London Wikipedia Academy: post event report

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An event at Imperial College London on 13th April, hosted by the newly formed Wikipedians at IC (the first Wikipedia student society in the UK), started a debate about how Wikipedia should be used in Higher Education. This ground-breaking, exciting discussion - of fundamental importance to London’s many higher education institutions – was enjoyed by all attendees. The group of Wikipedians, academics and librarians who gathered to hear 4 expert speakers on this topic all believed they had come away having heard something both original and important. After all – which student does not use Wikipedia in their work today? (Answer: not many).

Speakers' talks

Charles Matthews, is a former mathematics lecturer and Fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge and also a prolific Wikipedian. He set the scene in Wikipedia and academia: Culture clash? Broadly depicting a Wikipedia ethos of “assume good faith” and an academia ethos of “there are minimum standards,” he suggested two bridges between them. Firstly, that growing a Wikipedia article can mean a selective chopping and changing much akin to growth of academic lecture notes into a book – good faith (in possibly flawed previous works) and minimum standards (in end works) coincide here. Secondly, that we should move from arguments away from authority; part of assuming good faith on Wikipedia is to assume it in all contributors – equally, without merit to academic background. This requires, therefore, that contributors must have minimum standards (of references, argument etc.) in order to win the day in editing discussions that are set as the ideal governing medium for Wikipedia articles.

Henry Rzepa, Professor of computational chemistry at Imperial College, discussed the historical relationship between Wikipedia and the molecular sciences. He first described the essence of Wikipedia, Describing his use of Wikipedia as a tool to teach students, been applied in teaching, he mentioned how interested students wrote articles about specific molecules. Right now, there are 58,045,845 molecules in the world as shown in Wikipedia, and he described how the work done at Imperial can be replicated to every one of these molecules through Wikipedia.

Alex Stinson is an American undergraduate student with majors in English and History. Currently studying as a visiting student at Hertford College, Oxford, he described in depth the current Campus Ambassadors program in the United States. The program includes students from Indiana University, University of Michigan and Harvard University engaging in courses designed through dedicated, trained Campus Ambassadors. All courses involve editing of Wikipedia articles. The so-called "media literacy" skills gained in this process include writing for the general reader, using HTML script, and learning how to add to existing bodies of work. Campus ambassadors across the world are engaged in co-ordinating these courses with professors who actively desire the program within their course.

Dr. Jacob de Wolff, a registrar in acute medicine at University College Hospital, described his personal journey into Wikipedia as a doctor who founded Wikiproject medicine. His example demonstrated how academics with passion can edit Wikipedia fruitfully, and also commented on his motivations for doing so. He described how editing entails keeping up to date with new research, involves international collaboration, and can benefit developing countries where expensive educational resources are lacking; these motivations continue to appeal to him today.


We believe that this event was a breakthrough in talking about Wikipedia. The approach was not simply to support Wikipedia, but to start talking about the evidence delineating Wikipedia’s strengths and weaknesses. This top-level discussion has generated much enthusiasm and many ideas for further work – if you agree, please join the debate! Wikipedians at Imperial College