As LGBT History month draws to a close this month, I wanted to pay tribute to a collaboration brought about through Siobhan Claude at the University of Edinburgh’s Staff Pride Network and my colleague, Lorna Campbell, who suggested telling the history of HIV/AIDS activism and awareness in Scotland on Wikipedia.
It seemed inconceivable that Wikipedia had so little on this important history and the people who fought long and hard against prejudice and myths surrounding the virus and did so much societal good in raising awareness and campaigning for treatment. Yet the largest open education resource in human history was largely devoid of any mention of the organisations and activists so pivotal in this history of Scotland.
We contacted Henry Gray at HIV Scotland and a date for an event was set. We would bring people together to edit Wikipedia and formed a worklist of new pages to create so that the generations to come would learn and understand the story of HIV/AIDS activism in Scotland. This is only a beginning so I have created a Navigation Box template to pull all these new pages together, make them easier to discover and to highlight the organisations and people we are still missing. This template has been added to the foot of all the new pages below. There is much more to the history of HIV/AIDS activism in Scotland (and the United Kingdom for that matter) to be told. We hope that this is only the beginning to honour and celebrate the pioneering and vitally important work that came before. Much more to do!
As a result of the HIV Scotland Wikipedia event at the end of January, we now have pages for:
In 1983, after becoming aware of the spread of an illness affecting gay men in the United States, Derek Ogg set up Scottish AIDS Monitor in Edinburgh, along with Edward McGough, Nigel Cook and Simon Taylor, in order to inform and educate gay men about HIV and AIDS. The organisation was established before the first case of HIV was recorded in Scotland and three years before the first government AIDS awareness campaign. In addition to their original Edinburgh branch, by the late 1980s, the organisation had branches in Highland, Lothian, Tayside and Strathclyde. SAM was funded by private donations and public funding. The organisation was awarded £25,000 by the government’s Scottish Home and Health department in 1988 and also received funding from Strathclyde and Lothian Health Boards.
Initially SAM focused on raising awareness of AIDS and promoting safe sex among gay men, but the organisation expanded its activities to include all groups affected by HIV and AIDS, including homosexuals, heterosexuals, teenagers, drug users, sex workers and prison inmates. The organisation worked with the Genito Urinary Medicine unit at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in order to ensure the information they provided was accurate and up to date. SAM’s activities included advocacy, awareness raising, advisory, support and prevention services. The organisation trained AIDS counsellors and hospital visitors and set up “Buddy” and HIV support groups. They also ran AIDS information phone lines in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, worked with drug counselling agencies, promoted safe sex and distributed free condoms. In 1994 SAM set up Gay Men’s Heath, the UK’s first dedicated health initiative for gay and bisexual men. The organisation was also instrumental in setting up Body Positive Scotland, a self help group for people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.
SAM ceased operating in the West of Scotland later in 1995, and after funding was withdrawn by Lothian Health Board in 1996, the organisation closed down.
HIV Scotland is a registered charitable organisation based in Edinburgh, Scotland, established in 1995 as Scottish Voluntary HIV & AIDS Forum, that works to make policy and advocacy changes for people living with HIV in Scotland, PrEP users, and people at risk of HIV. George Valiotis was the Chief Executive Officer of HIV Scotland between 2012 and 2019 during which a key achievement was a successful implementation strategy for a new technology called HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), for which the organisation was awarded the British Medical Association Medfash prize for making Scotland the first nation in the UK to have it listed on their national health service. Nathan Sparling was appointed chief executive on 1st November 2018, and helped lead the organisation through a strategic review which led to their new 11-year Strategic Plan – #ZEROHIV. He announced he was leaving HIV Scotland in December 2020.
Project for HIV and AIDS Care and Education (PHACE) West was Scottish HIV and AIDS awareness organisation that was active in the West of Scotland between 1995 and 2006.
PHACE West was founded in November 1994 by Ken Cowan following changes in the Scottish HIV voluntary sector, and the following year attracted funding from four West of Scotland health boards. There was a widespread perception of an East Coast bias in the management of the predominant Scottish AIDS organisation Scottish AIDS Monitor, and inadequate West Coast services. A number of SAM staff joined PHACE West, including its director Maureen Moore.
