The 9th annual conference for Open Education research, practice and policy, OER18, took place at the Bristol Watershed Cinema on 18 and 19 April 2018. Its theme was ‘Open to All’ and it featured Wikimedia heavily in its programme.
I have been working as Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh for just over two years now (one year part-time and one year full-time) so now seems a good time to start the deep delving of reflecting back. (I’m also, it has to be said, contractually obliged to reflect back now I am undertaking my CMALT).
The importance of reflection in my role, or any role for that matter, is not lost on me… and not a new experience either. My background is in English and Media teaching at secondary school level and the yearly soul-searching and evidencing of continuous professional development is something other teachers will recognise. Teaching, it has to be said, can be a very solitary profession at times. Aside from tea and lunch breaks you often spend the lion’s share of your day working autonomously in your own classroom; reflecting on your work and intuitively planning to better meet the needs of your students. Like most teachers, I tried to lead by example, offering support, guidance, humour when needed, cajoling when needed, and generally trying to remove any barriers to learning. Like most teachers, I needed to train myself to remember all the good things achieved during each day rather than dwelling on the work still outstanding or the things that hadn’t worked out.
The volunteering I did in various archives too (University of Glasgow Archives, Glasgow School of Art Archives and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Archives) was solitary in nature a great deal of the time. I didn’t mind that. There was something immensely gratifying about the process of quietly sorting* through the archives, looking for buried treasures and helping to catalogue & write about them so others could learn about them. A world away from the noise of the classroom. Though I’ll confess that those moments when I felt I made a difference in the classroom and helped inspire a love of learning in others (not to mention the daily barrage of humour that was released on me) is something one can’t help but miss.
Teaching and volunteering in libraries/archives were two aspects of my life for a while; and I felt they complemented one another perfectly. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was that these aspects could be combined in one role working as the Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh.
The difference now is that I am no longer just a teacher. I learn justas much as I teach… which I love. Such is the fast-developing nature of the Wikimedia projects, there is always something new to learn and to share with others once mastered. Beyond this, after completing four courses of study in higher education, I was well versed in being a student but found I had a lot to learn about the inner workings of a university; especially one like the University of Edinburgh with some 35,000 students and 13,000 staff. Working to support the whole university across all the teaching colleges and support groups to see how the university could benefit from, and contribute to, the Wikimedia projects is a very new role; the first in the United Kingdom so I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to break new ground. I have never wavered in my belief that there are huge areas of crossover between universities and the Wikimedia projects and therefore huge opportunities to explore the untapped potential of collaborating with one another. This has been hugely exciting, hugely rewarding…. and, at times, more than a little daunting because there is so much that could and should be done. And in those few quiet moments when I have had my head too far buried in my laptop to see the wood for the trees and my inner Eeyore has taken over this can feel like another solitary role.
Only it hasn’t been. Not really.
And this, more than anything else, is why I believe that the residency is working.
Because I work in an incredibly supportive environment and learn everyday from the example of brilliant, inspiring women. Reflecting back, my two years at the University of Edinburgh has been characterised by, and shaped by, the fantastic female colleagues I work with. Even today at our International Women’s Day Wikipedia event to celebrate the lives and contributions of the suffragettes, I was struck by the absolute enthusiasm for editing Wikipedia by our all-female group of attendees. “This is soooo addictive.” was proclaimed multiple times this afternoon. Which is unfailingly awesome to hear as Wikipedia has (historically) been seen as the preserve of white techy males.
Not anymore. Not on the evidence of the last two years. Things are definitely changing for the better. Though there is still a way to go. #PressForProgress
So, I would like to pay tribute on International Women’s Day to the inspiring women that I feel honoured to work with and learn from. You’ve helped champion the work of the residency, of Wikimedia UK and the sharing of open knowledge. You’ve pointed me in the right direction (sometimes literally), provided advice, ideas, support, carved turnips, Periodic table cupcakes, guided me, forced me to take pictures of strip clubs for Wiki Loves Monuments, made me laugh, made me see things differently, challenged me to grow as a practitioner; and demonstrated just what it means to be dedicated & brilliant professional.
I am not normally one to pay compliments or give enough credit where credit is due as a general rule. A fault I know.
But in the dying moments of International Women’s Day I thought I could sneak this out.
I am endlessly grateful so I doff my hat to you all!
Melissa Highton – Twas bold to be first to host a university-wide Wiki residency. And Melissa has been never less than brilliantly supportive throughout.
The collaboration with the School of Chemistry this year came about because it was suggested I should meet Dr. Michael Seery, Reader in Chemistry Education, on a completely different subject; his work with digital badges. During the tail end of the conversation, Michael expressed a certain scepticism about Wikipedia being used in academic contexts and I took the opportunity (and great delight) in proving him wrong… or at least in providing him with what I saw as a more informed approach to Wikipedia’s role in the creation, curation and dissemination of knowledge globally.
I can’t be sure what it was during that brief exchange that prompted Michael to start his own investigations yet investigate he did. And it resulted in his epic Twitter rant and this blog post re-appraising Wikipedia’s role in chemistry education*.
After our meeting and discussions, it was as a process of writing his first Wikipedia article on the English chemist Mildred May Gostling, and seeing the work involved, that he began to move “closer to the light“. (His words not mine). The fact that Michael was able to move from sceptic to activist and teach himself how to create such a page within the space of an evening should evidence how much easier editing Wikipedia has become in the last 2-3 years with the new Visual Editor interface making it possible to pick up the basics of Wikipedia editing in as little as 25 minutes.
*NB: Before I get carried away and completely misrepresent Michael, this was no Road to Damascus volte-face on his part. I prefer to think of it as a rational educator responding to rational arguments; making connections between the work he does and the work of the Wikimedia community. For the record, a certain amount of (healthy) scepticism is fine. An unhealthy quasi-prejudiced scepticism is a whole other kettle of fish. In any case, I’ll always make the case that an informed approach to engaging with Wikipedia trumps pretending it doesn’t exist each and every time.
It was Michael who brought the Letter of 19 to my attention. I confess I had not heard of the nineteen British women chemists who petitioned the Chemical Society in 1904 to afford women the same basic rights of Fellowship as their male counterparts. Shamefully, only a handful of the nineteen were represented on Wikipedia this Summer, the world’s number one information site. Hence, if providing more Women in STEM role models helps show that STEM careers are not just viable but something to be emulated then ensuring these fabulously notable women & their achievements were represented on Wikipedia had to be the #1 focus for our editing event for Ada Lovelace Day. (And it didn’t hurt that one of the 19, Ida Freund, had invented the Periodic Table of cupcakes as a teaching tool… which over a hundred years later would help inspire & fuel our editors while they worked).
Happily, as a result of last week’s cupcake-fuelled editathon event, ALL nineteen of the signatories to the petition are now represented on Wikipedia. In addition, we also now have a brand new article about the 1904 petition itself where you can access all of the nineteen biographies.
Wikipedia is a concept that shouldn’t work when you think about it.
A free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit, crowd-sourced from volunteers. Yet work it does, miraculously so. It’s always been predicated on the notion that more people want to good than harm. And this is borne out by my own experience of editors and, perhaps more importantly, by research which found that only 7% of edits can be considered vandalism; meaning 93% is well-intentioned.
The 5th most popular website in the world receives 17 billion pageviews a month and 7,000 new articles are created each day. A recent article by WikiProject Medicine(recommended reading) found that Wikipedia is a source of health information for half to nearly three-quarters of physicians and more than 90% of medical students. It is also estimated to be 1,500 times more cost-effective than traditional ways of spreading information such as presenting at academic conferences. With recent analysis showing that people spend more time on Wikipedia’s mobile site than any other news or information site, issues of inaccuracy or under-representation matter.
But they can only be solved by greater engagement. Of the 80,000 regular contributors to Wikipedia, only 3,000 are considered ‘very active’ – meaning a community the size of the village of Kinghorn in Fife is often left to curate the world’s knowledge. Having more eyes on articles improves those articles immeasurably. That’s why it is so important to address areas of under-representation, to involve subject specialists, and to share the (often pay-walled) knowledge universities possess. Only then can Wikipedia begin to get anywhere close to truly being the sum of all human knowledge.
And people do respond to this call-to-arms. Correcting systemic bias and areas of under-representation has motivated many to help create and improve articles since the Edinburgh residency began in January 2016. I am convinced it also motivated Michael Seery to contribute and his advocacy, in turn, helped bring in many others within the School of Chemistry.
More generally, the lack of female Wikipedia editors is a clear & ongoing concern – with numbers routinely under 15% this skews the content on Wikipedia in much the same way. Two years ago, the number of biographies on Wikipedia about notable women was roughly 15% too. Thankfully, there are editors all around the world determined to address this. WikiProject Women in Red is the second most active WikiProject on Wikipedia (out of some 2000+ WikiProjects) and its editors are motivated to turn red-linked articles about notable women which don’t yet exist into blue clickable links which do. As such they have been hugely successful in helping correct this systemic bias and the number of female biographies has shifted; currently standing at 17.12%. So moving in the right direction but still a long way to go to achieving gender parity.
