Today marks a worldwide campaign to expand the number of women represented in Wikipedia and to increase the number of women who are Wikipedia editors. Last year we* worked with Melissa Highton to research how people learn to become Wikipedia editors. With the emergence of social media sites like Wikipedia there has been a range of new roles and responsibilities associated with knowledge creation. Part of our study was gathering narratives around how people transitioned into becoming Wikipedia editors. This transitioning work is usually invisible. But in an era where social media creates new responsibilities around how knowledge is constructed and who produces it, we believe its important to understand the secret work of Wikipedia editors.
The context of this study began in1869 when Sophia Jex-Blake, along with a group of six other women, applied to the University of Edinburgh to study Medicine. Before then no British University had enrolled a woman. Although this story represents a landmark moment for British universities, it was not widely known. So in 2015 staff from Edinburgh University decided to document the event in Wikipedia
Edinburgh University’s Learning, Teaching and Web Services Division ran an editathon – an organised event where people come together at a scheduled time to create or edit Wikipedia entries on a specific topic. The editathon was open to everyone – university students, staff and faculty as well as members of the public – who had an interest in becoming Wikipedia editors. A total of 47 participants were active across four days in February 2015. Participants determined how much of the event they attended as well as their level of engagement. Over four days they engaged in all kinds of collaborative activity around the creation of wiki pages aided by information specialists including librarians, archivists and a ‘Wikimedian in residence’.
The results point to complex relationships between the physical and the digital. The participants were aware of Wikipedia as a widely-read digital artefact used to communicate perceived ‘truths’ in modern society. During their transition into Wikipedia editors many of them were particularly concerned that their work was an accurate representation of offline, physical resources (newspaper reports, photographs and so on) in an online form. They became aware that through simple editing actions they were positioning the actions of the Edinburgh Seven against changing societal perspectives. For some editing has become a form of continued activism. We will publish the details of the transitions of this group of people as they became editors and how they perceived their new roles and responsibilities.
A key message is that we all have responsibility to make sure different groups are properly represented. Those people who are engaging in editathon events around the world today have opportunity to reposition themselves and to develop more critical understandings of information in the digital age.
*The researchers are Allison Littlejohn, Open University, UK; Nina Hood, University of Auckland, New Zealand; Martin Rehm, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany; Bart Rienties, Open University, UK; Melissa Highton, University of Edinburgh, UK; Lou McGill, Education Consultant, UK