Melissa Highton is Director of Learning, Teaching and Web and Assistant Principal for Online Learning at University of Edinburgh. Melissa has lead responsibility for the University’s online learning platforms, media production, digital skills development, classroom technologies and web applications. In her spare time she edits Wikipedia. She blogs here and tweets as: @HoneybHighton
Wikipedia has a women problem. Less than 15% of the people who regularly edit Wikipedia are women. The lack of women writers in itself is a problem, articles may become biased or skewed and some topics – particularly those relating to women’s history and achievement – are poorly covered.
Everyone is free to edit Wikipedia. The content only gets there because someone has made that effort. The technology is neutral and Wikipedia, when it began 15 years ago, was supposed to transform the ways in which information was collected, contributed and shared. It was supposed to offer new ways of democratising participation, overturning old structures, and yet it has become a place where women do not choose to contribute and do not choose to spend time. What has gone wrong?
What does it mean to be a dangerous woman? As we have seen in many of the contributions to this project, a dangerous woman is one who shines a light on an inequality and tries to fix it. Dangerous women create accounts in Wikipedia and start editing. Dangerous women run Wikipedia editathons and support each other to improve and create the Wikipedia articles which describe the experiences of women. Dangerous women understand how information is created, controlled, contested and shared. Dangerous women encourage their colleagues and friends to become editors too.
This year at University of Edinburgh we have hosted a Wikimedian in Residence as part of our partnership with Wikimedia UK. Our resident Wikimedian was tasked to identify ways in which the University of Edinburgh as a knowledge creation organisation could participate, as a community ,more fully in the open knowledge projects which are part of Wikimedia worldwide. He was also tasked, by me, to engage more women in editing and encourage sustained engagement with Wikipedia from within our academic schools through curriculum projects. The first year of his residency has been an enormous success. Wikipedia editathons are event at which groups of people come together to edit Wikipedia in a social setting. Editathons often focus on a theme or topic and editors are supported by experts and librarians to research appropriate sources. We aim to improve the quality of articles and increase spread of coverage. This year members of the University have participated in editathons around the history of women in science and Scottish history, history of medicine, history of veterinary medicine, history of nursing, women in espionage, women and religion, art and feminism, women in STEM, reproductive biology, gothic literature and celebrations of Ada Lovelace Day.
We have trained dozens of new editors and trained new trainers to run their own events. At each event we discuss how the information in Wikipedia is contributed, shared and contested online and we learn how to contribute to an open knowledge community. Each new editor contributes to the quality of knowledge shared.
For anyone who does not think they have time or content or confidence to contribute I ask: If not you, then who?
If you would like to find out about Wikipedia training sessions and editathons in Edinburgh and at Edinburgh University in the coming year please get in contact , all the details of events being run as part of our Wikimedian in Residence Project are updated here.