Issues of fairness and representation are felt keenly. Changing the way stories are told matters. That’s why it is so amazing to see people engage with Wikipedia; to see articles like the 1904 petition be created; to see new role models be uncovered and (hopefully) inspire new generations. 65% of our editathon attendees last year were women and, while I haven’t totted up the latest figures, I can tell you that this trend has not changed one iota this year.
“Hello, this isn’t a very Wikipedian comment but I just wanted to thank you personally for creating an entry for my motherAnn Katharine Mitchell. She is in residential care with Alzheimers, serene and contented, and largely lives in the past. She was told recently that she had a Wikipedia entry and was flattered and delighted to see it (I’ve now made some revisions). It isn’t the purpose of your editing to give the subjects pleasure, of course, but thanks for doing so!”
Michael himself created articles for two of the 19 including the British chemist, Margaret Seward. This article was first drafted by a participant (User:ActuallyDutch14) at a Royal Society of Chemistry event this Summer but, as sometimes happens, never finished. After writing the 1904 petition article, Michael simply took the half-finished article on Margaret Seward and helped complete it using information provided in an excellent source identified by Alice White, Wikimedian in Residence at the Wellcome Library, and ordered into the University of Edinburgh’s Murray Library by Rowena Stewart, Academic Support Librarian: ‘Chemistry was Their Life: Pioneer British Women Chemists, 1880–1949’ by Marelene Rayner-Canham and Geoff Rayner-Canham.
To do my bit, I reached out to the various universities these 19 brilliant women chemists were working at around the turn of the century including: Royal Holloway College; Bangor University; Bristol University; University of Manchester; Girton College and Newnham College in Cambridge; the University of Zurich; University College London; and Somerville College in Oxford. So far, I have been extremely impressed by the responses I have received in helping illustrate these new pages with images provided from their archives.
We already have a picture supplied by Royal Holloway Archives of Mildred May Gostling’s study and Royal Holloway are also looking to provide the group image of Elizabeth Eleanor Field at the School of Chemistry (below). Somerville College in Oxford have today provided a first class image of Margaret Seward taken in 1885 when she must have been 21 years old. Wikipedia articles with images are at least 20-30% more likely to be read but somehow an image on a biography article, like Seward’s, can also make that person come to life and seem that little bit more real.
Many institutions will often try to sell such images in their collections as revenue generation is such an ingrained, and persuasive, model. Yet it is not the only model and it is not only reason to share images. Sharing images, even low resolution images, for the rest of the world to engage and learn about a person or subject is, more often than not, hugely rewarding in of itself. Especially with the global reach that Wikipedia delivers.
Looking at the newly uploaded picture of Margaret Seward generously shared on her Wikipedia page, which itself didn’t exist until a week ago, and thinking of all the people involved in the article’s creation who gave of themselves to tell her story over a hundred years later, it really does make me marvel both at Margaret’s life & achievements AND the kindness of strangers in bringing her story to the world’s attention.
I recently wrote 3 articles of the 19 petitioners and was struck both by my increasingly difficulty to find sources and by the following passage from ‘Chemistry was their life’:
“Of the early women research workers in traditional areas of chemistry the three most productive in the period before 1905 were Aston and Micklethwait at University College, London, and Fortey at University College, Bristol. None of these, or indeed any of the slightly later and notably productive women chemists such as Marsden, Renouf, Alice Emily Smith or Isaac, produced a substantial body of independent work. Most of their publications are joint with eminent male co-authors, and almost the only records of their research careers are those co-authored papers in the technical journals. They appear, therefore, in the role of assistants rather than partners. Micklethwait, the most outstanding in terms of number of co-authored publications, was described by her obituarist as being ‘of a modest and retiring disposition’, which ‘was reflected in her preference for working in collaboration rather than striking out on lines of her own’.
Their records of joint publications would seem to suggest that, generally speaking compared with the women biochemists, most of the women researchers in established areas of chemistry were of a similar ‘modest and retiring disposition’ – a curious coincidence….
Both Freund and Thomas, two other life-long professional academics in traditional areas chemistry, are remembered as teachers rather than as researchers: Thomas’s original work was all collaborative, and Freund’s most important publication was her classic textbook. Thus, for the most part, British women of this period who were interested in doing research in the chemical sciences at anything beyond the assistant level generally found their opportunities in areas other than the established branches of the field. A similar pattern has been noted in the careers of American women chemists of the turn of the century…
The difficulties encountered by women chemists in establishing themselves as independent workers and being recognized as such are emphasized further by comparisons with fields other than biochemistry. In geology, for instance, a discipline in which in Britain during the late nineteenth century there were less than half as many women active in research as in chemistry, several women made major independent contributions, which were recognized by the Geological Society by the award of notable honours (not-withstanding the fact that women were not accepted as Fellows of the Society until 1919).
…..It is also the case that of these seven prominent women scientists only four held salaried positions…. Ogilvie Gordon, Donald and Sargant were independent research workers, living on family funds in a manner more typical of the ‘amateur’ male scientists of an earlier era, and not competing for salaried positions despite life-long commitments to first class scientific work.
Despite professional recognition by their peers and notable honours, these scientists, the ablest of the women researchers in their fields, were on the very margins of the scientific community as far as consideration for such positions was concerned. Nevertheless, they and the women biochemists whose careers are outlined above did achieve success as independent researchers. Corresponding success and recognition by the established chemical community for women in traditional areas of chemistry is hard to find.”
The context in which these women made these achievements makes them all the more remarkable.
With about 17 billion page views every month, it’s safe to say that most of us have heard of Wikipedia and maybe even use it on a regular basis. However, most people don’t realise that Wikipedia is the tip of the iceberg. Its sister sites include a media library (Wikimedia Commons), a database (Wikidata), a library of public domain texts (Wikisource), and even a dictionary (Wiktionary) – along with many others, these form the Wikimedia websites.
While the content is all crowd-sourced, the Wikimedia Foundation in the US maintains the hardware and software the websites run on. Wikimedia UK is one of dozens of sister organisations around the globe who support the mission of the Wikimedia websites to share the world’s knowledge.
Today, Wikipedia is the number one information site in the world, visited by 500 million visitors a month; the place that students and staff consult for pre-research on a topic. And considered, according to a 2014 Yougov survey, to be trusted more than the Guardian, BBC, Telegraph and Times. Perhaps because its commitment to transparency is an implicit promise of trust to its users where everything on it can be checked, challenged and corrected.
Wikimedia at an ancient university
The Edinburgh residency
In January 2016, the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK partnered to host a Wikimedian in Residence for twelve months. This residency marks something of a paradigm shift as the first in the UK in supporting the whole university as part of its commitment to skills development and open knowledge.
Background to the residency
The University of Edinburgh held its first editathon – a workshop where people learn how to edit Wikipedia and start writing – during the university’s midterm Innovative Learning Week in February 2015. Ally Crockford (Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland) and Sara Thomas (Wikimedian in Residence at Museums & Galleries Scotland) came to help deliver the ‘Women, Science and Scottish History’ editathon series which celebrated the Edinburgh Seven; the first group of matriculated undergraduate female students at any British university.
“The striking thing for me was how quickly colleagues within the University took to the idea and began supporting each other in developing their skills and sharing knowledge amongst a multi-professional group. This inspired me to commission some academic research to look at the connections and networking amongst the participants and to explore whether editathons were a good investment in developing workplace digital skills.”– Melissa Highton – Assistant Principal for Online Learning.
This research, conducted by Professor Allison Littlejohn, found that there was clear evidence of informal & formal learning going on. Further, that “all respondents reported that the editathon had a positive influence on their professional role. They were keen to integrate what they learned into their work in some capacity and believed participation had increased their professional capabilities.”
Since successfully making case for hosting a Wikimedian in Residence, the residency’s remit has been to advocate for knowledge exchange and deliver training events & workshops across the university which further both the quantity & quality of open knowledge and the university’s commitment to embedding information literacy & digital literacy in the curriculum.
Wikimedia UK and the University of Edinburgh – shared missions
Edinburgh was the first university to be founded with a ‘civic’ mission; created not by the church but by the citizens of Edinburgh for the citizens of Edinburgh in 1583. The mission of the university of Edinburgh is “the creation, curation & dissemination of knowledge”. Founded a good deal later, Wikipedia began on January 15th 2001; the free encyclopaedia is now the largest & most popular reference work on the internet.
Wikimedia’s vision is “imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge”. It is 100% funded by donations and is the only non-profit website in the top ten most popular sites.