The new organisation had a high-profile launch party in May 1995 at Glasgow’s Tunnel nightclub, featuring a performance by Dannii Minogue. In 2000 it expanded by opening an Aberdeen office, and becoming a national organisation, PHACE Scotland. In 2006 the organisation became part of the Terrence Higgins Trust, as its parent organisation PHACE Scotland completed a merger with the UK’s longest established HIV charity, allowing THT Scotland to provide services in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Argyll, Ayrshire Arran, Lanarkshire, Grampian and Highland NHS Scotland board areas.
PHACE West provided a welfare rights service, Buddy Support Service and Night Owl crisis line, counselling, and condoms by post for people in rural areas. They ran the HAVEN, a drop in space at Ruchill Hospital. They also produced publications and websites on safer sex aimed at gay men, distributed condoms in LGBT venues, and ran the youth group Bi-G-Les for under-25s.
Derek Andrew OggQC (1954 – 1 May 2020) was a Scottish lawyer who, through the Historical Sexual Offences Pardons and Disregards Scotland Bill, campaigned for automatic pardons for gay and bisexual men with historical convictions of sexual offences that are no longer illegal in Scotland. In 1983 Ogg established the Scottish HIV and AIDS awareness charity Scottish AIDS Monitor.
In 1983, after hearing about a disease affecting gay men in the United States, Derek Ogg, along with Edward McGough, Nigel Cook and Simon Taylor set up the Scottish AIDS Monitor to educate gay men about the risks of HIV and AIDS. He served on the board of Directors until 1994. In the 1980s much of his activism was around the issues of HIV and AIDS, where along with Scottish AIDS Monitor he was also involved in the establishment of Waverley Care through which the Milestone Hospice, the UK’s first purpose built hospice for HIV patients, was established in 1991.
Ogg was involved in the campaign to end the ban on gay sex in Scotland which was formally lifted in 1981 with the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. He was also an activist against Section 28 (Clause 2A in Scotland) which was repealed in Scotland in 2000 and England Wales in 2003. In 2015 he was presented with a special award for Lifetime Achievement at the inaugural Scottish LGBTI Awards in recognition of his activism and legal work. He also campaigned for an apology from the Scottish Government in 2017 to gay and bisexual men who had been convicted prior to 2001, under discriminatory laws against same-sex sexual activity that had since been made legal.
After leaving SAM, Maureen went on to Chair the Scottish voluntary sector’s HIV and AIDS forum and the Board of Project for HIV/AIDS Care and Education (PHACE West) in Glasgow. This enabled her to continue lobbying for improved awareness of heterosexual transmission of HIV and better education and HIV prevention services for gay men.
In 1995 Maureen took over from Alison Hillhouse as Chief Executive at ASH Scotland where she supported the ban on smoking in workplaces in Scotland and the ban on tobacco sales to under 18s.
She was awarded an OBE for services to healthcare in 2006.
Ken Cowan ( 23 February 1955 to 11 November 1995) was a Scottish AIDS activist and founder/director of PHACE West, the project for HIV and Aids education in the West of Scotland.
Cowan successfully lobbied that patients be included on the carers sub-committee at Ruchill Hospital and was instrumental in the success of the West of Scotland’s awareness strategy for highlighting HIV prevention initiatives for gay men. He was also majorly involved in the development of Body Positive, the self-help agency for those living with HIV.
Cowan was diagnosed with HIV in 1991. He died aged 40 on 11 November 1995.
Eric Kay, in Gay Scotland‘s article on his passing, wrote that Cowan:
“was particularly skilful in fighting against the prejudice and dispelling the myths surrounding the virus. His eloquent delivery on the subject was always compelling, whether he was teaching young children or convincing politicians and Health Board funders. His determination ultimately brought about key policy changes which in turn have radically affected HIV Services in the West of Scotland.”
Wikipedia is one of the most widely used means by which people get information, but it has lots of gaps and problems. Last semester, the residency collaborated with Professor Diana Paton and Lucy Parfitt at the University of Edinburgh History Society to begin a project to make it better. Participants were invited to improve public knowledge of Scotland’s Black history, and to help make Scotland’s deep connections to Atlantic slavery better understood. The controversial politician Henry Dundas was a focal point following media coverage of the back and forth discussions on his activity in relation to slavery.
