Wikipedia, Student Activism and the Ivory Tower - Ewan McAndrew
and the Ivory Tower
“You and your students can dramatically affect the most popular
and important reference work in the world”
University of Edinburgh
Scotland, Slavery and
Black History project
Jesse Ewing Glasgow Jr. (1837-
1860) was a Philadelphian-born African
American intellectual and student at
the University of Edinburgh from 1858
He authored the radical pamphlet
on John Brown‘s Harper’s Ferry Raid in
• Wikipedia and Academic Libraries
• New open access book
CHANGING THE WAY STORIES
ARE TOLD: ENGAGING STAFF
AND STUDENTS IN IMPROVING
WIKIPEDIA CONTENT ABOUT
WOMEN IN SCOTLAND
• Hands up who has ever
• What is your favourite
• Go to www.menti.com and
use the code 97 54 62 6
"Who gets to define what’s true online?...
• In practical terms, truth is what Google’s knowledge graph …
can deliver to its users.
• Google’s knowledge graph is descended primarily from
Wikipedia and Wikidata, an open-source collection of facts
derived from Wikipedia, the remarkable participatory
encyclopedia that, in the past 20 years, has become a
core part of our collective knowledge infrastructure.
“Too many students I met were being told that Wikipedia
was untrustworthy and were, instead, being encouraged to
do research. As a result, the message that many had taken
home was to turn to Google and use whatever came up
first. They heard that Google was trustworthy and
Wikipedia was not.”
is the way we
• Is Wikipedia part of the
egy at your
• Go back to
www.menti.com and use
the code 97 54 62 6
• 8th top site on the web in UK
• 9th globally.
• Receiving ~70% of its traffic
from search engines
is the way we
Edinburgh Seven edit-a-thon – Feb 2015
• Sophia Jex Blake – 70,000
pageviews to date
• The Edinburgh Seven –
40,000 pageviews to date
“Their acts opened up a door to a
university education which remains
open for thousands of students today”
“Learning becomes personal, triggering
forms of agency”
Professor Allison Littlejohn, on the editathon and the process of becoming a
Wikipedia editor in LILAC 2019 keynote.
Learning to become an online editor: the editathon as learning environment (Littlejohn, 2019)
Interactive Learning Environments
Wikimedian in Residence – Supporting key institutional
commitments to Open Knowledge, Information Literacy,
Digital and Data Skills, and Equality & Diversity since 2016
Anyone can learn how to edit
Wikipedia – I learnt in 1 hour
and have added mention of the
conference to MMU page and 1
image to it.
Yes, anyone can edit Wikipedia…
BUT they must cite what they
Building core competencies and
transferable attributes with
Digital and information literacy skills
Writing as public outreach
Wikipedia as learning
Promoting Knowledge Equity,
“Historically, knowledge has been concentrated in the hands of the
Marginalized groups’ histories and perspectives have been
excluded by structures of power and privilege.
Wikipedia revolutionises this model, as the world’s largest, free,
collaboratively sourced encyclopedia.”
20 short videos created
Added to Youtube and
embedded in new 41
page website with
sections on Citing
Wikipedia and Making
Open Education Global winner for best Student Project
• Summer 2019 – Emma as Witchfinder General on
Wikidata Map of Witches internship
• Jan to Jun 2020 – Laura as Wikipedia Women in
• Summer 2020 – Hannah creating Wikimedia
website and resources
• Summer 2021 – Erin (Wikisourceror) and Clea
(Wikimedia supporting EDI)
• March to July 2022– Sian, Eleanor and Kirsty to
improve LGBT History, Black History and Gender
History as part of Student Experience Grant project.
• Summer 2022 – Two new interns to improve the
Map of Witches website.
“Within universities, many staff and
students are in excellent positions to
contribute, improve and edit articles
on Wikipedia. They can access
resources, they have specific subject
They could be valuable editors and
empowered knowledge activists.”