Addressing the knowledge gap
While Wikipedia is the free encyclopaedia that anyone can edit, not everyone does. Of the 80,000 or so monthly contributors to Wikipedia, only around 3000 are termed very active Wikipedians; meaning the world’s knowledge is often left to be curated by a population the size of a village (roughly the size of Kinghorn in Fife… or half of North Berwick). While 5.4 million articles in English Wikipedia is the largest of the 295 active language Wikipedias, it is estimated that there would need to be at least 104 million articles on English Wikipedia alone to cover all the notable subjects in the world. That means as of last month, English Wikipedia is missing approximately 99 million articles.
Less than 15% of women edit Wikipedia and this skews the content in much the same way with only 17.1% of biographies about notable women. The University of Edinburgh has a commitment to equality and diversity and our Wikimedia residency therefore has a particular emphasis on open practice and engaging colleagues in discussing why some areas of open practice do have a clear gender imbalance. In this way many of our Wikipedia events focused on addressing the gender gap as part of the university’s commitment to Athena Swan; creating new role models for young and old alike. Role models like Janet Anne Galloway, advocate for higher education for women in Scotland, Helen Archdale (journalist and suffragette), Mary Susan McIntosh (sociologist and LGBT campaigner) among many many more.
That’s why it is enormously pleasing that over the whole year, 65% of attendees at our events were female.
The residency has, at its heart, been about making connections. Both across the university’s three teaching colleges and beyond; with the city of Edinburgh itself. Demonstrating how staff, students and members of the public can most benefit from and contribute to the development of the huge open knowledge resource that are the Wikimedia projects. And we made some significant connections over the last year in all of these areas.
Inviting staff & students from all different backgrounds and disciplines to contribute their time and expertise to the creation & improvement of Wikipedia articles in a number of events has worked well and engendered opportunities for collaborations and knowledge exchange across the university, with other institutions across the UK; and across Europe in the case of colleagues from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine working with research partner labs.
Ultimately, what you wanted attendees to get from the experience was this; the idea that knowledge is most useful when it is used; engaged with; built upon. Contributing to Wikipedia can also help demonstrate research impact as there is a lot of work going on to ensure that Wikipedia citations to scholarly works use the DOI. The reason being that Wikipedia is already the fifth largest referrer of traffic through the DOI resolver and this is thought to be an underestimate of its true position.
Not just Wikipedia
Introducing staff and students to the work of the Wikimedia Foundation and the other 11 projects has been a key part of the residency with a Wikidata & Wikisource Showcase held during Repository Fringe in August 2016 which has resulted in some out-of-copyright PhD theses being uploaded to Wikisource, and linked to from Wikipedia, just one click away.
Wikisource is a free digital library which hosts out-of-copyright texts including: novels, short stories, plays, poems, songs, letters, travel writing, non-fiction texts, speeches, news articles, constitutional documents, court rulings, obituaries, and much more besides. The result is an online text library which is free to anyone to read with the added benefits that the text is quality assured, searchable and downloadable.
Wikidata is our most exciting project with many predicting it will overtake Wikipedia in years to come as the dominant project. A free linked database of machine-readable knowledge, Wikidata acts as central storage for the structured data of all 295 different language Wikipedias and all the other Wikimedia sister projects.
“How can you trust Wikipedia when anyone can edit it?”
This is the main charge levelled against involvement with Wikipedia and the residency has been making the case for re-evaluating Wikipedia and for engendering a greater critical information literacy in staff & students. And that’s the thing. Wikipedia doesn’t want you to cite it. It is a tertiary source; an aggregator of articles built on citations from reliable published secondary sources. In this way it is reframing itself as the ‘front matter to all research.’
Wikipedia has clear policy guidelines to help ensure its integrity.
Verifiability – every single statement on Wikipedia needs to be backed up with a citation from a reliable published secondary source. So an implicit promise is made to our users that you can go on there and check, challenge and correct the verifiability of any statement made on Wikipedia.
No original research – while knowledge is created everyday, until it is published by a reliable secondary source, it should not be on Wikipedia. The presence of editorial oversight is a key consideration in source evaluation therefore, however well-researched, someone’s personal interpretation is not to be included.
Neutral point of view – many subjects on Wikipedia are controversial so can we find common truth in fact? The rule of thumb is you can cover controversy but don’t engage in it. Wikipedians therefore present the facts as they exist.
Automated programmes (bots) patrol Wikipedia and can revert unhelpful edits & copyright violations within minutes. The edit history of a page is detailed such that it is very easy to revert a page to its last good state and block IP addresses of users who break the rules.
“What underlies Wikipedia, at its very heart, is this fundamental idea that more people want to good than harm, more people want to create knowledge than destroy, more people want to share than contain. At its core Wikipedia is about human generosity.” – Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation in December 2016.
This idea that more people want to good than harm has also been borne out by researchers who found that only seven percent of edits could be considered vandalism.
Wikipedia in the Classroom
Developing information literacy, online citizenship and digital research skills.
The residency has met with a great many course leaders across the entire university and the interactions have all been extremely fruitful in terms of understanding what each side needs to ensure a successful assignment and lowering the threshold for engagement.
Translation Studies MSc students have completed the translation of a Wikipedia article of at least 4000 words into a different language Wikipedia last semester and are to repeat the assignment this semester. This time asking students to translate in the reverse direction from last semester so that the knowledge shared is truly a two-way exchange.
World Christianity MSc students undertook an 11-week Wikipedia assignment as part of the ‘Selected Themes in the Study of World Christianity’ class. This core course offers candidates the opportunity to study in depth Christian history, thought and practice in and from Africa, Asia and Latin America. The assignment comprised of writing a new article, following a literature review, on a World Christianity term hitherto unrepresented on Wikipedia.
“When you hand in an essay the only people that generally read it are you and your lecturer. And then once they both read it, it kind of disappears and you don’t look at it again. No one really benefits from it. With a Wikipedia assignment, other people contribute to it, you put it out there for everyone to read, you can keep coming back to it, keep adding to it, other people can do as well. It becomes more of a community project that everyone can read and access. I really enjoyed it.” – Nuam Hatzaw, World Christianity MSc student.
Reproductive Biology Honours students in September 2015 researched, synthesised and developed a first-rate Wikipedia entry of a previously unpublished reproductive medicine term: neuroangiogenesis. The following September, the next iteration was more ambitious. All thirty-eight students were trained to edit Wikipedia and worked collaboratively in groups to research and produce the finished written articles. The assignment developed the students’ research skills, information literacy, digital literacy, collaborative working, academic writing & referencing.
One particular deadly form of ovarian cancer, High grade serous carcinoma, was unrepresented on Wikipedia and Reproductive Biology student Áine Kavanagh took great care to thoroughly research and write the article to address this; even developing her own openly-licensed diagrams to help illustrate the article. Her scholarship has now been viewed over sixteen thousand times adding an important source of health information to the global Open Knowledge community.
“It was a really good exercise in scientific writing and writing for a lay audience.As a student it’s a really good opportunity. It’s a really motivating thing to be able to do; to relay the knowledge you’ve learnt in lectures and exams, which hasn’t really been relevant outside of lectures and exams, but to see how it’s relevant to the real world and to see how you can contribute.” –ÁineKavanagh.
Following a successful multidisciplinary approach, including students and staff all collaborating in the co-creation & sharing of knowledge, the residency has been extended into a third year until January 2019. Twenty members of staff have also now been trained to provide Wikipedia training and advice to colleagues to help with the sustainability of the partnership in tandem with support from Wikimedia UK.
While also ensuring Wikipedia editing is both embedded in regular digital skills workshops, demystifying how to begin editing Wikipedia has been a core focus of the residency, utilising Wikipedia’s new easy-to-use Visual Editor interface. Over two hundred videos and video tutorials, lesson plans, case studies, booklets and handouts have been created & curated in order to lower the threshold for staff and students to be able to engage with the Wikimedia projects in the years ahead.
The way ahead
Ten years after Wikipedia first launched, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by the vice president of Oxford University of Press acclaiming that ‘Wikipedia had come of age’ and that it was time Wikipedia played a vital role in formal education settings. Since that article, the advent of ‘Fake News’ has engendered discussions around how best to equip students with a critical information literacy. For Wikipedia editors this is nothing new as they have been combatting fake news for years and source evaluation is one of the Wikipedian’s core skills.
In fact, there is increasing synchronicity in that the skills and experiences that universities and PISA are articulating they want to see students endowed with are ones that Wikipedia assignments help develop. The assignments we have run this year have all demonstrated this and are to be repeated as a result. The case for Wikipedia playing a vital role in formal education settings has never been stronger.
Is now the time for Wikipedia to come of age?
If not now, then when?
Postscript: All three assignments from 2016/2017 are continuing in 2017/2018 because of the positive feedback from staff and students alike.
