overhead for already time-poor course leaders, but rather as an approach that can be used to enhance learning outcomes where they are not being meaningfully achieved by existing course elements. This has been an important factor in encouraging uptake. For example, the MSc in World Christianity, introduced a successful Wikipedia assignment in place of an existing oral assessment.
Several courses have now run Wikipedia assignments over successive years and the number of departments involved is expanding, in line with the evolution of course planning, and as awareness of the opportunities grows. For academic staff, in addition to the teaching and learning benefits, engaging with Wikimedia has provided useful insight into the editorial process of how Wikipedia pages are created, and information and knowledge is constructed online.
Sustainability and capacity for expansion has been built into the University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedia residency since its inception. By focusing on digital skills development and employing a ‘train the trainers’ approach, the Wikimedian in Residence has been able train a large number of staff and students to support Wikipedia editathons and course assignments. Staff, including learning technologists, digital skills trainers, academic support librarians, digital curators, open educational resource advisors, and deputy directors of IT are now able to lead training across the University.
The Wikimedian in Residence has also developed and curated a wide range of training resources, including:
A lesson plan for how to lead a Wikipedia editing workshop, available to download under open licence from TES (https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/how-to-conduct-wikipedia-editing-training-11548391).
Over 250 open licensed educational videos and tutorials
A growing number of self-directed online tutorials using easy to navigate WordPress SPLOT sites.
The residency is helping the University of Edinburgh to expand and enhance its civic mission, with many opportunities for collaboration with city-wide and Scottish national bodies arising both inside or outside the curriculum. In order to support growing engagement with Wikipedia in Scotland, Wikimedia UK recruited a Scotland Programme Co-ordinator in April 2018. Other Scottish institutions that have employed Wikimedians in Residence include the National Library of Scotland, the Scottish Library & Information Council, Museums Galleries Scotland and, most recently, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Wales, meanwhile, has a permanent National Wikimedian based at the National Library of Wales.
Lessons learned and wider impact
With interest increasing among academic staff and course leaders in exploring how Wikimedia can be incorporated into their curricula, and appreciation growing of the opportunities Wikipedia offers to engage with the creation and dissemination of open knowledge, the University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedia residency, has successfully demonstrated that engaging with Wikipedia and its sister projects can enhance teaching and learning and benefit the institution’s civic mission.
The residency has also shown how the process of editing Wikimedia can be demystified and made accessible and enjoyable for students through a range of activities and events that provide a variety of opportunities for collaboration and sharing good practice, with scaffolded support and training. Activities such as ‘train the trainer’ workshops expand understanding of how to engage with Wikipedia and support colleagues and students to become editors.
Reaction to the residency has been positive among both staff and students, and has increased understanding of the important role Wikipedia, and increasingly Wikidata, can play in Higher Education and in knowledge creation and sharing more generally.
In order to share their expertise, the Wikimedian in Residence is now developing open educational resources for staff and students that explain quickly and easily how and why to engage with Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. Wikipedia training is now embedded in University’s Digital Skills training programme, with introductory ‘How to get started editing Wikipedia’ workshops led by staff within the Digital Skills team. This approach fosters greater sustainability in the longer term, and enables the Wikimedian in Residence to deliver more specialised workshops including:
Teaching with Wikipedia
Introduction to open data with Wikidata
Introduction to Wikisource: The digital hyperlibrary
Sharing research on Wikipedia and Wikidata
Wiki games: Learning through play
Histropedia: The timeline of everything.
The success of the University of Edinburgh residency has helped Wikimedia UK to build new collaborations with education institutions across the UK, and has led the chapter to develop its first Wikipedia in the Classroom publication. This forthcoming booklet of UK case studies will help demonstrate how universities can engage meaningfully with Wikimedia projects, to support their institutional missions and enhance learners’ digital skills. Happily, a growing number of universities across the UK have sought to learn from the Edinburgh experience and have begun exploring their own Wikipedia projects with Wikimedia UK.
Find out more
Contact: Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh.
Rehm A, Littlejohn A and Rienties B (2017). Does a formal wiki event contribute to the formation of a network of practice? A social capital perspective on the potential for informal learning. Interactive Learning Environments, 26 (3). tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10494820.2017.1324495
This case study was edited by Lorna M. Campbell, University of Edinburgh, from a case study produced by Jisc in November 2018. Education consultancy Sero HE was commissioned by Jisc to interview Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University.