An initial information meeting was held on 18 November 2020, with talks by Lisa Williams (Edinburgh Caribbean Association) and Tom Cunningham (UncoverEd) to set a context for where improvements to articles could be made.
Subsequent workshops took place on three Wednesdays in January: researching the topics, learning how to edit, and making the edits.
As of today, almost 15,000 words have now been added to 4 new articles with 56 more being improved. These pages have now been viewed over a million times already. Some of the pages created and edited are provided below. The hope is that this is just a beginning to improve the imbalances and gaps online, reflecting a truer record of Scotland’s role in the Atlantic slave trade and presenting more positive stories of black history online.
Glasgow became ICY’s first graduate in 1856, and afterwards gained a place at the University of Edinburgh. Due to his reputation for intellectual prowess, managers and peers competed to pay for his transatlantic trip and tuition. At Edinburgh, Glasgow excelled in all of his classes and won several academic prizes in Greek, English, and Mathematics, graduating in 1858.
In 1859, Glasgow published a 47-page pamphlet called ‘The Harpers Ferry Insurrection: Being an Account of the Late Outbreak in Virginia, and of the Trial and Execution of Captain John Brown, Its Hero’. This was an account expressing sympathy for white abolitionist John Brown and others who led an unsuccessful raid on Harpers Ferry, a federal armoury in Virginia, in October 1859. It was published in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London.
In the pamphlet Glasgow relates his experiences of racism in Scotland to the experiences of African Americans in the United States, condemning the institution of slavery and hailing John Brown as a hero in the history of anti-slavery movements. The pamphlet also included an appeal to his Scottish readers to take up the cause of anti-slavery in the United States, using the words of Sir Walter Scott in the opening lines of the pamphlet.
On 20 December 1860 Glasgow died of tuberculosis aged 23 in his Newington home (10 Hill Place), before he had completed his studies at Edinburgh. His death was commemorated in Scottish newspapers and by the Banneker Institute. The latter not only issued statements of sorrow but also remembered Glasgow for his academic achievements which demonstrated the reality of African American intellectual equality with white people. Glasgow’s legacy was to improve the position of the African American community in the United States when contemporary racial ideology dictated black inferiority.
Jean-Baptiste Philip (1796 – 1829), sometimes written Phillipe, was a Trinidad-born doctor and the leader of an activist group formed in Trinidad in 1823, which fought against the racist attitudes of colonial authorities through letters and petitions. He was a complex figure as he fought against racist attitudes of colonial authorities in Trinidad while also belonging to a Black slave-owning family. His famous work Free Mulatto pointed out the racist treatment of free Black people in Trinidad, but did not request the abolition of slavery.
Between 1806 and 1810, Philip left Trinidad to study literature in England, becoming the first Trinidadian to formally study literature abroad. After completing this degree, he went on to be one of the first Black students to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland between 1812 and 1815. He graduated in 1815, and his thesis explored ‘Hysterical Moods’. After graduation he spent some time travelling in Europe, where he met and fell in love with a woman of European descent. However, following the advice of a friend, he did not marry her and returned to Trinidad alone.
Around 1815, Philip returned to Trinidad to practice medicine as one of the first black doctors to work in the Caribbean. Many doctors at this time were invested both politically and economically in the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, and therefore many slaves did not receive proper medical treatment. Moreover, many doctors owned enslaved people, one doctor, William Wright, once wrote that the abolition of the slave trade would be ‘fatal to our commerce.’ Despite this, Philip sought to challenge the racial discrimination he faced in the medical profession in the Caribbean and critiqued the many inequalities between the Black and the white population. Between 1816 and 1825, Philip became the leader of the Civil Rights movement in Naprimas, South Trinidad. He travelled to England between 1822 and 1823 to petition the rights of free Black people in the Caribbean. This petition was later printed and became his most famous work ‘Free Mulatto.’
Philip wrote A Free Mulatto: An Address to the Right Hon. Earl Bathurst in 1823. The text was a call on the British governor of Trinidad, Bathurst to grant the “coloured population” of the island the same “civil and political privileges as their white fellow subjects.” The use of the term “coloured” in the text refers to the free Black population but excludes slaves. Philip states that the text aims to highlight the prejudices free Blacks in Trinidad face in order to inspire Bathurst to act.
