Knowledge activism vs passive consumption – rethinking Wikipedia in education
Kindness on the Internet has been much in the news of late and this quote from novelist Henry James stood out to me:
Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.
I have been working at the University of Edinburgh for over four years now as the Wikimedian in Residence. Four years as of January 2020 in fact, just as Wikipedia itself turned nineteen years old on January 15th 2020. In thinking about this period of my working life, I am reminded of some of the (sometimes) sceptical conversations I have had with (some) academics over the years but more often than not I recall the enthusiasm, generosity and kindness I have encountered. And I’m reminded also of the words of Katherine Maher, Executive Director for the Wikimedia Foundation, when she said that Wikipedia, ultimately, is based on human generosity; that the act of editing Wikipedia is a generous act by volunteer editors all around the world because they are giving of their time, their expertise and their passion for a subject in order to improve the knowledge shared openly with the world through this free and open online encyclopedia. And why? Well because…
Knowledge creates understanding – understanding is sorely lacking in today’s world. – Katherine Maher.
While the residency has been something of an experiment, a proof of concept if you will for hosting a Wikimedian to support the whole university, I am more convinced than ever that there is a clear role, a structural need even, for Wikimedia in teaching and learning.