Education projects/Anatomy of a university
Universities are important partner organisations for Wikimedia. As creators, preservers, and sharers of knowledge, they have a mission which strongly overlaps with Wikimedia's goal of free knowledge for everyone. They are very complex organisations, both in their internal structure and how they benefit their locality and the wider world. This page is a guide to that complexity, to help Wikimedians and university staff looking at ways to collaborate.
Global reach and global reputation are important to universities, and increasingly so. With the growth of open education and open publication of research, there is increasing pressure for universities to be visibly involved in freeing up knowledge. While a high proportion of UK universities have a well-established, even ancient, reputation, they are keen to innovate and to adapt to technological and cultural change. Wikimedia can help with all of this. Here are the broad areas where we can work together:
- Universities have students
There are various ways to use Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects in teaching. The most developed model, used in many courses around the world, is the Wikipedia Education Programme. Students get a real motivation to write reliably and neutrally, and See the case studies booklet or education portal for examples.
Outside the curriculum, Wikimedia UK and its partner organisations can help to support student societies, creating events focused on a particular topic. This needs active involvement and leadership from within the student body, however.
- Universities have expertise
By improving Wikipedia, experts can inform the widest possible audience about their research, and meet some of their obligations to inform and engage the public. This is particularly useful for early-career academics who want to practise writing for a lay audience, or for late-career academics who want to sum up their field. Expert contributions might involve being trained as a Wikipedia editor, or might be as simple as releasing research outputs or educational materials under a Creative Commons licence so that Wikimedia can use them with attribution. See expert outreach.
- Universities have libraries and archives
Although much of our work with universities comes under the heading of education or expert outreach, some universities GLAM. Libraries often have special collections, such as documents related to local history, or the private papers of a notable academic. By sharing this unique content digitally through Wikimedia, the university can raise its global profile. See cultural partnerships.
- Universities are notable in their own right
Within a campus there might be many notable buildings, people or things. There might already be ongoing efforts to document the history and activities of the university. Working with Wikimedia might be the best way to get this information to a global audience.
An example: the University of Bristol
It is natural for outsiders to think of a university in terms of the different subjects it teaches and researches, and hence in terms of faculties, schools and departments. There are also a lot of support services working across subjects, and these can be the most useful places to approach to discuss collaboration with Wikimedia.
The following overview of some support services within the University of Bristol was compiled by Sam Knight (the university's Wikimedia Outreach Ambassador) with Martin Poulter.
Bear in mind that in recent years (as of 2012), the UK Higher Education sector has been through major changes in its funding, which have seen many universities making deep cuts. Academic and support staff are expected to do more with greater numbers of students. Even if a project is a good idea, that does not mean that they will have time to implement it. People will be most receptive to ideas that save them time, and not just in the long run.
Don't expect to get instant results in the first meeting: often what we are asking on behalf of Wikimedia involves significant cultural change and the involvement of more than one member of staff.
The Education Support Unit: pretty much all universities have something like this, but under widely varying names, such as "Learning and Teaching Unit", "Teaching Support Unit", "Learning and Teaching Institute", or a variation of "Learning Enhancement" or "Learning/Teaching Development". This group maintains case studies of innovative teaching, runs events about teaching innovation and is involved in training teaching staff. They will know the lecturers in each subject who are most receptive to educational uses of Wikimedia projects.
The ESU includes the e-learning unit which support technologies in teaching. In other universities the equivalent might be called the "Blended Learning Unit" or similar. This team will be well informed not just about new technologies but the cultural and educational possibilities around them, and are most likely to be well-informed about Wikipedia and about open and free content. They might be involved in projects to produce online learning materials such as video lectures, and so might be amenable to a conversation about Wikipedia-compatible licences.
The university library provides induction sessions for new students, including advice on the proper use of online resources. By approaching subject librarians, we were able to include a couple of slides about the strengths and weaknesses of Wikipedia.
The Centre for Public Engagement works with staff across the university "to engage the public through events, direct involvement in research and teaching, and other activities". "Engagement" means more than mere dissemination of research results, but there are ideas Public engagement professionals are well worth talking to
Research and Enterprise Development is the entrepreneurial hub of the university, working with staff in all the departments to look at ways to engage. Again, different institutions use widely varying names for the equivalent team, but the word "Enterprise" is usually present. Staff within RED have been extremely helpful in creating the Wikimedia Ambassador post, opening doors around the university and advocating the advantages of working with Wikimedia.
Many universities have what's called an institutional repository: an archive of research papers and other research outputs. Bristol has ROSE, the Repository of Scholarly E-prints. Some funders require research outputs to be freely available to the public, and the institutional repository is one way this can happen.
The Institute for Advanced Studies fosters interdisciplinary events and projects that bring together researchers from across the university.
Content and collections
Special Collections is a section of the library hosting "printed books and journals, archival resources and artefacts in support of the academic work of the University and the wider scholarly community" including the Penguin Archive Project. There are special collections of significant documents or artefacts dotted around other parts of the university, for example:
- Botanic gardens
- Theatre Collection
- Centre for the History of music in Britain, the Empire and the Commonwealth
- European Documentation Centre
Student societies may be receptive to a presentation or joint event around using or improving Wikipedia or Commons in their subject area.