Developing your Graduate Attributes
• Developing your Graduate Attributes is essential – but this
isn’t done by simply completing your degree; it comes from
all your experiences
• Learning that goes on through the activity you’re doing for
this Edinburgh Award is relevant elsewhere in your life
• The Edinburgh Award acts as a blueprint – the process of
owning your development through experience and reflection is
one you can use in other parts of your life
• The Edinburgh Award provides you with support and recognition
for actively developing and reflecting on your skills
The Edinburgh Award
What are they?
• Describe what it means to be a University of
• A set of skills, abilities and mindsets
• Developed throughout your University
experiences – in your degree and beyond
Why are they important?
• They are the foundation to your success
• What makes you stand out to employers?
• A degree alone is not enough
• It’s your skills, abilities and the ways
you approach work that set you apart
The Three Inputs
Aspiring, Developing and Owning
O N E
T W O
T H R E E
The award structure
50-55 hours from December to May 2022
• Input Session 1: Aspiring
• 5.30-7.30pm on 9th December 2021 (Zoom)
• 400 word action plan deadline: 30th Dec.
• Input 2 Developing: 26th Jan 3-4.30pm
• Fortnightly Log deadline: 2nd February
• Input 3 Owning: 28th April 5.30-7.30pm
“My 3 development priorities would be digital
literacy, critical thinking, and knowledge
integration and application.”
13 submitted 400 word action plans at Input 1 (30 Dec.)
11 have progressed past Input 2 stage (2 Feb)
• YouTubers and podcasts
• The Field of Marketing
• Female artists / Young British Artists
• Women in astronomy and astrophysics
• Romanian culture and Astrophysics
• African diaspora in Latin America
• Illustrating Wikipedia with images of
Scotland’s listed buildings/monuments.
• Women in politics in South Korea
• Gothic literature and film.
• Political theories
• Social psychology
• 19th century photography and
• Industrial history of Leith
• Trans history and disabled activism.
19,000 words added, 300 references, 900,000
pageviews so far
• 1. Start the project earlier in semester 1 (mid October instead of December).
• 2. Induct students early in how to edit (1 hour) and get them comfortable with
how to research and publishing their first article (2-3 hours) to avoid any feelings
of imposter syndrome.
• 3. Support them individually in how to assess content gaps on Wikipedia and how
to go about filling them. Students set up project space.
• 4. Support them collectively with structured times and dates for meetups (both
online and physical space at the library).
• 5. Encourage community of interest and sharing of their work regularly to inspire
one another. Encourage collaboration within the group and outwith it also.
• 6. Set expectations in terms of what significant impact and sustained engagement
over the 50+ hours looks like. Use exemplars.
Wikimedian in Residence
University of Edinburgh
Telephone: 07867 593450
Over to you!
“Anyone can put
Wikipedia in the
palms of their
“I want to work on making knowledge about photographers and photographs more
accessible. A lot of Wikipedia articles about history and especially about wars focus
on the military aspects and ignore the social implications and documentation of the
war. I want to broaden what counts into a Wikipedia article on a war by integrating
more of this knowledge, starting with the Crimean war (1853-6).
Photographers impact how we are able to view the world and I want to make
more knowledge about them and their work openly available.” – Student
“I hope to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of LGBT topics and disability
activism, and the discoverability of its relevant pages.
I know how alienating it can be to not see yourself in popular knowledge
resources, and the positive impact that even making an existing resource
more discoverable by people who may not know exactly what to look for
can have.” – Student comment.
• “I aim to build inventive thinking skills while determining the best ways to provide
information about local history on Wikipedia, and how this can be written creatively in
the most engaging way. I plan also to create maps and illustrations as part of the
project, to illustrate the local area and it's industries at different points in time, and to
give a better idea of the local area geographically at the time.” – Student comment.