These are being augmented with collaborations with:
two student societies; the History Society for Black History Month and the Translation Society on a Wikipedia project to give their student members much-needed published translation practice.
Library and University Collections to add source metadata from 27,000 records in the Edinburgh Research Archive to Wikidata and 20+ digitised theses to Wikisource
a further three in-curriculum collaborations in Digital Sociology MSc, Global Health and Anthropology MSc and Data Science for Design MSc.
the Fruitmarket Gallery and the university’s Centre for Design Informatics for a Scottish Contemporary Artists editathon.
A Litlong editathon as part of the AHRC ‘Being Human’ festival.
The School of Chemistry for Ada Lovelace Day to celebrate women in STEM.
the University Chaplaincy to mark the International Storytelling Festival.
Teeside University to run a ‘Regeneration’ themed editathon.
As we have shown, there are huge areas of convergence between the Wikimedia projects and higher education. The Edinburgh residency has demonstrated that collaborations between universities and Wikimedia are mutually beneficial and that Wikipedia plays a vitally important role in the development of information literacy, digital research skills and the dissemination of academic knowledge for the common good.
That all begins with engaging in the conversation. Building an informed understanding of the Wikimedia projects and the huge opportunities that working together create.
Perhaps I’m a tad biased but I’d tend to agree. There’s nowhere quite like it.
Yet, we who live and work here can take it for granted that our beautiful locations, listed buildings and monuments will always be there… something that can never be fully guaranteed. Political and economic tides change and forces of nature can have devastating effects as we have seen in recent days.
That’s why it’s so important that we take the opportunity to document our cultural heritage now for future generations before it is too late.
The world’s largest photo competition, Wiki Loves Monuments, takes place for the whole of September. Share your high quality pics of listed buildings and monuments to Wikimedia Commons and help preserve our cultural heritage online. After days out, weekend breaks and holidays at home & abroad, there will be gigabytes of pics taken in recent months and years. These could remain on your memory card or be shared to Commons and help illustrate Wikipedia for the benefit of all. Entry is free and the best pics will win a prize.
Aside from being great fun, Wiki Loves Monuments is a way of capturing a snapshot of our nation’s cultural heritage for future generations and documenting our country’s most important historic sites. See the rules and how to enter.
You just take a quick look at the map, take a pic and upload. It takes seconds and is the easiest way to take part in this year’s competition. (There is also another WLM map tool if you want to search for addresses, either in UK or further afield).
I was surprised to see Ryries, a public house near Haymarket Station was a listed building on the Wiki Loves Monuments map; a building I pass every day so it was an easy one to snap and upload.
If each one of us took just 1 pic, we’d have this sewn up in a couple of weeks. Which is when Wiki Loves Monuments closes – end of September 2017.But if you can do more then great.
Don’t wait till it’s too late, do your bit today! Click here to view a map of your local area to get started.
#1picture1person #ScottishHeritage #WLMUK17
ps. Once the new pictures are uploaded then comes the additional fun part of adding those images to relevant Wikipedia pages so that millions around the world can enjoy a picture you have taken. If you fancy helping out with that then we are having a Wiki meetup 2pm to 5pm on Friday 29th September and you can drop-in at any point to add a pic to a Wiki page. Signup here.
If nothing else, let’s give our counterparts in Ireland and Wales a run for their money in terms of how many images we can upload. A little friendly rivalry never hurts, right?
This year the event will have a particular focus on Women in Chemistry and #ALD2017 is to be hosted, for the first time, smack dab in the university’s Science and Engineering quarter in the James Clerk Maxwell Building.
There will be a range of guest speakers in the morning followed by fun technology activities from 11am to 2pm. Full Wikipedia editing training will be given at 2-3pm. Thereafter the afternoon’s edit-a-thon will focus on improving the quality of articles related to Women in STEM!
The day will close with Professor Polly Arnold, the Crum Brown Chair of Chemistry and winner of the Rosalind Franklin Award, introducing the short film, A Chemical Imbalance before taking part in a discussion panel.
All three events are free and open to all so taking part in Ada Lovelace Day is as as easy as 1,2,3.
You can book to attend one session, two sessions or all three.
1. Talks and Fun Science/Tech activities in Room 1206C James Clerk Maxwell Building
11am to 11.10am – Housekeeping and welcome from Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal for Online Learning.
Learn about editing if you like. there is a fun Wikipedia Adventure that takes 45-60 mins at home and leads you by the hand through the main guidelines and how to use the Source Editor. Then on the day, we will introduce you to the new improved Visual Editor interface which has made editing Wikipedia “easy“, “fun“, “really intuitive” and “addictive as hell“.
Think about what you would like to edit – there are some suggested articles to create/improve below.
3. Film screening and panel discussion in James Clerk Maxwell Building – Lecture Theatre B
5:15pm to 6:15pm – A Chemical Imbalance – film screening and discussion with Professor Polly L Arnold, Crum Brown Chair of Chemistry.
‘Breakdown on evening programme (subject to alteration):’
5pm to 5.15pm – Housekeeping and Welcome.
5.15pm to 5.30pm – Introduction from Polly Arnold.
5.30pm to 5.45pm – Screening of ‘A Chemical Imbalance’.
5.45pm to 6.15pm – Panel discussion chaired by Anne-Marie Scott, Head of Digital Learning and Applications at the University of Edinburgh.
6.15pm – Close.
‘A Chemical Imbalance‘ is a short documentary film and book that ask why Edinburgh has such a long history of successful female chemists, and why women are still under-represented in all science fields. Following the film, Anne-Marie Scott will chair a panel discussion of the issues raised in the film; namely the low participation of Women in STEM fields and equality in the workplace.
While her page has only been live on Wikipedia for two months, Mary’s page has now been viewed in excess of 7000 timesbecause a) editors were motivated to address Wikipedia’s gender gap problem where less than 15% of editors are female and less than 17% of biographies are of notable women and b) we felt Mary’s story was important enough that it should be shared on Wikipedia’s front page and introduced to an audience of up to 25 million.
Did you know you could do that? Nominate a page newly created in the last seven days, or significantly expanded on, to be included on Wikipedia’s front page in this way?
Did you know that Wikipedia works with Turnitin to address issues of plagiarism and copyright violation using the Copyvio tool and that the Dashboard for managing assignments now offers Authorship Highlighting of students’ edits thereby making it easier to visualize and evaluate student work.
Did you know that Wikipedia does not want you to cite it? It is a tertiary source; an aggregator of articles with facts backed up from reliable published secondary sources. You can’t cite Wikipedia but you can cite the references it uses. In this way it is reframed as the digital gateway to further research sources.
Did you know that Wikidata, Wikimedia’s repository of structured open data, now has 3 million linked citations added to it which can be queried using the new Scholia tool – a tool to handle scientific bibliographic information? (The Scholia Web service creates on-the-fly scholarly profiles for researchers, organizations, journals, publishers, individual scholarly works, and for research topics. To collect the data, it queries the SPARQL-based Wikidata Query Service).
Did you know that releasing images through Wikimedia Commons can result in a huge increase in views with detailed metrics about the number of views these images are accruing? E.g. Images released by the Bodleian Library have accrued 218,460,571 views to date.
Did you know that thanks to the new I4OC initiative (April 2017) there exists a collaboration between scholarly publishers, researchers, and other interested parties to promote the unrestricted availability of scholarly citation data? Before I4OC started, publishers releasing references in the open accounted for just 1% of citation metadata collected annually by Crossref. Following discussions over the past months, several subscription-access and open-access publishers have recently made the decision to release reference list metadata publicly. These include: American Geophysical Union, Association for Computing Machinery, BMJ, Cambridge University Press, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, EMBO Press, Royal Society of Chemistry, SAGE Publishing, Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley. These publishers join other publishers who have been opening their references through Crossref for some time.
Did you know that thanks to Wikidata you can now query, analyse & visualise the largest reference work on the internet? You can also add your research data to combine datasets on Wikidata.
Did you know that the University of Portsmouth have been running a Wikipedia assignment called Human Geography for the last five years where each student is assigned a different short stub article for a village in England and Wales, and asked to expand it to provide a rounded description of the place and, in particular, an account of its historical development?
Did you know that, so far, they have left Scotland untouched and so there will be many villages and towns in Scotland ripe to have articles created and improved?
Did you know that Wikivoyage is Wikipedia’s sister project and a Lonely Planet-esque travel guide? Students can write articles about their hometown area with bullet-pointed sections on ‘Things to do’, ‘Things to See’, ‘Things to Buy’, ‘Places to stay’ with Open Street Maps included and images added from Wikimedia Commons.
Did you know how students and staff at the University of Edinburgh have reacted to the Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments we have run this year? You can view a compilation of their feedback in this video.
Did you know that students can create entire textbooks, chapters of textbooks, on Wikipedia’s sister project, Wikibooks?