Philip provides evidence of racist segregationist practises such as the prevention of marriage between Black and white Trinidadians, prejudices against Black doctors and separation in churches. He also compares the unequal severity of punishment experienced by white and free Black criminals in Trinidad to argue that “criminality is lost in the glare of whiteness.” On slavery, Philip celebrates the shift towards amelioration policies, but does not go so far as to ask for immediate abolition. He invokes the Haitian Revolution as evidence that ‘no privileges’ should be given to some which are inconsistent with the happiness and prosperity of the whole. However, he closes by asking for an end to the “sufferings of the coloured population.” This distinction between free and unfree Blacks, reinforced differences within Trinidad’s Black population.
Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, PC, FRSE (28 April 1742 – 28 May 1811) was a Scottish advocate and “independent Whig” politician. He was the trusted lieutenant of British prime minister William Pitt, and the most powerful politician in Scotland in the latter decades of the 18th century.
A few years after passage of theSlave Trade Act 1807, Wilberforce and Dundas encountered each other. Wilberforce recorded the event as follows:
“‘We did not meet for a long time and all his connexions most violently abused me. About a year before he died ... we saw one another, and at first I thought he was passing on, but he stopped and called out, ‘Ah Wilberforce, how do you do? And gave me a hearty shake by the hand. I would have given a thousand pounds for that shake. I never saw him afterwards.“
Historians of the slave trade and the abolitionist movement, includingDavid Brion Davis,Roger Anstey,Robin Blackburn, argue that Dundas’s actions were a tactic designed to delay rather than facilitate abolition. They maintain that when Dundas inserted the word ‘gradual’ into the debate he in effect postponed the discussion on the slave trade until an unspecified date in the future, and subverted the British abolitionist movement.
Subsequent measures were brought forward in favour of abolition at other times in the course of the 1790s which Dundas also opposed. The loss of momentum was connected to the renewal of war with France in which Britain favoured the expansion of slavery while the French, after 1794, stood for its abolition.
Other historians, includingSir Tom Devine, who focus on Scottish and British history disagree.
Brian Young notes that in 1792, the motion for immediate cessation of the slave trade was heading for certain defeat. By inserting the word “gradual” into the motion, Young says Dundas ensured a successful vote for the ultimate abolition of the trade in slaves.
Guest post by Hannah Rothmann, Classics undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh. This is a transcript of what she said at Wikipedia’s 20th birthday event on Friday 15th January 2021.
Hi everyone, my name is Hannah. I am currently in my fourth and final year studying Classics at the University of Edinburgh. Last summer, I was the Wikimedia Training Intern at the University. Over the course of my internship, with my university’s Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew, I helped to created training materials for Wikipedia, Wikidata and a website to host them. I contacted other Wikimedians across the UK and included their work on the website. We wanted to make a platform which collated new resources and all the impressive ones already out there. This in part was to help stop people going down a rabbit-hole of blue links… something I am sure all of you are familiar with.
Before starting my internship, I did not know much about Wikipedia and its sister projects. I had obviously used Wikipedia; to settle arguments, as a springboard for research and as a helping hand in some difficult pub quizzes. However, I had never actually edited it myself. Embarrassingly, I had also not given much thought to where all this information I was using came from, how it was maintained and what prompted people to edit. My attitude to Wikipedia was also affected by those around me. From school through to the start of my degree, I have been warned away from Wikipedia many times. My teachers and lecturers have told me it is untrustworthy, not academic enough and must be avoided at all costs. One lecturer even told us that as Wikipedia could be edited by anyone, this was proof enough to avoid it. Despite these warnings, myself and the majority of the students I know use Wikipedia in some form. Therefore, universities and education systems need to acknowledge that Wikipedia plays an instrumental role for many students in their learning and they need to recognise that it is not this big, bad wolf leading their students astray.
The University of Edinburgh is aware of this demonstrated by the fact it was the first university in the UK to employ a university-wide Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew. Wikimedians in Residence tend, or tended, to be situated in galleries, libraries, archives and museums. Many still think about Wikipedia as a way of sharing library collections and are wary of the dangers of consuming Wikipedia rather than what we can gain from a teaching and learning perspective through contributing. The residency at Edinburgh is geared to support sharing knowledge openly and developing information literacy and digital skills. A focus of the residency is also on supporting equality and diversity through improving representation online and increasing the diversity of editors. This, along with a desire to make Wikipedia more transparent to the university community, drove the creation of our website.
