Reflections on the EduWiki 2013 Conference
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 5 November 2013
My First Event as Innovation Advocate at Cetis
On Friday and Saturday, 1 and 2 November 2013, I attended the EduWiki 2013 Conference. This was the second EduWiki conference organised by Wikimedia UK; EduWiki 2012 was held at the University of Leicester in September 2012.
This was also my first event in my new role as Innovation Advocate at Cetis. As I mentioned in a previous post I only started at Cetis on Monday, so I had little time to become acclimatised to my new role! It was pleasing to receive messages of congratulations st the conference from a number of people at the event who had seen the announcement either on this blog, on my Facebook page or from my LinkedIn profile (incidentally footnote provides some speculation on the metrics for the numbers of responses to the announcement) . It does seem to me that Wikipedia could be of interest to Cetis, as an emerging technological resource which appears to be relevant to teaching and learning. Did the two days I spent at the conference confirm such views?
Thoughts on the EduWiki 2013 Conference
The first day of the Wikipedia conference began with the welcome to the conference being provided by Toni Sant (Wikimedia UK’s Education Organiser) , with the opening remarks on the conference given by Martin Poulter, the Jisc Wikimedia Ambassador in a talk entitled “Where’s the Edit Button on this Textbook?“.
Welsh and Other Minority Language Wikipedia Sites
After the introductions, Robin Owain, the Wales Manager for Wikimedia UK gave a talk in Welsh with instant translation for English speakers via headsets. Robin’s talk provided the political and cultural context for the following keynote talk and made the links with Wicipedia, the Welsh language version of Wikipedia. “Wales is a small country. That’s our greatness. “Do the small things” is our motto” explained Robin, who went on to inform the audience that “Wales is the land of open content“. Such approaches to openness and doing small things, but doing them well has led to Wicipedia being the most popular web site in the Welsh language.
it was pleasing to see that many of the speakers at the conference backed up their assertions with evidence. In Robin’s case we heard about the usage statistics for Wicipedia, as illustrated.
Robin Owain’s talk focussed on Wicipedia, which is unsurprising for the Wales Manager for Wikimedia UK. A wider context was provided by Gareth Morlain (@melynmelyn), the Digital Media Specialist for the Welsh Government. in his keynote talk on “Getting More Welsh Content Online” which highlighted how a public pressure resulted in Amazon changing their policy on providing Welsh language access to Kindle ebooks.
I was fascinated to learn about use of minority languages, such as Catalan, Basque, Galician, Welsh, Breton, Irish, Gaelic and Cornish, on the Web. I was particularly interested to note that Catalan appears to be punching above its weight. Since I have professional contacts in Catalonia I sent a tweet to Miquel Duran, a professor at Girona University, about this. It seems that his son is president of @amicalwikimedia which promotes Catalan Wikipedia. This suggests that small-scale advocacy can have a significant effect on the creation of articles on minority language Wikipedia sites. Since we heard how the number of Wicipedia articles need to grow by 400% for Google to take Welsh language seriously as a search language I hope that Robin Owain and others involved in encouraging take-up of Wicipedia are successful in their advocacy work.
Wikipedia in HIgher Education
Although the first morning at the conference provided me with new insights into less well-known aspects of Wikipedia, it was use of Wikipedia in higher education which was of most interest to me. This was the subject of the session after lunch. Of particular interest to me was the talk by Humphrey Southall on “Introducing Students to Independent Research Through Editing Wikipedia Articles in English Villages“. Humphrey, a Reader in Geography at the University of Portsmouth and Director of the Great Britain Historical GIS, explained the approaches taken in a first year geography course which introduces the students to editing articles on Wikipedia. Rather than focussing on the IT aspects of using Wikipedia, Humphrey explained how the course requirements addressed both the needs to enhance students’ research skills and the need to respect Wikipedia’s culture of neutrality. The abstract for the talk describes how:
Each student on a large first year human geography course at the University of Portsmouth is assigned a different Wikipedia stub article, unedited for at least a year, about an English village. They are required to extend it “to provide a rounded description of the place and … an account of its historical development”. All villages are far from Portsmouth and students are banned from visiting them, so we emphasize that this is an exercise in finding, evaluating, interpreting and citing sources created by others, mainly online. All the villages are Civil Parishes, meaning that modern census data is available for them on the government’s Neighbourhood Statistics site, and historical census data are available on our own site A Vision of Britain through Time. Marks are given for the inclusion of required systematic information (completing the infobox); effective use of sources to create a sense of place; originality in use of sources; quality of layout and illustration; quality of referencing (do hyperlinks work?); engagement with other Wikipedia users (responding to comments!); and adherence to Wikipedia guidelines.
The second day of the conference provided another two interesting talks related to use of Wikipedia in higher education: Lisa Anderson & Nancy Graham provided a librarian’s perspective in a talk on “Safe use of Wikipedia in the transition from school to University” and Darren Stephens facilitated a workshop session on “Exploring the Education Program/Courses Extension for UK HEIs“.
Lisa & Nancy’s talk provided a rebuttal of Dave White’s talk which asked “What’s left to teach now that Wikipedia has done everyone’s homework?“. In this talk, which concluded the first day, Dave White proposed a variant on the first rule of the Fight Club. The first rule of Wikipedia in education is: “You don’t talk about Wikipedia and the learning black market“. The reason for this was based on Dave’s research which showed that although students feel that their lecturers don’t approve of use of Wikipedia, in reality they do use Wikipedia and use references obtained for Wikipedia articles – although they don’t necessarily read the references. There is therefore a learning black market based on content from Wikipedia which lectures must not be made aware of!
Lisa & Nancy’s talk described how librarians at Birmingham University appreciate that students will use Wikipedia, and therefore sought to ensure that students are made aware of best practices for using Wikipedia. They ensure their students are made aware of the history pages for Wikipedia articles; how easy it is to edit articles, which includes vandalising articles or adding errors, mistakes or deliberately incorrect or misleading content but also how such changes are normally spotted by Wikipedia volunteers which can remove such content.
I found this a useful talk on how a group of librarians are understanding how their users use Web resources and respond by engaging withe such realities. But Dave White’s evidence of student belief that use of Wikipedia is frowned upon by academics and librarians shows that further work needs to be done. One tweet summarised the talk: “Librarians’ attitudes to Wikipedia are changing @msnancygraham #EduWiki”. But to what extent does this reflect the reality of how university librarians are informing their students (and staff) of the relevance of Wikipedia, I wonder? As I suggested to Nancy after her talk, perhaps gathering evidence across the sector would be useful for a paper at next year’s LILAC 2014 information literacy conference.
The final session I’ll comment on in this post is Darren Stephens workshop on “Exploring the Education Program/Courses Extension for UK HEIs“. Darren explained that the education extension installed on Wikipedia has had minimal take-up in the UK, with only two universities in England making use of it in the academic year 2012/13. The Education Program extension for MediaWiki adds features to Wikipedia to support classes of students editing articles, including structured Institution and Course pages and feeds of recent activity by students. However as we learnt during the workshop session, the extension is poorly documented and the software has a poor user interface. Comments that the software enabled staff to monitor how their students made use of Wikipedia to complete assignments also led to concerns regarding the privacy implications’ even if the software provides a dashboard which gives a window on publicly available information, there will still be issues regarding potential concerns that students have been required to make information publicly available and also that institutions may have policies which require student activities to be analysed prior to assessment.
Rod Dunican, Director of Global Education at the Wikipedia Foundation had opened the second day with a plenary talk on “Wikipedia in Education: Adventures in Learning“. I was fortunate to spend some time over lunch talking to Rod and hearing more about the Wikipedia Foundation and the Wikipedia Education Program. In my opening remarks in this posts I wondered whether the conference would confirm my feelings of the relevance of Wikipedia for the higher and further education sectors. I’m now convinced of the importance of Wikipedia in open educational practices. There will be a need to be able to provide further evidence of the value of Wikipedia (beyond the usage statistics which several speakers provided) and learn from the successes (and failures) of the early adopters.
I’ll conclude with a few tweets made during the conference.
Kate Fisher showed her enthusiasm for the conference and shared the actions she’ll be taking when she returns to work:
but Terry McAndrew reminded us that there is still much work to do:
Finally Judith Scammell’s tweet makes me regret having to leave the conference before the final talk:
I hope a video of the song which concluded the conference will be published!
Appendix: Archives of the Event
“anyone archiving #eduwiki tweets? Would that be a good idea?” asked Simon Knight on the opening day of the conference. Although the question was directed at @wikimediauk I saw the tweet and immediately created a Twubs archive of the #eduwiki tweets. “That’s the power of the crowd – fixed in two minutes flat! #eduwiki” responded @wikimediauk . I agree, one shouldn’t have to wait for employees or officers of an organisation to carry out work which interests bystanders can do. That’ after all, can be regarded as the ‘Wikipedia way’.
I should add that although I normally use Storify to curate an edited summary of event tweets published in chronological order, with tweets omitted if I feel they are of little value and annotations provided, such as links to speakers slides, in this case due to lack of time I published the full set of tweets in reverse chronological order. I did this shortly after the event was over so that an archive was available in a timely fashion, especially for others who may be wishing to publish a report on the conference. I would also add that the full archive may be of value to others who may wish to create an annotated story (e.g. of talks of particular interest). Again the process of publishing something incomplete which can be enhanced can be regarded as the Wikipedia way.
I was interested to see that I had received 94 ‘likes’ and 43 comments for the Facebook status update, 33 ‘likes’ and 12 comments on a LinkedIn update for my new job but only 16 comments to the original blog post.Might this suggest that Facebook and then LinkedIn are more effective than blog posts in alerting people to information such as a change of job, I wonder?