Did you know that every September the world’s largest photography competition takes place, Wiki Loves Monuments? Participants are encouraged to photograph and upload images of listed buildings and monuments to document our cultural heritage.
Did you know that the WikiShootme tool helps identify notable buildings in your area that require an image uploading?
Did you know that taking part in Wikimedia activities does not always require a heavy time component and that short, fun activities can also help: adding a citation through the Citation Hunt tool (“Whack-a-mole for citations”), playing the Wikidata game, adding images through WikiShootMe and FIST; taking part in fun Wiki Races (6 degrees of separation for Wiki links between articles).
Did you know that you can learn how to edit at our 90 minute training sessions and how to become a trainer at our 3 hour Train the Trainer events?
Did you know that I can deliver presentations and training as you require; be it on Wikisource (the free content library), Wikidata (the free and open respository of structured data), Wikimedia Commons (the free media respository), the Wikicite initiative, WikiVoyage (the free travel guide), writing articles for Wikipedia, adding your research to Wikipedia or something else entirely?
Woodward and Bernstein, the eminent investigative journalists involved in uncovering the Watergate Scandal, just felt compelled to assert that the media were not ‘fake news’ at a White House Correspondents Dinner the US President failed to attend. In the same week, Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, felt compelled to create a new site, WikiTribune, to combat fake news.
This is where we are this International Worker’s Day where the most vital work one can undertake seems to be keeping oneself accurately informed.
“We live in the information age and the aphorism ‘one who possess information possesses the world’ of course reflects the present-day reality.” – (Vladimir Putin in Interfax, 2016).
Sifting fact from fake news
In the run up to the Scottish council elections, French presidential elections and a ‘strong and stable‘ UK General Election, what are we to make of the ‘post-truth’ landscape we supposedly now inhabit; where the traditional mass media appears to be distrusted and waning in its influence over the public sphere (Tufeckzi in Viner, 2016) while the secret algorithms’ of search engines & social media giants dominate instead?
The new virtual agora (Silverstone in Weichert, 2016) of the internet creates new opportunities for democratic citizen journalism but also has been shown to create chaotic ‘troll’ culture & maelstroms of information overload. Therefore, the new ‘virtual generation’ inhabiting this ‘post-fact’ world must attempt to navigate fake content, sponsored content and content filtered to match their evolving digital identity to somehow arrive safely at a common truth. Should we be worried what this all means in ‘the information age’?
Information Literacy in the Information Age
“Facebook defines who we are, Amazon defines what we want
and Google defines what we think.”
The information age is defined as “the shift from traditional industry that the Industrial Revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based on computerization or digital revolution” (Toffler in Korjus, 2016). There are now 3 billion internet users on our planet, well over a third of humanity (Graham et al, 2015). Global IP traffic is estimated to treble over the next 5 years (Chaudhry, 2016) and a hundredfold for the period 2005 to 2020 overall. This internet age still wrestles with both geographically & demographically uneven coverage while usage in no way equates to users being able to safely navigate, or indeed, to critically evaluate the information they are presented with via its gatekeepers (Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft et al). Tambini (2016) defines these aforementioned digital intermediaries as “software-based institutions that have the potential to influence the flow of online information between providers (publishers) and consumers”. So exactly how conversant are we with the nature of their relationship with these intermediaries & the role they play in the networks that shape our everyday lives?
“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)
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg may downplay Facebook’s role as “arbiters of truth” (Seethaman, 2016) in much the same way that Google downplay their role as controllers of the library “card catalogue” (Walker in Toobin, 2015) but both represent the pre-eminent gatekeepers in the information age. 62% of Americans get their news from social media (Mint, 2016) with 44% getting their news from Facebook. In addition, a not insubstantial two million voters were encouraged to register to vote by Facebook, while Facebook’s own 2012 study concluded that it “directly influenced political self-expression, information seeking and real-world voting behaviour of millions of people.” (Seethaman, 2016)
Figure 1 Bodies of Evidence (The Economist, 2016)
This year has seen assertion after assertion made which bear, upon closer examination by fact-checking organisations such as PolitiFact (see Figure 1 above) absolutely no basis in truth. For the virtual generation, the traditional mass media has come to be treated on a par with new, more egalitarian, social media with little differentiation in how Google lists these results. Clickbait journalism has become the order of the day (Viner, 2016); where outlandish claims can be given a platform as long as they are prefixed with “It is claimed that…”
“Now no one even tries proving ‘the truth’. You can just say anything. Create realities.” (Pomerantzev in the Economist, 2016)
The problem of ascertaining truth in the information age can be attributed to three main factors:
The controversial line “people in this country have had enough of experts” (Gove in Viner, 2016) during the EU referendum demonstrated there has been a fundamental eroding of trust in, & undermining of, the institutions & ‘expert’ opinions previously looked up to as subject authorities. “We’ve basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers…There is nobody: you can’t go to anybody and say: ‘Look, here are the facts’” (Sykes in the Economist, 2016)
The proliferation of social media ‘filter bubbles’ which group like-minded users together & filter content to them accordingly to their ‘likes’. In this way, users can become isolated from viewpoints opposite to their own (Duggan, 2016) and fringe stories can survive longer despite being comprehensively debunked elsewhere. In this way, any contrary view tends to be either filtered out or met with disbelief through what has been termed ‘the backfire effect’ (The Economist, 2016).
The New York Times calls this current era an ‘era of data but no facts’ (Clarke, 2016). Data is certainly abundant; 90% of the world’s data was generated in the last two years (Tuffley, 2016). Yet, it has never been more difficult to find ‘truth in the numbers’ (Clarke, 2016) with over 60 trillion pages (Fichter and Wisniewski, 2014) to navigate and terabytes of unstructured data to (mis)interpret.
The way forward
“We need to increase the reputational consequences and change the incentives for making false statements… right now, it pays to be outrageous, but not to be truthful.”
(Nyhan in the Economist, 2016)
Since the US election, and President Trump’s continuing assault on the ‘dishonest media’, the need for information to be verified has been articulated as never before with current debates raging on just how large a role Russia, Facebook & fake news played during the US election. Indeed, the inscrutable ‘black boxes’ of Google & Facebook’s algorithms constitute a real dilemma for educators & information professionals.
Reappraising information & media literacy education
The European Commission, the French Conseil d’Etat and the UK Government are all re-examining the role of ‘digital intermediaries’; with OfCom being asked by the UK government to prepare a new framework for assessing the intermediaries’ news distribution & setting regulatory parameters of ‘public expectation’ in place (Tambini, 2016). Yet, Cohen (2016) asserts that there is a need for greater transparency of the algorithms being used in order to provide better oversight of the digital intermediaries. Further, that the current lack of public domain data available in order to assess the editorial control of these digital intermediaries means that until the regulatory environment is strengthened so as to require these ‘behemoths’ (Tambini, 2016) to disclose this data, this pattern of power & influence is likely to remain unchecked.
Somewhere along the line, media literacy does appear to have backfired; our students were told that Google was trustworthy and Wikipedia was not (Boyd, 2016). The question is how clicking on those top five Google results instead of critically engaging with the holistic overview & reliable sources Wikipedia offers is working out?
A lack of privacy combined with a lack of transparency
Further, privacy seems to be the one truly significant casualty of the information age. Broeder (2016) suggests that, as governments focus increasingly on secrecy, at the same time the individual finds it increasingly difficult to retain any notions of privacy. This creates a ‘transparency paradox’ often resulting in a deep suspicion of governments’ having something to hide while the individual is left vulnerable to increasingly invasive legislation such as the UK’s new Investigatory Powers Act – “the most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy.” (Snowden in Ashok, 2016). This would be bad enough if their public & private data weren’t already being shared as a “tradeable commodity” (Tuffley, 2016) with companies like Google and Apple, “the feudal overlords of the information society” (Broeder, 2016) and countless other organisations.
The Data Protection Act (1998), Freedom of Information Act (2000) and the Human Rights Act (1998) should give the beleaguered individual succour but FOI requests can be denied if there is a ‘good reason’ to do so, particularly if it conflicts with the Official Secrets Act (1989), and the current government’s stance on the Human Rights Act does not bode well for its long-term survival. The virtual generation will also now all have a digital footprint; a great deal of which can been mined by government & other agencies without our knowing about it or consenting to it. The issue therefore is that a line must be drawn as to our public lives and our private lives. However, this line is increasingly unclear because our use of digital intermediaries blurs this line. In this area, we do have legitimate cause to worry.
The need for a digital code of ethics
“Before I do something with this technology, I ask myself, would it be alright if everyone did it?
Is this going to harm or dehumanise anyone, even people I don’t know and will never meet?