We decided to focus our efforts on Wikipedia, Wikidata and the ways that people can continue to contribute to the sites after their initial tentative steps into the world of Wiki. Our first goal was to explain to people, especially students and staff, why they should become involved with Wikipedia and Wikidata. My own journey, from being strongly warned away from Wikipedia to actively contributing to it helped me to contextualise this for people. Explaining what Wikipedia is, something which to many is apparent, was crucial to explain why people should edit it. I think many do not realise that the goal of Wikipedia is to be the sum of all human knowledge and that people need to contribute to it for it to come even slightly near this impossible but noble goal. More importantly, the fact that anyone can edit Wikipedia is a positive and not a negative, as my anti-Wikipedia lecturer suggested. It is incredible that people across the world and from different backgrounds can contribute to a singular platform.
An idea of knowledge activism, as opposed to passive consumption, is inherent in the goal to get more people to contribute. Within universities, many staff and students are in excellent positions to contribute, improve and edit articles on Wikipedia. They can access resources, they have specific subject expertise and, with some persuasion, a desire to improve Wikipedia. This could mean that they could be valuable editors and empowered knowledge activists. Subsections of our website include how to create an account (crucial for any Wiki editing), how to edit, guidance around what you should be contributing, how to make an article, how to cite Wikipedia and how to teach with Wikipedia.
The part on teaching with Wikipedia was crucial to make as several University courses now include Wikipedia editing. It was through this that my sister was won over to the world of Wiki. She took the Stars, Robots and Talismans honours course run by Glaire Anderson at the University who put editing Wikipedia at the centre of her course. My sister, and others on her course, had their perceptions of Wikipedia challenged. They had to confront their idea of Wikipedia as a place that is not intellectual and not trustworthy when they themselves were contributing their own research. Their change in attitude shows me that with training and an explanation of what Wikipedia is really about, people can learn to appreciate a platform many take for granted. Hopefully, students soon will be able to receive an award, the Edinburgh Award, by undertaking 50 hours of wiki editing from October to April to improve, individually or in groups, whole areas of Wikipedia such as Scotland’s links with slavery, Women in STEM, Translation work and more.
Our website also has a section on how to contribute to Wikipedia once people feel ready to start editing. Edit-a-thons are a way to do this. As many of you know, this is an event where people come together to edit and create articles around a particular topic. Generally, it is also to address the biases on Wikipedia. I had never heard of these events before my internship and this is a shame considering how it is an easy way to try, in your own small way, to create some social justice.
It is this aspect of Wikipedia and those who edit it that exemplifies everything good about the internet. It is astounding that Wikipedia has been with us for 20 years and in the current political climate, we can all do with some accessible, non-partisan and free knowledge.
New website on the Wikimedia residency
New 41 webpage site created by Hannah Rothmann, student intern, on University of Edinburgh’s Digital Skills site.
Before starting my internship as the Wikimedia Training Intern at the University of Edinburgh, I did not know much about Wikipedia and its sister projects. I had obviously used Wikipedia; to settle arguments, as a springboard for research and as a helping hand in some particularly difficult pub quizzes. However, I had not given much thought to where that information came from, how it was curated, maintained and what prompted people to edit freely and in their spare time. The goal to make Wikipedia the ‘sum of all human knowledge’ lies behind the work of many editors. It is this possibility of open access to all knowledge for all that drives people. The majority of editors want to preserve information, such as creating an online database of small, nearly extinct languages. For many, it is also a wish to share knowledge, to help people and to make the internet a bit better that drives them to contribute. It is a noble aim and one that many strive to help achieve both within the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK, the UK branch of the Wikimedia Foundation.
However, I do acknowledge that Wikipedia and the other Wiki platforms are not perfect. They sadly reflect the biases that are inherent in our society. Only around 18% of all biographies on the English Wikipedia are on women and there are even less on women from the Global South. The representation of ethnic minorities is also problematic. A study in 2011 found that the perspective on Wikipedia tends to come from the Global North and this is something that needs to change as the editors of Wikipedia are predominantly male, college educated, white and in their 30s. Therefore, to make Wikipedia a better place we need to make learning how to edit and maintain Wikipedia accessible for all and we need to persuade people to get involved from all backgrounds to try to address the systemic bias on Wikipedia.
