Wikimedia in Education UK Summit 2020 #WikiEdu20

Drawing "To be a Knowladge Activist" by Bryan Mathers @BryanMMathers

© @Visualthinkery @BryanMMathers #WikiEdu20

When I returned to work the following week after attending this event, the first thing I said to my boss was he’d just spent the best £30 on me this year.  It was a day packed full of really useful information, especially for a novice like me. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Wikipedia regular, as in I use it a lot for quick and easy information gathering, but my Wikipedia adventure stopped there, until today. 

For a start, I have never thought about how it could be used in education, except for quick reference. until this Summit.  I feel like a brand new world has been opened to me, so I am going to try and capture what I have learnt so I can refer back in the future and I hope you might find something interesting from my review of the day.

The day began with an intro + keynote with Ricahrd Nevell from Wikimedia UK giving us a few facts that we might all take for granted including the most important fact of all:

Wikipedia is to be used as a resource not a reference! 

I think everyone was secretly nodding their heads when Richard was saying how Wikipedia was a taboo subject for any student back in the days; you just simply wouldn’t dare to mention you have looked up a book or an author or anything from Wikipedia.  You simply would not admit it. In recent years, however, it is perfectly acceptable to research using Wikipedia, in fact, it is a very useful resource to sign post you to more in depth research. Who has time to read a whole book only to find out it’s not something you need?  Well, Wikipedia can more than help with this. It is also pretty common for tutors to recommend using Wikipedia as a starting point for any kinds of research, I remember when I was doing my MA back in 2013, my tutor told me don’t bother reading a book that she highly recommends, just read what’s been written about it on Wikipedia and go from there.  My true reaction at the time was, “Are you for real?”, but it turns out it was some of the best advice I got from doing my MA. Let’s move on and speak no more about my MA, shall we?

So the intro keynote was by Professor Alison Littlejohn from the UCL Knowledge Lab, she has introduced me to a new thing that people do – Editathon.  What? What is it that? You edit while you run? In order to cover my ignorance, I took out my phone and quickly looked it up on Wikipedia. Of course I did!  Oh right, it is an scheduled event where a bunch of people collectively (online and in person) edit the same topic on Wiki. Now it makes sense, but why do it, you ask?  I asked the same question myself.

The answer is simple, to collectively improve each other’s understanding of the same topic and to work collaboratively toward a common goal.  Perhaps most importantly, to understand how to work on a Wiki page, which I have learned today, can have many benefits that directly relate to digital learning.

Professor Littlejohn also said that, according to the BBC Blueroom, young people are more used to, more engaged to produce online content than consume.  I have never thought about it this way, but looking at my own experience when working with students, a lot of students seem to have a mental block with using a lot of online tools that are branded as ‘educational’.  Meanwhile, they have no problem simultaneously updating their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (if they still use it) when chatting with their mates on Snapchat and Whatsapp AND half listening to me trying to show them how to use an online learning tool.  Fact!

What does this mean to us?  I think it means students have all got very capable skills and some ‘hidden experience’ with improving their digital capability.  The challenge here is use something that can engage them and perhaps something that we actually use in the real world.

This brings me to the first presentation of the day from Caroline Ball from University of Derby; Caroline is a Academic Librarian who is also Wikipedia ninja, so she ran a term long module of how to edit a Wiki page, she described this as teaching Digital Capabilities by stealth.  When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense, in order to know how to edit a Wiki page and have your writing published online, you need to know how to conduct your research, how to cite your sources right and how to publish your writing online and how to deal with feedback and criticism. 

All in all, you have to be digitally capable to a point.

The more she described about her bespoke Wiki module at Derby, the more I have our very own DCAF repeating in my head, both aim to improve students’ digital capabilities, wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a way to marry the two?  Right, boss, are you reading this? Can we introduce something like “When DCAF meet Wiki”?

The more I listened to Caroline describing how her students all have their confidence increased, the more I think some Wiki related activities would be very useful to fulfil some of the attributes outlined on the DCAF.  For example, all of Caroline’s students have had their confidence increased with dealing with online research, editing their writing to be published online, dealing with feedback from peers reviews such as criticism and possible online trolling.  Ain’t these some of the attributes from our very own DCAF? Doesn’t what Caroline does answer the same question I am always asked when trying to promote our DCAF? Which is the DCAF is good at identifying which areas of digital capabilities our students need to work on, but how?  Start a Wiki page on their favourite artist ot designer?

Another example is Charles from Sheffield, he is a historian and a senior lecturer.  Not once, but twice he made his students research a particular medieval history topic using Wikipedia resources only.  The purpose of these exercises were not necessarily about understanding the particular history topic, but instead his students needed to research further on the information they have learnt from the Wiki pages and then write about it, they needed to decide how accurate the info is from the Wiki pages.  I think it is a very clear idea that really does kill 2 birds with 1 stone. 

There are so many great lightning talks and I have a lot more to say, so I suggest if anyone is interested, get in touch and we can discuss further.  I’ll buy coffee if you bring cookies!

In the afternoon, I experienced my first un-conference – What a great thing?  It felt like a nice afternoon out with loads of good friends with common interests, but in reality, I have only known them for 5 minutes.

In one of the un-conference sessions, we talked about what digital skills a Wiki editor needs.  The answer is more than you think but less than you expect. One would have to be comfortable with using a computer, a mouse and a keyboard, which is something that everyone who attended this summit takes for granted.  In my experience, however, our students are not always comfortable with doing some basic tasks on a computer. Again, teaching them how to edit a Wiki page on a topic that can interest them seems a good idea to not only help them increase their online confidence, but also help them feel more comfortable with using a computer – A skill that, rightly or wrongly, is necessary in most if not all workplaces.

In Wales, they have made Wikipedia a part of the curriculum in secondary school and Coventry University is due to start their very own Wikipedia module.  There are also other universities in the US that have some forms of Wikipedia modules. Someone even asked if we would one day have a Wikipedia degree, it is certainly something that would interest some people, but perhaps not for everyone.  The point here is that it really does seem Wikipedia is a great little something that could tick a lot of the crucial boxes out students need to take if they are to do well in the digital world.

I am certainly going to be asking to be more involved in any Wikipedia projects we might have up our sleeves. I hope one day someone else will be writing about our Wikipedia success story.

If you want to discuss anything Wiki related, I am currently still on fire from the summit, please do get in touch!


Teaching and Learning Exchange (2017), Digital Creative Attributes Handbook.  London:  University of the Arts London.

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