• “I would like to improve the Astronomy and Astrophysics pages relating to my Masters
research (Stellar Metalllicities in High Redshift Star Forming Galaxies) and other
content I’ve learned and researched throughout my degree that I have often found the
Wikipedia pages to lack information on. By doing this, I will make this complex and
somewhat niche topic more accessible to the public and provide a good starting ground
for further research for my colleagues in Astrophysics and for anyone else with an
interest in the subject.”
• ” I wish to write about female artists with the hope that other people will easily be able
to find out more about their lives and art. I have struggled many times to find a lot of
information on Wikipedia about female artists and would like to make this easily
available to others to find. Often, I have only been able to find this information by
reading academic texts and articles which are not easily accessible to the general public,
which I wish to remedy.”
To be played as audience enters…
Anyone can click “Edit” on any page on Wikipedia to improve its open-licensed information with verifiable facts. E.g. I’ve added a sentence to the page for Manchester Metropolitan University about it hosting the LILAC Information Literacy conference this year. Backed up with a citation. Anyone can edit, yes, but you have to CITE WHAT YOU WRITE.
Good afternoon everyone – welcome! My name is Ewan McAndrew and I worked since 2016 at the University of Edinburgh as the Wikimedian in Residence. I presented in 2019 about our work supporting Wikipedia in the curriculum and you can read more about that work in our Booklet of Case Studies of Wikipedia in UK education at bit.ly/wikicasestudies
We’re actually updating that booklet to include 5 more case studies of work conducted during lockdown including our work with History Students to re-examine Scotland’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and more positive examination of Black History including creating new articles about Jesse Ewing Glasgow and more.
Another new case study has been working with History of Art students to improve coverage of non-Western art in Wikipedia so that even if you don’t know about the visual culture of the Ummayads in Syria (of which we have a new article written by students) you will still encounter Islamic art on pages about inkwells, pitchers, bowls and more.
Another great resource relevant to this audience is the new open access book on Wikipedia and Academic Libraries published late last year and we’ve contributed a chapter focusing on the work of the last 5 years improving Wikipedia’s coverage about women in Scotland and changing the way stories are told.
All that said, to warm you for my talk today, tell me via the power of Menti – what is your favourite Wikipedia article?
While we wait for your answers, here are some recent news article headlines I searched for in Google about Wikipedia.
This last headline I like from Prospect magazine last month as it posited the question… "Who gets to define what’s true online?... In practical terms, truth is what Google’s knowledge graph … can deliver to its users. Google’s knowledge graph is descended primarily from Wikipedia and Wikidata, an open-source collection of facts derived from Wikipedia, the remarkable participatory encyclopedia that, in the past 20 years, has become a core part of our collective knowledge infrastructure.”
Which reminded me of this earlier quote from Danah Boyd in 2017’s Did Media Literacy Backfire?
“Too many students I met were being told that Wikipedia was untrustworthy and were, instead, being encouraged to do research. As a result, the message that many had taken home was to turn to Google and use whatever came up first. They heard that Google was trustworthy and Wikipedia was not.”
Now 2nd question – if “Search is the Way we Live now”… is Wikipedia part of the Information Literacy conversation at your workplace/institution? If so, how? If not, why not do you think?
While you think about that I’ll show you this video to give you food for thought.
It’s now 7 years since our first experiment with Wikipedia, to improve topic coverage of the Edinburgh Seven on Wikipedia. The first female students matriculated at a British university when they fought for their right to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh.. Our very first editathon, back in Feb 2015, focused on to what extent our staff and students were being supported, formally and informally, in the developing of a more robust information literacy and learning new professional digital skills. If so, could this be useful in teaching and learning.
The Edinburgh Seven now have their degrees, posthumously. And a blue plaque commemorating their fight for the right to study. We’ll never know how many stop to read that blue plaque but we do know how many are reading their Wikipedia page. Thousands.
This group editing event was evaluated by Professor Allison Littlejohn and referenced in her 2019 LILAC keynote – her research further cementing our belief that engaging with Wikipedia and in conversations over copyright, neutral point of view, open access, verifiability of sources, academic referencing, writing for a lay audience and issues of underrepresentation and invisibility online were absolutely pertinent in supporting the professional development of staff and students and helping us walk the walk when it comes to sharing knowledge outside of the Ivory Tower.