CC BY SA, Jisc, Sero HE, and the University of Edinburgh.
Wikipedia as an important source of health information and not medical advice.
“The Internet, especially Wikipedia, had proven its importance in everyday life. Even the medical sector is influenced by Wikipedia’s omnipresence. It has gained considerable attention among both healthcare professionals and the lay public in providing medical information. Patients rely on the information they obtain from Wikipedia before deciding to seek professional help. As a result, physicians are confronted by a professional dilemma as patients weigh information provided by medical professionals against that on Wikipedia, the new provider of health information….
We state that Wikipedia should not be viewed as being inappropriate for its use in medical education. Given Wikipedia’s central role in medical education as reported in our survey, its integration could yield new opportunities in undergraduate education. High-quality medical education and sustainability necessitates the need to know how to search and retrieve unbiased, comprehensive, and reliable information. Students should therefore be advised in reflected information search and encouraged to contribute to the “perpetual beta” improving Wikipedia’s reliability. Therefore, we ask for inclusion in medical curricula, since guiding students’ use and evaluation of information resources is an important role of higher education. It is of utmost importance to establish information literacy, evidence-based practices, and life-long learning habits among future physicians early on, hereby contributing to medical education of the highest quality.
Accordingly, this is an appeal to see Wikipedia as what it is: an educational opportunity. This is an appeal to academic educators for supplementing Wikipedia entries with credible information from the scientific literature. They also should teach their protégés to obtain and critically evaluate information as well as to supplement or correct entries. Finally, this is an appeal to medical students to develop professional responsibility while working with this dynamic resource. Criticism should be maintained and caution exercised since every user relies on the accuracy, conscientiousness, and objectivity of the contributor.”(Herbert et al, BMC Medical Education, 2015)
Reproductive Medicine Wikipedia assignment at Edinburgh University – September 2016
In September 2016, Reproductive Biology Honours students undertook a group research project to research, in groups of 4-5 students with a tutor, a term from reproductive biomedicine that was not yet represented on Wikipedia. All 38 were trained to edit Wikipedia and they worked collaboratively both to undertake the research and produce the finished written article. The assignment developed the students’ information literacy, digital literacy, collaborative working, academic writing & referencing and ability to communicate to an audience. The end result was 8 new articles on reproductive medicine which enriches the global open knowledge community and will be added to & improved upon long after they have left university creating a rich legacy to look back upon.
Rather than a writing an assignment for an audience of one, the course tutor, and never read again, Aine’s article can be viewed, built on & expanded by an audience of millions. Since creating the article in September 2016, the article has now been viewed 2196 times.
Reflections on a Wikipedia assignment
by Áine Kavanagh.
The process of writing a Wikipedia article involved me trying to answer the questions I was asking myself about the topic. What was it? Why should I care about it? What does it mean to society? I also needed to make the answers to those questions clear to other people who can’t see inside my head.
It then moved onto questions I thought other people might ask about the topic. Writing for Wikipedia is really an exercise in empathy and perspective. Who else is going to want to know about this and what might they be interested in about it?
Is what I’m writing accessible and understandable? Am I presenting it in a useful way? It’s an incredibly public piece of writing which is only useful if it serves the public, so trying to put yourself in the frame of someone who’s not you reading what you’ve written is important (and possibly the most difficult part).
It’s also about co-operation from the get-go. You can’t post a Wikipedia article and allow no one else to edit it. You are offering something up to the world. You can always come back to it, but you can never make it completely your own again. The beauty of Wikipedia is in groupthink, in the crowd intelligence it facilitates, but this means shared ownership, which can be hard to get your head around at first.
It’s a unique way of writing, and some tips for other students starting out on a Wikipedia project is to not be intimidated. Wikipedia articles in theory can be indefinitely long and dense and will be around for an indefinitely long time, so writing a few hundred words can seem like adding a grain of sand to a desert. But if the information is not already there then you are contributing – and what is Wikipedia if not just a big bunch of contributions?
There’s also the fear that editors already on Wikipedia will swoop down and denounce your article as completely useless – but the beauty of storing information is that you can never really have too much of it. There’s no-one who can truly judge what is and isn’t worthy of knowing*.
*There’s no-one who can judge what’s worth knowing, but the sum of human knowledge needs to be organised, and so there are actually guidelines as to what a Wikipedia article is (objective account of a thing) and is not (platform for self-promotion).