One way is through edit-a-thons, where people come together with a goal to edit and create articles around a particular topic. For example, a group called Women in Red create Wikipedia articles about notable women that are lacking from Wikipedia and they helped to increase the percentage of articles about women on the English Wikipedia from around 15% to around 18%. During my summer, I attended events aim at improving representation of women such as the NHLI Wikithon for Women in Science and events hosted by the Women’s Classical Committee. Both had great speakers and showed me the possibility for social activism that Wikipedia holds.
Another way to increase access to Wikipedia is through training materials. Making accessible and understandable ‘how to’ videos and content for Wikipedia and Wikidata, an open machine-readable database, has been a main focus of my internship and over the last few weeks I have been finalising what I have made and making a website for this information. This is not a final solution for Wikipedia and Wikidata training but hopefully it will be a place where most questions can be answered for those taking their tentative first steps into the world of wiki. Not only do we need to persuade people to edit but we also need them to continue to edit and this training resource could mean that there is a safety net for new editors to fall back on for help.
Working from home has had its difficulties. Waiting for software, for a headset and sending many emails which could have been short conversations in person are some of the things that have slowed down my work. It also is important to stay motivated when working from home as the days can blur especially when there is no distinction between home and work. However, the team at the university have been very friendly, they have been around to have video calls if I need any help and extremely supportive. Everyone is going through a strange time and working from home has been a good learning curve and one that will be important for my final year at university where most of my studying will take place remotely.
I am grateful for the skills I have learnt this summer during my internship and for an opportunity to learn about the positive work that we can collectively do on the internet. Hopefully, I will continue to edit Wikipedia and in a small way increase representation on the internet and open access to knowledge for all.
Thanks especially to Ewan McAndrew for all the help and guidance this summer!
I have now finished 4 very busy weeks of my Wikimedia Training Internship! These past few weeks I have begun developing ideas and plans for training materials for Wikipedia and Wikidata and for a website where I can share these materials. This has meant that, among other things, I have been learning how to create a website and how to use screen capturing software; all useful skills! There have been some stumbling blocks in getting the relevant access to the necessary sites so I have spent time ensuring I had the skills to access platforms such as EdWeb. Everything has now been sorted out and hopefully I will be able to progress smoothly for the next 8 weeks of the internship!
The website that I want to create will showcase the work that the Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh, Ewan McAndrew, is doing, explain the importance of Wikipedia and Wikidata, explore real life examples of using both platforms and hopefully give all novices the skills they need to feel confident using these platforms. It will be a mix of videos, pdfs, images and texts and I am looking forward to having a finished website which will be useful to many people embarking on their wiki-journey!
Working from home is still a strange experience but luckily frequent calls with colleagues and Wikimedians outside of the university ensure that I feel connected and part of something. Last week, I was able to sit in on some of the talks at the Celtic Knot Conference 2020 (originally meant to be held in Ireland) which changed up my routine a little. This conference clearly exemplified how Wikipedia and especially Wikidata can cause real life change. The focus of this conference was
‘to bring people together to share their experiences of working on sharing information in minority languages’
and the organisers wanted to have
‘a strong focus on Wikidata and its potential to support languages’.
One of the talks I attended was led by Léa Lacroix and Nicolas Vigneron who showed us how to input Wikidata lexemes. For example, Nicolas used Breton as the language he was inputting. This function of Wikidata is significant in ensuring that a record of these languages is accessible for many people in many languages. This is important work considering a recent study suggested that Scots Gaelic, for example, could die out within the decade.
The next few weeks I will be focusing on creating videos, the website and editing all of these materials. I will be also attending the Women’s Classical Committee UK Wiki colloquium at the end of July which describes itself as
‘a crowd-sourced initiative that aims to increase the representation of women classicists (very broadly conceived) on Wikipedia.’
This neatly combines my degree, Classics, with the new skills and interests I am developing from this internship and it is a good way I can practically put these new skills to use diversifying Wikipedia!
Today I had the chance to attend the #WCCWiki Colloquium 2020. This was an event organised by the Women’s Classical Committee UK. #WCCWiki describes itself as
‘a crowd-sourced initiative that aims to increase the representation of women classicists (very broadly conceived) on Wikipedia.’ 