Do I have the informed consent of those who will be affected?” (Tuffley, 2016)
Educating citizens as to the merits of a digital code of ethics like the one above is one thing, and there are success stories in this regard through initiatives such as StaySafeOnline.org but a joined-up approach marrying up librarians, educators and instructional technologists to teach students (& adults) information & digital literacy seems to be reaping rewards according to Wine (2016). While recent initiatives exemplifying the relevance & need for information professionals assisting with political literacy during the Scottish referendum (Smith, 2016) have found further expression in other counterparts (Abram, 2016).
”This 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)
Trump’s administration may or may not be in ‘chaos’ but recent acts have exposed worrying trends. Trends which reveal an eroding of trust: in the opinions of experts; in the ‘dishonest’ media; in factual evidence; and in the rule of law. Issues at the heart of the information age have been exposed: there exists a glut of information & a sea of data to navigate with little formalised guidance as to how to find our way through it. For the beleaguered individual, this glut makes it near impossible to find ‘truth in the numbers’ while equating one online news source to be just as valid as another, regardless of its credibility, only exacerbates the problem. All this, combined with an increasing lack of privacy and an increasing lack of transparency, makes for a potent combination.
There is a place of refuge you can go, however. A place where facts, not ‘alternate facts’, but actual verifiable facts, are venerated. A place that holds as its central tenets, principles of verifiability, neutral point of view, and transparency above all else. A place where every edit made to a page is recorded, for the life of that page, so you can see what change was made, when & by whom. How many other sites give you that level of transparency where you can check, challenge & correct the information presented if it does hold to the principles of verifiability?
Now consider that this site is the world’s number one information site; visited by 500 million visitors a month and considered, by British people, to be more trustworthy than the BBC, ITV, the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph according to a 2014 Yougov survey.
While Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website in the world, the other internet giants in the top ten cannot compete with it for transparency; an implicit promise of trust with its users. Some 200+ factors go into constructing how Google’s algorithm determines the top ten results for a search term yet we have no inkling what those factors are or how those all-important top ten search results are arrived at. Contrast this opacity, and Facebook’s for that matter, with Wikimedia’s own (albeit abortive) proposal for a Knowledge Engine (Sentance, 2016); envisaged as the world’s first transparent non-commercial search engine and consider what that transparency might have meant for the virtual generation being able to trust the information they are presented with.
Wikidata is a free linked database of knowledge that can be read and edited by both humans and machines. It acts as central storage for the structured data of its Wikimedia sister projects including Wikipedia, Wikivoyage, Wikisource, and others. The mission behind Wikidata is clear: if ‘to Google’ has come to stand in for ‘to search’ and “search is the way we now live” (Darnton in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013, p.5) then ‘to Wikidata’ is ‘to check the digital provenance’. And checking the digital provenance of assertions is pivotal to our suddenly bewildered democracy.
While fact-checking websites exist & more are springing up all the time, Wikipedia is already firmly established as the place where students and staff conduct pre-research on a topic; “to gain context on a topic, to orient themselves, students start with Wikipedia…. In this unique role, it therefore serves as an ideal bridge between the validated and unvalidated Web.” (Grathwohl, 2011)
Therefore, it is vitally important that Wikipedia’s users know how knowledge is constructed & curated and the difference between fact-checked accurate information from reliable sources and information that plainly isn’t.
“Knowledge creates understanding – understanding is sorely lacking in today’s world. Behind every article on Wikipedia is a Talk page is a public forum where editors hash it out; from citations, notability to truth.” (Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, December 2016)
The advent of fake news means that people need somewhere they can turn to where the information is accurate, reliable and trustworthy. Wikipedia editors have been evaluating the validity and reliability of sources and removing those facts not attributed to a reliable published source for years. Therefore engaging staff and students in Wikipedia assignments embeds source evaluation as a core component of the assignment. Recent research by Harvard Business School has also shown that the process of editing Wikipedia has a profound impact on those that participate in it; whereby editors that become involved in the discourse of an article’s creation with a particular slanted viewpoint or bias actually become more moderate over time. This means editing Wikipedia actually de-radicalises its editors as they seek to work towards a common truth. Would that were true of other much more partisan sectors of the internet.
Further, popular articles and breaking news stories are often covered on Wikipedia extremely thoroughly where the focus of many eyes make light work in the construction of detailed, properly cited, accurate articles. And that might just be the best weapon to combat fake news; while one news source in isolation may give one side of a breaking story, Wikipedia often provides a holistic overview of all the news sources available on a given topic.
Wikipedia already has clear policies on transparency, verifiability, and reliable sources. What it doesn’t have is the knowledge that universities have behind closed doors; often separated into silos or in pay-walled repositories. What it doesn’t have is enough willing contributors to meet the demands of the 1.5 billion unique devices that access it each month in ensuring its coverage of the ever-expanding knowledge is kept as accurate, up-to-date & representative of the sum of all knowledge as possible.
This is where you come in.
“It’s up to other people to decide whether they give it any credibility or not,” (Oakeshott in Viner, 2016)
The truth is out there. But it is up to us to challenge claims and to help verify them. This is no easy task in the information age and it is prone to, sometimes very deliberate, obfuscation. Infoglut has become the new censorship; a way of controlling the seemingly uncontrollable. Fact-checking sites have sprung up in greater numbers but they depend on people seeking them out when convenience and cognitive ease have proven time and again to be the drivers for the virtual generation.
We know that Wikipedia is the largest and most popular reference work on the internet. We know that it is transparent and built on verifiability and neutral point of view. We know that it has been combating fake news for years. So if the virtual generation are not armed with the information literacy education to enable them to critically evaluate the sources they encounter and the nature of the algorithms that mediate their interactions with the world, how then are they to make the informed decisions necessary to play their part as responsible online citizens?
It is the response of our governments and our Higher Education institutions to this last question that is the worry.
Postscript – Wikimedia at the University of Edinburgh
As the Wikimedia residency at the University of Edinburgh moves further into its second year we are looking to build on the success of the first year and work with other course leaders and students both inside and outside the curriculum. Starting small has proven to be a successful methodology but bold approaches like the University of British Columbia’s WikiProject Murder, Madness & Mayhem can also prove extremely successful. Indeed, bespoke solutions can often be found to individual requirements.
Time and motivation are the two most frequent cited barriers to uptake. These are undoubted challenges to academics, students & support staff but the experience of this year is that the merits of engagement & an understanding of how Wikipedia assignments & edit-a-thons operate overcome any such concerns in practice. Once understood, Wikipedia can be a powerful tool in an educator’s arsenal. Engagement from course leaders, information professionals and support from the institution itself go a long way to realising that the time & motivation is well-placed.
For educators, engaging with Wikipedia:
meets the information literacy & digital literacy needs of our students.
enhances learning & teaching in the curriculum
helps develop & share knowledge in their subject discipline
raises the visibility & impact of research in their particular field.
In this way, practitioners can swap out existing components of their practice in favour of Wikimedia learning activities which develop:
Critical information literacy skills
Academic writing & referencing
Writing for different audiences
This all begins with engaging in the conversation.
Wikipedia turned 16 on January 15th 2017. It has long been the elephant in the room in education circles but it is time to articulate that Wikipedia does indeed belong in education and that it plays an important role in our understanding & disseminating of the world’s knowledge. With Oxford University now also hosting their own Wikimedian in Residence on a university-wide remit, it is time also to articulate that this conversation is not going away. Far from it, the information & digital literacy needs of our students and staff will only intensify. Higher Education institutions must need formulate a response. The best thing we can do as educators & information professionals is to be vigilant and to be vocal; articulating both our vision for Open Knowledge & the pressing need for engagement in skills development as a core part of the university’s mission and give our senior managers something they can say ‘Yes’ to.
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
The challenges facing information retrieval in an age of information explosion.
This article takes, as its starting point, the news that Wikipedia were reportedly developing a ‘Knowledge Engine’ and focuses on the most dominant web search engine, Google, to examine the “consecrated status” (Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013) it has achieved and its transparency, reliability & trustworthiness for everyday searchers.
A bit of light reading on information retrieval – Own work, CC-BY-SA.
“Commercial search engines dominate search-engine use of the Internet, and they’re employing proprietary technologies to consolidate channels of access to the Internet’s knowledge and information.” (Cuthbertson, 2016)
On 16th February 2016, Newsweek published a story entitled ‘Wikipedia Takes on Google with New ‘Transparent’ Search Engine’. The figure applied for, and granted by the Knight Foundation, was a reported $250,000 dollars as part of the Wikimedia Foundation’s $2.5 million programme to build ‘the Internet’s first transparent search engine’.
The sum applied for was relatively insignificant when compared to Google’s reported $75 billion revenue in 2015 (Robinson, 2016). Yet, it posed a significant question; a fundamental one. Just how transparent is Google?