Becoming knowledge activists.
Since 2016, the role of Wikimedian in Residence provides a free central service to all staff and students, working alongside other digital skills trainers, learning technologists and library colleagues and our OER Service to support the university to explore and better understand how knowledge is created, curated, and disseminated online. Beyond this, what they can get out of the learning and teaching experience from contributing to Wikipedia and understanding how the sausage is made.
Anyone can learn how to edit Wikipedia – I learnt in 1 hour and have added mention of the conference to MMU page and 1 image to it. Yes, anyone can edit Wikipedia… BUT they must cite what they write
Primarily the role has been about developing digital research skills and a robust information literacy among our staff and students. And resetting the relationship between academia and Wikipedia away from the abstinence only model which hasn’t really worked for us to an active engaged role in sharing knowledge openly outside of The Ivory Tower.
Our students are using Wikipedia now, today and finding it useful in a clarificatory and orientating way. We need to support them in developing good practice. So we need to see it less as a problem of passive consumption and think instead of Wikipedia as a form of learning technology that we can actively engage with and contribute to and gain so much from in terms of core competencies and transferable graduate attributes.
So we need to reframe Wikipedia in education – see it less as a problem of passive consumption and think instead of Wikipedia as a form of learning technology that we can actively engage with and contribute to and gain so much from in terms of core competencies and transferable graduate attributes. We can become knowledge activists. Particularly where Scotland has a rich story to tell.
This was our starting point in many ways. Working with the Wikimedia projects affords many opportunities to support transferable graduate attributes, information and digital and data literacy, but it also promotes this idea of knowledge equity. As part of this evolving in thinking about how we engage with Wikipedia, we wanted to push on and do more. In the pandemic, the uni had something of a hiring freeze but we still wanted to offer students the opportunities for internships for roles our CIO could see merit in as being critical for our institutional mission and help get us where we needed to be.
Hannah Rothmann worked a 12 week internship in lockdown 2020, creating 20 short videos for different aspects of Wikipedia editing which she embedded in a 40 page website she created. All with the purpose of providing staff and students with one-stop shop for resources they needed to understand and engage with Wikipedia, be they at our institution or anywhere else. For this work she recently won an Open Education Global award.
Two more interns, Erin and Clea, improved the website in 2021 and focused on adding new sections on Wikimedia Commons, Wikidata, and WikiSource. Our new interns for this Summer 2022 will focus on expanding our work on the Map of Accused Witches site. These internships were my way in to work more closely with our Careers Service and discussing trialling new ways to support students through also offering accreditation for the work they did outside the curriculum.
“Within universities, many staff and students are in excellent positions to contribute, improve and edit articles on Wikipedia. They can access resources, they have specific subject expertise....
They could be valuable editors and empowered knowledge activists.”
We know that many students are involved in activities alongside their studies such as volunteering, part-time work, and getting involved in the University community. To help these activities to stand out from the crowd, our University has worked to pilot a new Award for “Digital Volunteering with Wikipedia” to sit beside other available Edinburgh Awards– the Edinburgh Award is a programme that allows students to get official recognition for their involvement in extracurricular activities and demonstrate their digital capabilities to employers.
Notes for staff
Developing your Graduate Attributes is essential – but this isn’t done by simply completing your degree; it comes from all your experiences
The Edinburgh Award acts as a blueprint – the process of owning your development through experience and reflection.
There are many different types of Edinburgh Award activity students can undertake but Digital Volunteering with Wikipedia focuses on developing 3 Graduate Attributes over the course of at least 50 hours of work and providing evidence of demonstrable learning, reflection and impact. The 50 hours are staggered over the December to May period punctuated by 3 main input sessions.
