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Wikipedia and Education in the Time of the “Crisis of Information”

Friday 16 September 2022

Anne Harding Centre - Building 24, University of Canberra

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The notion that information (broadly understood as the representation of knowledge) is in crisis is not new. The lack of publicly verifiable information in Sweden about the impacts of the Chernobyl reactor meltdown led to an “information crisis” as information originating from official sources was no longer trusted (Nohrstedt, 1991). In the age of the “infodemic”, Q-Anon and growing distrust towards the institutions of liberal democracy there can be little doubt that information is, indeed, in crisis. This crisis partly stems from the perception that mainstream media represent the interests of corporate elites and from the effects of disinformation campaigns by hostile agents. But it is the quasi-invisible algorithmic curation of our information environments by online platforms which arguably most contributes to destabilising information. Haidder and Sundin (2022) formally characterised the modalities of the “crisis of information”: information is increasingly volatile (it is difficult to establish the origins or status of the fast-changing information which appears on newsfeeds), fragmented (complex bodies of knowledge are re-arranged in continuously shifting shapes), and personalised (access to information is individualised). They also rightly point out that though information literacy is often framed in terms of individual responsibility, “a shared sense of truth, however, requires societal trust, especially institutional trust, at least as an anticipated ideal” (p. 30). Where could this ideal lie? How can trust in institutions be rebuilt? The premise of the Wikipedia and Education in the Time of the “Crisis of Information” symposium is that Wikipedia – the freely accessible online project where encyclopaedic knowledge is collectively produced following transparently applied rules such as neutrality, reliability, and notability – represents a useful place to start. News framings of Wikipedia have shifted over time: after being derided, its epistemological model was gradually accepted; later on biases resulting from gender imbalances were criticised; finally in the “post-truth” era Wikipedia has been portrayed as a “good cop” or as the “last bastion of shared reality” online (Benjakob & Harrison, 2020). Yet not all institutions have embraced it; outdated understandings are common. Nor is Wikipedia itself, as an institution, beyond reproach. To address these issues, the Wikipedia and Education in the Time of the “Crisis of Information” symposium brings together academics who use Wikipedia as part of their teaching practice and research its socio-technical affordances, and key actors the academia-Wikipedia divide. Participants will share their experiences, address Wikipedia’s potential to address the “crisis of information”, and critically reflect on what role educational institutions can play in this respect.

  • Mathieu O’Neil, NMRC, Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra
  • LiAnna Davis, Deputy Director, Wiki Education
  • Thomas Shafee, Swinburne University - Editor, WikiJournal of Science

  • Rachel Cunneen, Faculty of Education, University of Canberra
  • Toby Hudson, Faculty of Science, University of Sydney
  • Amanda Lawrence, ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S), RMIT University
  • Pru Mitchell, Wikimedia Australia
  • James Neill, Faculty of Health, University of Canberra

Presentation summaries and short biographies (alphabetical order)

Wikipedia and information literacy in schools

In today’s ‘attention economy’, time is precious. Yet many educators still encourage deep, critical engagement with online information. This strategy is too time-consuming. Instead, students should be taught the means to quickly assess which claims are worth paying attention to. Challenging negative perceptions of Wikipedia’s reliability in the teaching community, we trial using Wikipedia as a fact-checking tool in three primary and middle ACT school. We present findings of how teachers and students reacted to these lesson plans

Rachel Cunneen is Senior Lecturer in English and Literacy Education, and Deputy Program Director of Secondary Studies in UC’s Faculty of Education.

Mathieu O’Neil is Associate Professor of Communication at UC’s News and Media Research Centre, where he leads the Critical Conversations Lab, and Honorary Associate Professor of Sociology at the ANU. He researches the digital commons, information literacy, and the trajectories of issues in the online environment. He was a founding member of the Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks (VOSON) Lab at the ANU in 2006. He founded the Journal of Peer Production in 2011 and the Digital Commons Policy Council in 2021.

Addressing Wikipedia’s content gaps

Only 19% of Wikipedia’s biographies are of women. Coverage of other historically excluded populations is even worse. And as the climate crisis speeds up, scientific information on Wikipedia quickly becomes outdated. Wiki Education addresses English Wikipedia's content gaps on key topics at scale by working within academic and cultural institutions, guiding those who are already doing this scholarship to use Wikipedia as their platform. In this introductory keynote, LiAnna Davis will discuss some Wiki Education programs in the US/Canada. And in her capacity as chair of the global Wikipedia & Education User Group, she will also share her perspective on global opportunities.

LiAnna Davis is the Chief Programs Officer and Deputy Director for Wiki Education. With more than twelve years' experience in running programs connecting Wikipedia and academia, LiAnna is one of the world's leading experts in teaching with Wikipedia. LiAnna has played a pivotal role in creating Wikipedia education programs in eight countries worldwide and supported the work of volunteers in more than 50 additional countries.

Getting structured data about anything and everything

Each language version of Wikipedia represents each topic with blocks of written text. A lesser-known aspect of the Wikimedia system is an even more massive, multilingual, open, ontologically flexible, and editable database, ‘Wikidata’, that links all of these topics together in a huge network of structured knowledge. In this presentation I will show that it is fairly easy to get whatever data sets you need. I'll also demonstrate a browser tool which shows you a layer of metadata as you browse, to enhance your information density and fact-checking ability.

Wikimedia and the evidence ecosystem

Wikimedia platforms rely on credible citations and sources, which are based on a complex knowledge and media economy involving diverse genres, formats, publishers and institutions and the codes of verification and credibility that they use. This talk will provide a critical overview of the diverse evidence ecosystem which underpins Wikimedia citations.

Dr Amanda Lawrence is a researcher and librarian specialising in open knowledge, research communication and public knowledge infrastructure. She is currently Research Fellow, Open Knowledge Systems at RMIT University and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S) and also Wikimedian in Residence at the Centre. Her previous roles include Director of Analysis & Policy Observatory (, and Literature Program Manager at the Asialink Centre, University of Melbourne. Amanda is a member of Wikimedia Australia and currently President of the WMAU Board.

Using Wikipedia in Class

Using Wikipedia as a class activity has been shown to "cultivate critical thinking and digital literacy skills, develop specialist expertise, and contribute to the social good" (Mayhew, 2019). This presentation shares feedback from educators who have incorporated Wikipedia into their teaching, and outlines ways in which Wikimedia Australia can support educators to add Wikipedia to their pedagogical toolkit.

Pru Mitchell has been involved in the Australian chapter of Wikimedia since its inception. She is an educator and librarian, working as Manager of Information Services at the Australian Council for Educational Research, and is an adjunct in information studies at Charles Sturt University.

Using Wikiversity for teaching and learning

Wikiversity is less well-known than its popular sister, Wikipedia, but is part of the same ecosystem of wiki projects supported by the Wikimedia Foundation. Whilst Wikipedia allows people to develop encyclopaedic information, Wikiversity is for teaching, learning, and research. Thus, Wikiversity offers provides a "perfect" platform for open academic practices. Teachers, students, and researchers can build, discuss, share, and collaborate on open educational resources and related learning projects. By participating in Wikiversity learning communities, academics and students can develop collaborative online writing and discussion skills, and come to appreciate the value of openness and transparency in knowledge development.

James Neill is an Assistant Professor in Psychology at the University of Canberra. He is an advocate of open academia including the development and sharing of open educational resources via the Wikimedia Foundation wiki projects. James is a custodian and bureaucrat on English Wikiversity where he has supported over 1000 psychology students to create new content about motivation and emotion topics.

Wikipedia as a key research outreach and teaching platform

Wikipedia touches all areas of university life. For researchers trying to reach people outside of their sub-field, it is the most effective option available for academic outreach – being read by a huge and diverse demographic (think practitioners, policymakers, journalists, grant reviewers). As well as being directly used by students, its transparency and auditability also make it a perfect platform to teach transferable digital literacy skills. This session will introduce some of the key ways in which Wikipedia works in an academic context, and how collaborations with the academic ecosystem are improving the encyclopedia’s coverage of complex topics.

Dr Thomas Shafee is a data scientist and evolutionary biochemist with a background in research, consulting and research support. He is also a keen contributor to Wikipedia, focusing on improving diagrams and citations for scientific topics. He organises Wikipedia-Academia integration as an editor for PLOS Genetics and the WikiJournal publishing group.

Works cited
  • Benjakob, O. & Harrison, S. (2020) From anarchy to wikiality, glaring bias to good cop: Press coverage of Wikipedia’s first two decades. In Reagle, J. & Koerner. J. (Eds.) Wikipedia @ 20: Stories of an Incomplete Revolution. The MIT Press.
  • Haidder, J. & Sundin, O. (2022) Paradoxes of Media and Information Literacy. The Crisis of Information. Routledge.
  • Nohrstedt SA (1991) The information crisis in Sweden after Chernobyl. Media, Culture & Society 13(4): 477-497
Additional resources
  • Cunneen, R. & O'Neil, M. (2021, Nov. 5). Students are told not to use Wikipedia for research. But it’s a trustworthy source. The Conversation.
  • O’Neil, M. & Jensen, M. (2022, Aug. 12) Three reasons why disinformation is so pervasive and what we can do about it. The Conversation. The Conversation.
  • Wineburg, S., Breakstone, J., McGrew, S., Smith, M. D., & Ortega, T. (2022). Lateral reading on the open Internet: A district-wide field study in high school government classes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 114(5), 893–909.
  • Wineburg & McGrew (2018, Dec. 18). To avoid getting duped by fake news, think like a fact checker. Huffington Post.

Co-Developing a New Approach to Media Literacy in the Attention Economy

This research project is part of the Affiliated Schools Research program, in which researchers from the University of Canberra collaborate with ACT schools. The UC researchers are Rachel Cunneen (Faculty of Education) and Mathieu O’Neil (News and Media Research Centre, Faculty of Arts and Design). The teachers and teacher-librarians are Brianne Carrigy (Stromlo High School), Reece Cheater (Harrison School), Wayde Margetts (Ainslie school), Michelle O’Brien (Harrison School) and Kelly Turner (Kaleen primary school).

TheCo-Developing a New Approach to Media Literacy in the Attention Economyresearch project was supported by funding from an ACT Education-UC Affiliated Schools Research grant; by a University of Canberra DVCRI seed industry grant; and by a US Embassy (Australia) Public Affairs grant.