Two further concerns can be identified from the letter to Wikimedia granting the application: “supporting stage one development of the Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia, a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet.”(Cuthbertson, 2016). This goes to the heart of the current debate on modern information retrieval: transparency, reliability and trustworthiness? How then are we faring in these three measures?
Defining Information Retrieval
Informational Retrieval is defined as “a field concerned with the structure, analysis, organisation, storage, searching, and retrieval of information.” (Salton in Croft, Metzler & Strohman, 2010, p.1).
Croft et al (2010) identify three crucial concepts in information retrieval:
Relevance – Does the returned value satisfy the user searching for it.
Evaluation – Evaluating the ranking algorithm on its precision and recall.
Information Needs – What needs generated the query in the first place.
Today, since the advent of the internet, this definition needs to be understood in terms of how pervasive ‘search’ has become. “Search is the way we now live.” (Darnton in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013, p.5). We are all now ‘searchers’ and the act of ‘searching’ (or ‘googling’) has become intrinsic to our daily lives.
Dominance of one search engine
“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” (Swift in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013)
With over 60 trillion pages (Fichter and Wisniewski, 2014) and terabytes of unstructured data to navigate, the need for speedy & accurate responses to millions of queries has never been more important.
Navigating the vast sea of information present on the web means the field of Information Retrieval necessitates wrestling with, and constantly tweaking, the design of complex computer algorithms (determining a top 10 list of ‘relevant’ page results through over 200 factors).
Google, powered by its PageRank algorithm, has dominated I.R. since the early 1990s, indexing the web like a “back-of-the-book” index (Chowdhury, 2010, p.5). While this oversimplifies the complexity of the task, modern information retrieval, in searching through increasingly multimedia online resources, has necessitated the addition of newer more sophisticated models. Utilising ‘artificial intelligence’ & semantic search technology to complement the PageRank algorithm, Google now navigates through the content of pages & generates suggested ‘answers’ to queries as well as the 10 clickable links users commonly expect.
According to 2011 figures in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett (2013), Google processed 91% of searches internationally and 97.4% of the searches made using mobile devices. This undoubted & sustained dominance has led to accusations of abuse of power in two recent instances.
Nicas & Kendall (2016) report that the Federal Trade Commission along with European regulators are examining claims that Google has been abusing its position in terms of smartphone companies feeling they had to give Google Services preferential treatment because of Android’s dominance.
In addition, Robinson (2016) states that the Authors Guild are petitioning the Supreme Court over Google’s alleged copyright-infringement; going back a decade ago when over 20 million library books were digitised without compensation or author/publisher permission. The argument is that the content taken has since been utilised by Google for commercial gain to generate more traffic, more advertising money and thus confer on them market leader status. This echoes the New Yorker article’s response to Google’s aspiration to build a digital universal library: “Such messianism cannot obscure the central truth about Google Book Search: it is a business” (Toobin in Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013).
Google’s business is powered, like every search engine, by its ranking algorithm. For Cahill et al (2009), Google’s “PageRank is a quantitative rather than qualitative system”. PageRank works by ranking pages in terms of how well linked a page is, how often it is clicked on and the importance of the page(s) that links to it. In this way, PageRank assigns importance to a page.
Other parameters are taken into consideration including, most notably, the anchor text which provides a short descriptive summary of the page it links to. However, the anchor text has been shown to be vulnerable to manipulation, primarily from bloggers, by the process known as ‘Google bombing’. Google bombing is defined as “the activity of designing Internet links that will bias search engine results so as to create an
inaccurate impression of the search target” (Price in Bar-Ilan, 2007). Two famous examples include when Microsoft came as top result for the query ‘More evil than Satan’ and when President Bush ranked as first result for ‘miserable failure’. Bar-Ilan (2007) suggests google bombs come about for a variety of reasons: ‘fun, ‘personal promotion’, ‘commercial’, ‘justice’, ‘ideological’ and ‘political’.
Although reluctant to alter search results, the reputational damage google bombs were having necessitated a response. In the end, Google altered the algorithm to defuse a number of google bombs. Despite this, “spam or joke sites still float their way to the top.”(Cahill et al, 2009) so there is a clear argument to be had about Google, as a private corporation, continuing to ‘tinker’ with the results delivered by its algorithm and how much its coders should, or should not, arbitrate access to the web in this way. After all, the algorithm will already bear hallmarks of their own assumptions without any transparency on how these decisions are arrived at. Further, Google Bombs, Byrne (2004) argues, empower those web users whom the ranking system, for whatever reason, has disenfranchised.
Just how reliable & trustworthy is Google?
“Easy, efficient, rapid and total access to Truth is the siren song of Google and the culture of search. The price of access: your monetizable information.”(Hillis, Petit & Jarrett, 2013, p.7)
For Cahill et al (2009), Google has made the process of searching too easy and searchers have becoming lazier as a result; accepting Google’s ranking at face value. Markland in van Dijck (2010) makes the point that students favouring of Google means they are dispensing with the services libraries provide. The implication being that, despite library information services delivering a more relevant & higher quality search result, Google’s quick & easy ‘fast food’ approach is hard to compete with.
This seemingly default trust in the neutrality of Google’s ranking algorithm also has a ‘funnelling effect’ according to Beel & Gipp (2009); narrowing the sources clicked upon 90% of the time to just the first page of results with a 42% click through on the first choice alone. This then creates a cosy consensus in terms of the fortunate pages clicked upon which will improve their ranking while “smaller, less affluent, alternative sites are doubly punished by ranking algorithms and lethargic searchers.” (Pan et al. in van Dijck, 2010)
While Google would no doubt argue that all search engines closely guard how their ranking algorithms are calibrated to protect them from aggressive competition, click fraud and SEO marketing, the secrecy is clearly at odds with principles of public librarianship. Further, Van Dijck (2010) argues that this worrying failure to disclose is concealing how knowledge is produced through Google’s network and the commercial nature of Google’s search engine. After all, search engines greatest asset is the metadata each search leaves behind. This data can be aggregated and used by the search engine to create profiles of individual search behaviour and collective profiles which can then be passed on to other commercial companies for profit. That is not to say it always does but there is little legislation to stop it in an area that is largely unregulated. The right to privacy does not, it seems, extend to metadata and ‘in an era in which knowledge is the only bankable commodity, search engines own the exchange floor.’ (Halavais in van Dijck, 2010)
Scholarly knowledge and the reliability of Google Scholar
When considering the reliability, transparency & trustworthiness of Google and Google Scholar it is pertinent to look at its scope and differences with other similar sites. Unlike Pubmed and Web of Science, Google Scholar is not a human-curated database but is instead an internet search engine therefore its accuracy & content varies greatly depending on what has been submitted to it.Google Scholar does have an advantage is that it searches the full text of articles therefore users may find searching easier on Scholar compared to WoS or Pubmed which are limited to searching according to the abstract, citations or tags.
Where Google Scholar could be more transparent is in its coverage as some notable publishers have been known, according to van Dijck (2010), to refuse to give access to their databases. Scholar has also been criticised for the lack of completeness of its citations, as well as its covering of social science and humanities databases; the latter an area of strength for Wikipedia according to Park (2011). But the searcher utilising Google Scholar would be unaware of these problems of scope when they came to use it.
Further, Beel & Gipp (2009) state that the ranking system on Google Scholar, leads to articles with lots of citations receiving higher rankings, and as a result, receive even more citations because of this. Hence, while the digitization of sources on the internet opens up new avenues for scholarly exploration, ranking systems can be seen to close ranks on a select few to the exclusion of others.
As Van Dijck (2010) points out: “Popularity in the Google-universe has everything to do with quantity and very little with quality or relevance.” In effect, ranking systems determine which sources we can see but conceal how this determination has come about. This means that we are unable to truly establish the scope & relevance of our search results. In this way, search engines cannot be viewed as neutral, passive instruments but are instead active “actor networks” and “co-producers of academic knowledge.” (van Dijck, 2010).
Further, it can be argued that Google decides which sites are included in its top ten results. With so much to gain commercially, from being discoverable on Google’s first page of results, the practice of Search Engine Optimising (SEO), or manipulating the algorithm to get your site in the top ten search results, has become widespread. SEO techniques can be split into ‘white hat’ (legitimate businesses with a relevant product to sell) and ‘black hat’ (sites who just want clicks and tend not to care about the ‘spamming’ techniques they employ to get them). As a result, PageRank has to be constantly manipulated, as with Google bombs, to counteract the effects of increasingly sophisticated ‘black hat’ techniques. Hence, the need for an improved vigilance & critical evaluation of the searches returned by Google has become a crucial skill in modern information retrieval.