In the first, Aspiring, in December the students self -assess themselves against the Graduate Attributes and select three to develop as part of the award. They also select a topic area of Wikipedia they wish to improve and submit a 400 word action plan for how they plan to develop their chosen Graduate Attributes and how they’ll deliver impact.
Once they have had training and researched their topic areas, the 2nd Input Session, Developing, at end of January requires them to re-assess if their Graduate Attribute ranking has changed, and submit a completed Fortnightly Log of Activities designed to evidence their work to date and their reflections on how they are progressing towards their personal project goals. The final Input Session, Owning, is about coming together to share their project outcomes and reflections as well as ensuring the students get the opportunity to ties all this in with their future goals and how they will communicate about their Edinburgh Award experience to their peers, academic advisors or employers. This session will take place at end of May and their final submission will be an 800 word report or 3-5 minute video presentation.
Here’s an example of the Graduate Attribute ranking document.
Here’s an example of their Fortnightly Log of activities document which requires them to evidence their research, their reflection on their progress and how they are achieving impact.
Here’s an example of one student’s project to improve topic coverage of underrepresented female artists on Wikipedia with a focus on the teacher Helen Chadwick who was an artist in her own right. The student is improving the page about Helen Chadwick and creating new pages about her various artworks with images to illustrate the pages and a navigation box to be created to curate her page and artworks all together in much the same way that Damien Hirst has been covered here
We quality assure the students’ efforts by asking them to make use of a Wikimedia dashboard which quantifies their impact on Wikipedia in terms of number of articles created, number of articles improve, number of edits made, number of references added, number of images uploaded and number of pageviews.
The dashboard also makes use of an authorship highlighting tool which colour codes edits made to pages by different usernames.
Of the 23 student pilot group – the vast majority of applicants were female. Over 80%. Bucking the 10-15% of editors on Wikipedia normally.
They also tended to come from Undergraduate courses. 61%. Mainly from years 2 and 3. 35% came from Masters level and 1 from PhD level.
Of the disciplines, History of Art and Physics backgrounds were well represented. Which I believe is owing to recent project work with these departments and a willingness of the School Secretary to alert interested student groups.
More interestingly, are the topics the students wanted to write about. Climate change, Covid-19, LGBT History, Black History, Women artists, Women in STEM. Marginalised groups, underrepresented topics, some of the biggest and most pressing challenges in the world today. This shows me that students recognise and are intrinsically motivated by the importance of addressing knowledge gaps and improving the world around them.
The initial 23 reduced to 11 by Input 3 but this was to be expected and is in line with other Edinburgh Award programmes similarly asking students to undergo 50 hours plus in extracurricular volunteering. 19,000 words have so far been added to Wikipedia and over 300 references to pages viewed almost 900,000 times. This is only a pilot of course and I have much I have to reflect on myself.
Like how best to support students to ascertain what is Wikipedia missing when that task is seemingly endless, how to structure student time and support without losing elements of personalisation, choice and flexible working that they like, how best to engender a sense of a self-sustaining community and collaboration between students and between the students and hive mind expertise across the university and beyond, also how best to quantify and quality assure what counts as a significant body of work and impact on Wikipedia.
I have much I have learnt myself from this trial run and it is not over yet. But when turning on the news seems to reflect the darkest of times of late, I have found faith that students find this work meaningful and relevant for their studies, for their employability and for their personal development as both empowered online citizens and card-carrying members of the human race. Their willingness to communicate their scholarship openly for the good of all and to be the change they want to see has real and I hope profound potential which can be enhanced and greatly expanded in future iterations. Encouraging an army of student volunteers to be ambitious, reach out, learn, collaborate, to delve deep into the libraries and archives, devouring knowledge, synthesising it, finding the gaps and the people willing and able to help fill them. Everything connects after all, or it should. We can uncover hidden histories, build on prior learning, illuminate the darkness and lift each other up.
So my question for you – how can Wikimedia best support you and wiki link with your work? Because that’s what this work is all about.