In this mini-series post, Ewan MacAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh, highlights how staff and students are actively engaging with Wikipedia to address both the diversity of editors and diversity of 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. It 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 and members 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.
While Wikipedia has significant reach and influence, it also has significant gaps in its coverage of topics, articles in other languages and the diversity of its editors. Most editors are white men, and topics covered reflect this with less than 18 percent of biographies on English Wikipedia about women. The Wikimedia community are committed to diversity and inclusivity and have developed, and worked with, a number of initiatives to ensure knowledge equity, such as Whose Knowledge.org and WikiProject Women in Red, with Wikimedia’s campaign for 200 more biographies of female sportswomen (Levine, 2019) just one recent example of looking at ways to address this systemic bias.
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 about how sociology is communicated and how knowledge is created and curated online each year as a response to the recent ASA article.
- Reproductive Biology Honours: A student’s article on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most common forms of ovarian cancer, includes 60 references and diagrams she created, has been viewed over 67,000 times since 2016.
- 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 to 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.
Representation matters. Gender inequality in science and technology is all too real. Gaps in our shared knowledge excludes the vitally important contributions of many within our community and you can’t be what you can’t see. To date, 65% of our participating editors at The University of Edinburgh have been women. The choices being made in creating new pages and increasing the visibility of topics and the visibility of inspirational role models online not only shape public understanding around the world for the better but also help inform and shape our physical environments to inspire the next generation.
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)
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.
If you would like to find out more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the news
- The University of Edinburgh recently won at the Herald Higher Education Awards 2019 for its Wikimedia in the Curriculum work.
- Physicist and Wikipedia editor, Jess Wade, creates a Wikipedia entry every day to address the encyclopaedia’s under-representation of women and people of colour in science. She was named in Nature’s “Ten people who mattered in 2018”, and was recently awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her campaigning for diversity in science.
- 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
- Cronon, W. (2012). Scholarly Authority in a Wikified World | Perspectives on History | AHA. Retrieved from https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/february-2012/scholarly-authority-in-a-wikified-world
- Levine, N. (2019). A Ridiculous Gender Bias On Wikipedia Is Finally Being Corrected. Retrieved from https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2019/06/234873/womens-world-cup-football-wikipedia
- Mathewson, J., & McGrady, R. (2018). Experts Improve Public Understanding of Sociology Through Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://www.asanet.org/news-events/footnotes/apr-may-2018/features/experts-improve-public-understanding-sociology-through-wikipedia
- Hood, N., & Littlejohn, A. (2018). Becoming an online editor: perceived roles and responsibilities of Wikipedia editors. Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/23-1/paper784.html
- McAndrew, E., O’Connor, S., Thomas, S., & White, A. (2019). Women scientists being whitewashed from Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/women-scientists-being-whitewashed-from-wikipedia-ewan-mcandrew-siobhan-o-connor-dr-sara-thomas-and-dr-alice-white-1-4887048
- 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.