The solution: Google’s response to modern information retrieval – Answer Engines
Google is the great innovator and is always seeking newer, better ways of keeping users on its sites and improving its search algorithm. Hence, the arrival of Google Instant in 2010 to autofill suggested keywords to assist searchers. This was followed by Google’s Knowledge Graph (and its Microsoft equivalent Bing Snapshot). These new services seek not just to provide the top ten links to a search query but also to ‘answer’ it by providing a number of the most popular suggested answers on the page results screen (usually showing an excerpt of the related Wikipedia article & images along the side panel), based on, & learning from, previous users’ searches on that topic.
Google’s Knowledge Graph is supported by sources including Wikipedia & Freebase (and the linked data they provide) along with a further innovation, RankBrain, which utilises artificial intelligence to help decipher the 15% of queries Google has not seen before. As Barr (2016) recognises: “A.I. is becoming increasingly important to extract knowledge from Google’s sea of data, particularly when it comes to classifying and recognizing patterns in videos, images, speech and writing.”
Bing Snapshot does much the same. The difference being that Bing provides links to the sources it uses as part of the ‘answers’ it provides. Google provides information but does not attribute it. Without this, it is impossible to verify their accuracy. This seems to be one of the thorniest issues in modern information retrieval; link decay and the disappearing digital provenance of sources. This is in stark contrast to Wikimedia’s efforts in creating Wikidata: “an open-license machine-readable knowledge base” (Dewey 2016) capable of storing digital provenance & structured bibliographic data. Therefore, while Google Knowledge Panels are a step forward, there are issues again over its transparency, reliability & trustworthiness.
Moreover, the 2014 EU Court ruling on ‘the right to be forgotten’, which Google have stated they will honour, also muddies the waters on issues of transparency & link decay/censorship:
“Accurate search results are vanishing in Europe with no public explanation, no real proof, no judicial review, and no appeals process…the result is an Internet riddled with memory holes — places where inconvenient information simply disappears.”(Fioretti, 2014).
The balance between an individual’s “right to be forgotten” and the freedom of information clearly still has to be found. At the moment, in the name of transparency, both Google and Wikimedia are posting notifications to affected pages that they have received such requests. For those wishing to be ‘forgotten’ this only highlights the matter & fuels speculation unnecessarily.
The solution: Wikipedia’s ‘transparent’ search engine: Discovery
Since the setup of the ‘Discovery’ team in April 2015 and the disclosure of the Knight Foundation grant, there have been mixed noises from Wikimedia with some claiming that there was never any plan to rival Google because a newer ‘internal’ search engine was only ever being developed in order to integrate Wikimedia projects through one search portal.
Ultimately, a lack of consultation between the board and the wider Wikimedia community members reportedly undermined the project & culminated in the resignation of Lila Tretikov, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, at the end of February and the plans for Discovery were shelved.
However, Sentance (2016) reveals that, in their leaked planning documents for Discovery, the Foundation were indeed looking at the priorities of proprietary search engines, their own reliance on them for traffic and how they could recoup traffic lost to Google (through Google’s Knowledge Graph) at the same time as providing a central hub for information from across all their projects through one search portal. Wikipedia results, after all, regularly featured in the top page of Google results anyway – why not skip the middle man?
Quite how internet searchers may have taken to a completely transparent, non-commercial search engine we’ll possibly never know. However, it remains a tantalizing prospect.
The solution: Alternative Search Engines
An awareness of the alternative search engines available for use and their different strengths and weaknesses is a key component of the information literacy needed to navigate this sea of information. Bing Snapshot, for instance, makes greater use of providing the digital provenance for its sources than Google at present.
Notess (2016) serves notice that computational searching (e.g. Wolfram Alpha) continues to flourish along with search engines geared towards data & statistics (e.g. Zanran, DataCite.org and Google Public Data Explorer).
However, knowing about the existence of these differing search engines is one thing but knowing how to successfully navigate them is quite another as Notess (2016) himself concludes where “Finding anything beyond the most basic of statistics requires perseverance and experimenting with a variety of strategies.”
Information literacy, it seems, is key.
The solution: The need for information literacy
Given that electronic library services are maintained by information professionals, “values such as quality assessment, weighed evaluation & transparency” (van Dijck, 2010) are in much greater evidence than in commercial search engines. That is not to say that there aren’t still issues in library OPAC systems: whether it be in terms of the changes in the classification system used over time or the differing levels of adherence by staff to these classification protocols; or the communication to users of best practice in utilising the system.
The use of any search engine, requires literacy among the user group. The fundamental problem remains the disconnect between what a user inputs and what they can feasibly expect at the results stage. Understanding the nature of the search engine being used (proprietary or otherwise) a critical awareness of how knowledge is formed through its network and the type of search statement that will maximise your chances of success are all vital. As van Dijck (2010) states “Knowledge is not simply brokered (‘brought to you’) by Google or other search engines… Students and scholars need to grasp the implications of these mechanisms in order to understand thoroughly the extent of networked power”(Dijck, 2010).
Educating users of this broadens the search landscape, and defuses SEO attempts to circumvent our choices. Information literacy cannot be left to academics or information professionals alone, though they can play a large part in its dissemination. As mentioned at the beginning, we are all ‘searchers’. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to become literate in the ways of ‘search’ and pass it on, creating our own knowledge networks. Social media offers us a means of doing this; allowing us to filter information as never before and filtering is “transforming how the web works and how we interact with our world.” (Swanson, 2012)
Google may never become any more transparent. Hence, its reliability & trustworthiness will always be hard to judge. Wikipedia’s Knowledge Engine may have offered a distinctive model more in line with these terms but it is unlikely, at least for now, to be able to compete as a global crawler search engine.
Therefore, it is incumbent on searchers not to presume neutrality or assign any kind of benign munificence on any one search engine. Rather by educating themselves as to the merits & drawbacks of Google and other search engines, users will then be able to formulate their searches, and their use of search engines, with a degree of information literacy. Only then can they hope the returned results will match their individual needs with any degree of satisfaction or success.
Arnold, A. (2007). Artificial intelligence: The dawn of a new search-engine era. Business Leader, 18(12), pp. 22.
I attended OER16, my first OER conference, but did not present. I had my own side room, just off the main drag, where I could provide respite from the main programme and entertain the Wiki curious.
Mostly I fired out tweets, recorded sessions and observed. And, it has to be said, had a great time doing so.
This year’s OER17 Conference was a different kettle of fish. I felt there was a lot to say, and be said, so I ill-advisedly submitted four sessions (I retracted a fifth on ‘Wikimedia vs. the Right to Forgotten‘).
And our biases were laid out in the open this year, I think, because the theme was ‘The Politics of Open‘ and politics is, no getting away from it, deeply personal. ‘Shouting from the heart‘ was the mot juste. Perhaps because of this, or the steady supply of coffee and biscuits, the conference did seem that much fuller of warm embraces, smiles and laughter as much as critical discourse. People being good-natured with one another, huddling together in dark times, espousing what they held to be true. And this was not so much bonhomie as ‘bonfemie’ (doubtful this will catch on) because the conference had such a surfeit of brilliant articulate women forming its backbone with an all-female list of keynotes and plenary speakers. (The Arsenal fans in the pub next door would have appreciated such a strong backbone to their side no doubt.)
I still need to catch up on Thursday’s talks but here’s what I observed:
Passion. Logic. Playfulness. Qualities that, to my mind, are what education should be about.
Godwin’s Law (redefined) meant that Trexit had to be discussed at some point during the conference while calls to action and calls for solidarity were also asked and answered (“Let’s make copyright right right now“, “Repeal the 8th” and “#IWill” for instance).
And we came out of the two days feeling pretty upbeat that there may actually be a way through the woods, out of the “unenlightenment” and into the bright future of a Viv Rolfe and David Kernoghan chaired #OER18.
(I could be wrong but there may even have been a moment of demob happiness around the room watching David rise out his seat to announce we could call him #OER18 co-chair).
No mean feat anyway after a grim year.
In this respect, I think Maha Bali’s keynote was an inspired choice and really set the tone for the whole two days. If politics is personal then the act of gift-giving is personal too; imposing your choices on someone else; whether it is the ‘gift’ of an open educational resource or the ‘gift’ of your elder brother buying you a Pixies CD for your birthday when he had the only CD player in the house and you’d never heard of the Pixies at that point. (He gave me a cassette copy in the end and kept the CD).
I’m grateful to Maha for the reminder of my brother’s wiliness but also that the best quality an educator has (beyond passion, logic and playfulness) is empathy.
Being able to empathise with other learners and considering how they can best access learning materials and the kinds of barriers they come up against is critical in OEP. You may think you’re being inclusive but we are too often trapped in our own worldview, traveling those same over-trammelled thought pathways; unable to see that our solutions aren’t really solutions at all or understand, or even acknowledge, the challenges of access or licensing others face; the obstacles they may have to overcome; the risks they may have to take.
“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”
― Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships
So that’s my takeaway:
Be less goat.
Be more empathetic bear.
Cheers to Josie, Alek, Maren and the rest of the ALT team.