Wikipedia for Higher Education

On the 28th May I spoke (only for two minutes!) about possible mechanisms for including Wikipedia a bit more in our research practice and teaching and learning practice at the University of Southampton.  The talk that I hijacked was given by Dr. Les Carr (who knows much more about Wikipedia than I do!), as part of the regular Digital Economy lunch seminer series that the team here organise.  Their website can be found here:

I only spoke for a few moments, but I did reel off a number of examples, so I thought it might be useful to put the notes together here so that any of you who would like to follow up on them can do so more easily.

Wikipedia is a fantastic opportunity to curate some of the huge amount of content that exists on the web that relates back to, or hails from, our HE institutions.

A way to curate the web!!!

There are masses of data out there that are either totally undiscoverable, or discoverable, but for which the link back to the originating institution is not obvious.  Whenever we speak about Wikipedia, we tend to do so in terms of updating pages about famous alumni, or the key ‘University of…’ page for our own university.  We don’t tend to think of the other related pages; loads and loads of other content that is just as relevant to our institution, but does not have a clear link back to us.

So I took a look yesterday morning at the options for managing that content a little better.  Wikipedia is crowdsourced, and universities are educational institutions, and so it seems to make sense that we should be setting up numerous opportunities for facilitating crowdsourcing within our universities.

There follow a few examples of how we could improve our relationship with Wikipedia.  I should point out that I’m not saying anything new here, just pulling together a load of stuff from elsewhere into a sort of short review.

If you’re interested in the use of Wikipedia for research, I am not going to go into this here, but Wikipedia does host a page linking to papers and articles about that topic: 30 or so doctoral theses and over 1000 papers:

Potential uses of Wikipedia for HE

Firstly, get an idea of what the current situation for your institution is.  Without needing to do something technical, there are a few online tools that you can easily use to get an overview.  Although I would recommend asking someone with the technical knowhow to use the Wikipedia API and scrape out the data so that you know that you have an accurate picture.

Decide why you want to use Wikipedia

One option is to find out how often your pages are getting visited.  e.g. How often the University of Southampton page on Wikipedia get’s viewed (average of 400 a day for May 2012):

To find out what the current situation is, searching (cluster) for institution mentions on Wikipedia will give an initial idea of the kinds of content that exists.  In the instance of the University of Southampton:

The usefulness of DBpedia cannot be underestimated.  There must be alot of potential to improve Wikipedia presence of an organisation by looking at the DBpedia graph and identifying gaps.  For example, the DBpedia graph for University_of_Southampton shows that we have lots of content relating to alumni, but not much relating to our faculties/academic units:

Wikipedia as an index for the Web

<slightlyannoyinglecture>What is Wikipedia good for? Its not just for broadcasting about our institution’s research or for claiming ownership for prrevious students, its about improving the content that the resource holds generally, and contributing to improving the resource discovery.  Many many people use Wikipedia as an index of the web, and so it seems crazy that we would not see this as an opportunity to help to pull together all of this disparate information into one place. </slightlyannoyinglecture>

Mechanisms for improving the University+Wikipedia relationship

One approach could be trying to get Wikipedia into the university:

Using Wikipedia for educational exercises:
An example of a project:

Then, there is the option of taking the university out into Wikipedia:

If you’re worried about conflict of interest, you could contribute an open educational resource to Wikiversity instead:

Using Wikipedia to improve university resources internally and externally:

Using Wikipedia (DBpedia) to improve our own website:

Using Wikipedia at an organisational level to improve Wikipedia:

Curator requests for the British Library Wikipedia pages. Universities could do the same with their pages; particularly those relating to research themes, research groups, disciplines, and individuals:

A university could create faculty/research group based pages similar to this, and then improve those at a departmental/research group level:

Take an event-based approach:

Using an event-based approach to improve Wikipedia content seems a successful way to add lots of content very quickly. Its a good way for university experts to contribute to Wikipedia generally (I’m always thinking from a Humanities/Social Sciences perspective, hence this example, but the options are endless). The World War I editathon coming up in the middle of June is organised by the UK Wikimedia Chapter. :

Or take Wikipedia onto your campus/into your library/etc.:

Around campus (I’m thinking: next to buildings with an interesting history, portraits of important donors hung in corridors, or reminding local people who walk through the area of past events and current research): Monmouthpedia; the firrst Wikipedia town. Uses QR tags. This project is doing many things: Improving Welsh Wikipedia; Increasing awareness of noteable places and people; Geotagging so that Wikipedia apps can be used by visitors.

Within the library/archive/canteen: The British Library uses QR tags to link to pages within Wikipedia.  Pages such as ‘Domesday Book’ are linked to from the real world.

Outreach activities. 

Its all outreach really, but here are some activities that seem to lend themselves particularly to be referred to as outreach:

Wikimedia is doing a great job of seeking out outreach opportunities.  Find a summary of Wikipedia’s work to improve expert outreach: A nice example of science outreach from the Wikipedia page:

“Driving public interest in peer-reviewed research.Darren Logan, a scientist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, worked with the Wikipedia community to write an overview article on Major Urinary Proteins and take it through the review processes to Featured Article. As a result of being “Today’s Featured Article” on 2 August 2010, the article received 37,000 hits in four days. Its many footnotes included links to papers published by Logan and colleagues in peer-reviewed journals. Some of these were in open access journals including PLoS One and Biomed Central. The open licences for these papers meant that figures could be copied into the Wikipedia article. It also meant that Wikipedia’s general audience could follow the links and read the original papers themselves.” (From:

We should be seeking out collaborations. An example of a cultural partnership – the ARKive project, by Wildfire charity and Wikimedia:

Education related projects – Some good ideas here (, including:

  • Wikilounges for students – giving advice on informed use of Wikipedia,
  • University of Bristol’s paid internship,
  • PARTICULARLY COOL –> Wikipedia for sharing good practice with colleagues (University of Exeter Economic Classroom Experiments),
  • Imperial College London’s student Wikipedia society:

Things you can do RIGHT NOW

Not sure where to start? Do these things first to get your Wikipedia adventure underway on your way:

  1. Join the Wikipedia education mailing list:
  2. Find a Wikipedia article that you can edit and have a go!
  3. Plan to write a Wikipedia article about your area of expertise.  This is an invaluable experience.  Before you begin, read this: A useful guide for experts to using Wikipedia – its an open access article, so there’s no excuse not to take a look!: