By Crystal B. Rutangye
On Friday, 31st October, members of the MLitt Publishing Studies class attended the 2014 Eduwiki conference organised by Wikimedia UK. It took place in the St Leonard’s Hall at the University of Edinburgh.
The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) is a non-profit organisation registered in the USA, which believes in and supports the creation and free-sharing of knowledge. Thus, the WMF runs several projects and partners with organisations to this effect. Some of the commonest WMF projects include the Wikimedia Commons, Wikiquote, Wikisource, and the well-known world’s biggest encyclopaedia; Wikipedia. The projects and organisations are often organised under geographical chapters. Wikimedia UK is the United Kingdom’s chapter.
Eduwiki is an annual conference that focuses on Wikimedia’s education-based projects. This last Eduwiki conference at the University of Edinburgh was the third annual conference. It was a one-day event that majorly encompassed discussions on the possibilities of using Wikipedia as an educational tool in academic institutions, especially of higher learning.
After welcome remarks by Toni Sant, the Wikimedia UK Education Organiser, the conference was opened by Peter McColl, the Rector of the University of Edinburgh. A keynote presentation was then given by Floor Koudijs, the Senior Manager of the Wikipedia Education Programme at the Wikimedia Foundation. He introduced a few of the education-based projects that are funded by Wikimedia, world-wide.
Koudij’s session was followed by presentations by three Wikimedians in residence across the education sector; Marc Haynes, Martin Poulter and Andy Mabett. A ‘Wikimedian in Residence’ is a placement in an institution taken up by a Wikimedia editor, who ‘facilitates a close working relationship between the WMF and the institution, and serves as an Ambassador for open knowledge within the host organisation’.
Marc shared his experiences with Welsh Wicipedia and Porth Esboniadur while he was in residence at Coleg Cymraeg in Wales.
Martin Poulter gave a talk on the benefits of Wikimedia comprehension exercises. He taught useful tools in Wikipedia that were new to many attendants, like the translations tool.
Andy Mabett, Wikipedian in residence at ORCID and at the Royal Society of Chemistry, gave an enlightening talk on the use of ORCID in education. ORCID is a technology that provides a researcher with a permanent digital identifier, which distinguishes him/her from other researchers. The researcher integrates their identifier into all their online papers, submissions and other research workflows, making all their work and activities more easily recognisable. It also removes any confusion arising from distinguishing works of researchers who have similar names!
After a hearty tea/coffee break, attendants settled down to the showcasing of two Wikimedia UK supported projects. First, Brian Kelly and Filip Maljkovic gave an overview of Wikimedia projects in the UK and in Serbia. Serbia had never had Wikimedia educational events till they partnered with Wikimedia UK. They had held cultural or religious events, but not educational ones. After Brian and Filip came Kate Dorney who is the Senior Curator of V&A Museum and a TaPRA Research Officer. TaPRA is the Theatre and Performance Research Association, one that ‘exists in order to facilitate research through and into theatre and performance’. The TaPRA-Wikimedia project involves encouraging researchers to post some of their work on Wikimania project websites and on Wikipedia. One challenge of this is the reluctance of researchers to participate in the project, citing insecurities over the fact that Wikepedia information is undated, and offers no protection through copyright. Nevertheless, with more workshops, training, publicity and more convincing, researchers have increasingly got on board. Regular reports on their collaboration with Wikimania will be provided, so that other projects can learn from them.
Greg Singh, a lecturer in Communications, Media and Culture from the University of Stirling, showcased his experiences using Wikipedia as a teaching tool. His students worked on a Wikibook project; the Digital Media and Culture Yearbook 2014, which can be found on the Wikibooks web-page. He set students in groups so that they could appreciate the experience of being part of a research community. Some key things students learnt during this project, apart from general research and academic writing skills, were global communications over different time zones (group members residing in different countries had to figure out the best hours to work with each other), editing confidence, and digital knowledge. They did have challenges too; some students ended up ‘trawling because the group work was subject to miscommunication and toxic disinhibition’ among others.
After Greg, Ally Crockford, a Wikimedian in residence at the National Library of Scotland, led a discussion on ‘Education Matters in Scotland.’ She quoted a few statistics on the state of education and literacy in Scotland, and then opened the floor to the audience for reactions and possible solutions. Some facts she cited are ‘Scotland is the most highly educated nation in Europe, yet a quarter of Scotland’s population still struggles with illiteracy in their daily life,’ and ‘one in eight people in Scotland have never used the internet.’
Reactions to her presentation led the discussion back to a theme that had quite been running through every session the whole day; ‘Can academic institutions accept Wikipedia as a certifiable reference source?’ Ally alluded to Martin’s session earlier to suggest that Wikipedia can begin to be used in class rooms as early as in primary school, to help reduce illiteracy levels and poor internet skills. However, no solution was given to the challenge that Wikipedia, being an open resource, can be edited by anyone, making the credibility of its information questionable and unreliable for research. It was concluded that Wikipedia is a great starting point in one’s research or general quest for knowledge, but it cannot yet be cited in academic papers.
At this point, the conference broke off for a lunch break after which interested participants broke up into three sessions; one for new campus ambassadors and educators, another with an intermediate session for campus ambassadors and educators, and a third for students under 18, on Wikipedia projects in schools.