Since they started in 2016, they have edited and/or created more than 450 Wikipedia pages for women classicists. This is an impressive feat and important to increase the diversity on Wikipedia. You may be wondering why we need to increase the diversity of pages about Classics on Wikipedia? It is because the gender bias on Wikipedia becomes even clearer when looking at classics:
‘one Wikipedia editor estimated in 2016 that only 7% of biographies of classicists featured women’.
This statistic has become less extreme due to the efforts of #WCCWiki but there is still lots of work for us to do.
At the event itself, there were a series of talks ranging from why it is important for us to edit Wikipedia to LGBTQ+ Wikipedia editing. The talks touched upon the issues that editors come across when creating new articles. For example, Adam Parker discussed notability. When creating new biographies on Wikipedia notability is a really important aspect to focus on. It is usually because of failing the criteria for notability that new articles are excluded. Jess Wade faced this issue when writing about the nuclear chemist Clarice Phelps. Phelps’ page caused controversy with editors deleting her page numerous times. Eventually, by January 2020 her page was restored. This happened again when a page made for Donna Strickland after she had won the Nobel Prize for Physics was deleted. However, there were issues surrounding the original page created for Donna Strickland and these are explored in a post by the Wikimedia Foundation which also explains some of the problems that come up when thinking about notability. These issues surrounding notability come up again and again and are a continual battle.
In the afternoon, Miller Power gave an important talk on LGBTQ+ Wikipedia editing. He discussed the issues that the LGBTQ+ community face on Wikipedia such as queer erasure and harassment which can lead to edit wars. For example, this could be changing pronouns or using deadnames when it is not necessary. An example of one of these edit wars is the Wikipedia page for Harry Allen (trans man) where corrections kept needed to be made. Miller Power also discussed what we should be aware of when writing about LGBTQ+ people on Wikipedia including consistently using correct gendered language and avoiding outdated language and phrases such as ‘used to be a man’.
It was a positive and informative day that really showed what a group of motivated people are able to achieve. If you want to edit or create pages here is a list on the Women’s Classical Committee project page and they are also planning an online editing session on the 19th August.
Hi, my name is Hannah and I will be going into the final year of my Classics degree in September. I have just finished week 1 of my Wikimedia Training Internship; the start date was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty that came with it. Adjusting to working remotely from home, meeting new people but over video calls and Microsoft teams and also learning about entirely new things has meant that it has been a strange and somewhat nerve-racking first week and not what I would have expected from a summer internship a year ago. Thankfully, my line manager, Ewan McAndrew, has been very welcoming and made me feel at ease despite this novel situation!
The Wikimedia Training Internship caught my attention among a long and varied list of Employ.Ed internships. The aim of my internship of is to create materials to teach people how to edit and use Wikipedia and Wikidata with the goal of them becoming active editors and contributing to a growing database of free, credible and jointly gathered information. I was shocked when I discovered this week that only around 18% of biographical pages on the English Wikipedia are about women! Hopefully, by making more accessible teaching materials we will be able to address this imbalance and increase the diversity of Wikipedia and Wikidata. This means making resources that avoid complicated jargon, address all stumbling blocks a beginner wiki-user may encounter and will enable the uninitiated to become confident editors and contributors. Wikimedia UK believes
‘that open access to knowledge is a fundamental right’ and in the ‘democratic creation, distribution and consumption of knowledge’.
These aims demonstrate the importance of the work of Wikimedia UK. My line manager Ewan stressed this importance and that Wikimedia related activities have a growing significance in a learning environment shifting more towards the digital world when he had to argue that the internship should go ahead despite financial impact COVID-19 on the university; many internships were cancelled. My internship will hopefully enable remote learning and help people see how they can change their approach to teaching to incorporate Wikimedia related activities into how students learn.
This aim means that the work I am doing is firmly rooted in the present and even the future. Just this week I have learnt new ways to use technology and skills which will be indispensable in a world moving ever more into the realm of online, online learning and the online experience. Although at first glance this internship appears in direct contrast to my Classics degree, which is focussed among other things on reading and interpreting ancient texts, the aim of a Classics degree, in my opinion, is to understand that ideas and concepts of whatever period always have relevance and there is always the possibility of continual learning. The different skills I will develop in my internship and the skills I am learning from my degree will hopefully enrich my approach to work and any work that I do in this time and in the future.
So far, I have been getting used to remote working and all the quirks that come with it (hoovering is not something that goes too well with a work video call for example!) and I have also been figuring out where the gaps are in the current resources that Ewan has to teach people about Wikipedia and Wikidata while also filling in my rather large gaps of knowledge. For example, I had no idea what Wikidata really was before the start of my first week and I am still trying to understand it fully. I was lucky enough to attend the NHLI Women in Science Wikithon at the end of my first week which gave me a chance to implement what I had learnt about Wikipedia editing and it showed me how much more still needs to be done to improve diversity. Dr Jess Wade, who was Wikimedia UK’s Wikimedian of the year 2019, gave an introduction exploring why we should all edit Wikipedia. She has personally made hundreds and hundreds of Wikipedia pages for women and for notable women in science who previously had been ignored and in doing this has increased awareness regarding Wikipedia and how it can be used to tackle inequality and lack of diversity. After this introduction, it was a treat to have some training from Dr Alice White who showed us how to begin editing and creating our own pages. I edited some pages already created but lacking details, for example a page about Dr Susan Bewley, as I did not feel quite ready to begin making my own pages. The work Dr Jess Wade has been doing and continues to do along with this event really showed me how Wikipedia could be used as a force for good and also the importance of ensuring people have access to learning materials.
I am excited about getting to grips with my internship, developing skills, challenging my abilities all with the aim to make Wikipedia and Wikidata a platform that anyone anywhere will feel able to use, edit and appreciate!
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
I am Karen, a member of the University of Edinburghadministrative staff. I spotted a new open learning experience for staff and students in Creative Learning Week 2018 with ‘no experience needed’ – Wikipedia edit-a-thon for Vote100 centenary anniversary of (some) women’s right to vote .
learn from great teachers, with cakes and coffee on hand,
be part of a community of (mainly) women making a difference ,
access a range of research, references, materials to hand, discussions and sharing.
Wikimedians Ewan McAndrew from the University and Alice White from Wellcome Library made it all so easy!
Now with a bit of an ‘addiction’ to editing Wikipedia (for women, especially for the amazingly brave suffragettes), I have been known to
wear ‘We can edit’ T-shirt, sport a ‘Deeds not Words’ sticker on the laptop,
meet, share ideas with Wikimedian Roger, co-founder of ‘Women In Red‘,
repeat the ‘refresher’ training, but never feel inadequate in my skills,
find constant support as a volunteer and aware of joining a global effort,
listen to a University archivist sharing the history of our University,
see an original letter to Christabel Pankhurst in prison, from one of University of Edinburgh’s few female students,
read the handwritten register of the University Womens’ Education Group from an era when ‘we’ could study but couldn’t graduate .
A joyful open learning community is truly collegial and uplifting, and even has cute messages of support.
== A cupcake for you! ==Many thanks for coming to our International Women’s Day editathon today, Karen.
Vote 100 Editathon, CC BY, Karen Bowman
A hobby for life
Processions Karen & Suzanne, CC BY SA, Kaybeesquared, Wikimedia Commons
Now I am proud to tell family and friends of my new (though limited) editing skills, made so easy in VisualEdit and with great Wikimedians there to help!
So I re-joined the University Library and local City Library to track down secondary sources to cite on our suffragists and suffragettes, joined events on the topic and was part of the Processions 2018 artwork with thousands of women acknowledging the success and the suffering and sheer persistence of notable (and less known) women who led the way and as a result now have my own picture in Wikimedia Commons, and a hobby for life!
Open Learning from history
Open Learning has helped me enjoy learning from the past and creating materials again to acknowledge the women who made it possible for me to march, to have a political voice, complete graduate education, and have a long, varied and satisfying professional life.
Karen Bowman is Joint Director of Procurement at the University of Edinburgh, FCIPS, now part-retired. A former NHS Scotland procurement leader and hospice pain research nurse, she started and led the University staff/student Fair Trade steering group and was awarded the Principal’s Medal for outstanding service in 2011. She has continued to learn throughout her life including with Dame Cecily Saunders, OM, DBE; with Harriet Lamb CBE and since joining in Open Learning events and with ‘Women in Red’ is now starting to wiki-edit (a little).