Do try this at home: explorations in Open Knowledge

This is the first in our series of ‘how to’ blog posts from the Bodleian Libraries’ Wikimedian in Residence Martin Poulter. The posts accompany his Open Knowledge Ambassador series. There are still two sessions left – sign up at and

This week, I ran the second workshop in the four-part Open Knowledge Ambassador series. In the appropriately scholarly surroundings of the the Bodleian Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship, we took a look into the underbelly of Wikipedia that the great majority of its readers never see.

It’s apt to be running the course now. At the end of January, a journal editorial warning of ‘research parasites’ (who analyse data they didn’t themselves collect) prompted an outraged but hilarious response. Hundreds of scientists used the #ResearchParasites and #IAmAResearchParasite hashtags on social media to defend the sharing and checking of research data. Climate scientists ‘confessed’ to not having personally launched their satellites into space, and Isaac Newton was sarcastically branded a ‘parasite’ for his remark that he saw far by standing on the shoulders of giants. It was a great example of the tension between those who think knowledge benefits from an open process, and those who want that process enclosed.

Each workshop is 1.5 hours, and the emphasis on active learning means that a lot of this is spent in tasks in which we dig into Wikipedia and related sites or tools, and discuss what we find. This is a fun way for me to share my insider knowledge, and for participants to explore resources that are relevant to their own interests.

Working with open resources has its headaches. This week’s starting point was the WikiProject Directory: an index of projects to improve specific subject areas of Wikipedia. When I brought the directory up on screen, it had just been massively vandalised, so I had to begin the presentation by reverting the vandalism. That’s never been a problem in Powerpoint.

On the way, we’ve explored the strengths of the wiki platform as well as the weaknesses. A misconception among academics is that Wikipedia throws everything together without the traditional publishers’ concern for quality. It’s quite a shock for people to see how much contextual information there is about the quality and authorship of articles, and how much effort goes into various review processes.

‘Open’ goes beyond ‘public’. Imagine the following:

  • A museum creates an online image gallery of its exhibits.
  • Educators write overviews of key historical events that are available in an eBook.
  • Researchers publish some key facts and figures as a table in a PDF document.

These might all be great resources, but it’s a mistake to call them ‘open access’ (as people sometimes do) just because they can be accessed without subscription. When we talk about ‘free and open’ we mean content that is not tied to one particular way of accessing it. We mean the ability to remix and reuse, not just read.

Untitled2What does a remix of knowledge and culture look like? In the course we’ve had hands-on experience with a few examples. Histropedia is independent of the Wikimedia charity, but uses data, images and text from Wikipedia and related projects to create interactive timelines. It provides a new and educational way to look at a topic. Other tools display Wikipedia’s knowledge on a map, in abstract conceptual space, or in a weird hybrid of encyclopedia and database. If Wikimedia sites and their contributors did not explicitly allow remixing, these kinds of tool would not exist, and the world of education and research would be poorer for it.

True to the open spirit, I am documenting the workshops, and all participant feedback, on a public wiki. I’m also using Wikipedia talk pages to keep in touch with participants. The worksheets are available to download, as editable files. Anyone is welcome to use them to run a discussion or training session around Wikipedia and related sites.

Note: it’s still possible for University of Oxford staff or students to book for Workshop 3: ‘Putting knowledge in‘ and Workshop 4: ‘Building collaborations‘.

Two easy ways to protect your online identity

Today’s guest post comes from Dan Q, Web & CMS Developer for the Bodleian Libraries as well as Technical Director of Three Rings

Love locks of the Brooklyn Bridge

Practicing good Internet security is like having a burglar alarm. Burglar alarms, contrary to popular belief, don’t prevent burglary. They don’t even prevent burglary against your property. What they do, though, is they stop you from being an easy target, so the criminals go elsewhere. A particularly determined burglar could learn how to override or break the alarm and could watch your house for weeks on end to learn the perfect time to strike. But unless you’re storing priceless diamonds in your living room, they won’t bother: they’ll just leave you alone and find an easier target.

Burglar alarms, multipoint locks, and motion-sensing lights are popular ways to make your home safer because they’re easy to use and easy to understand. So what two things we can all do to easily improve the safety of our online accounts?

Use two-factor authentication

Many websites require you to log in using a password. That’s what we call the ‘first factor’ of authentication – something you know. The problem with passwords is that if somebody else finds out what you know (for example by guessing, by breaking into a database, by using spyware to record what you type or even just by standing over your shoulder), then they can take over your account. You might not even know about it until it’s too late – for example, when they delete all your emails or use your social network accounts to try to con money out of your friends.

The ‘second factor’ of authentication is something you have. If you use online banking, your bank might require you to use not only your password but also a dongle (perhaps one that you put your bank card into) to doubly prove your identity. It’s an incredibly effective way to protect an account, and you can do it in more places than you’d think, using nothing more than your mobile phone. Learn how to set it up on:

Use different passwords everywhere

These days, people are getting pretty good at coming up with passwords that are long and complex, so that they can’t be guessed by hackers. But we’re all still pretty bad at not reusing passwords, and that’s dangerous. If you use the same password for any two of your accounts, then an attacker might only need to break into one of those two systems in order to break into the other. And because the bad guys can rely upon the majority of the people with accounts on the first system using the same passwords for their accounts on the second, this kind of attack is very popular.

Remembering hundreds of different passwords is just-about impossible, though. But the good news is, you don’t have to! There are a plethora of password managers: programs which will remember your passwords for you. Some keep your passwords securely on a pendrive, others store them encrypted on the web, others still represent a ‘formula’ by which passwords can be generated (and re-generated) on demand. Not only do these tools make you more secure online, but – once you get used to them – they actually make your online life faster and easier, too. Try one of these:

  • LastPass and DashLane are both easy-to-use, free, web-based password managers, with optional low-priced top-ups for extra features like smartphone editions and advanced two-factor authentication options
  • KeePass is free and open source, and runs on your computer or pendrive, which some people consider more convenient or secure, but can take a little more work to get started
  • SuperGenPass generates unique passwords for each site you use, based on a master password (that you don’t use anywhere else); instead of remembering passwords, you just re-generate them; and it’s free
  • Mac users might also consider 1Password, and Unix geeks might like pass

Learning via social

This guest post is from Helen Webster, an academic developer at Anglia Ruskin University. She’s particularly interested in digital literacy in Higher Education and has run several online programmes on social media for academics and students.

It’s long been recognised that digital technology has huge potential to enhance and even to revolutionise education, from the educational TV of the 1960s to the Virtual Learning Environments of the 1990s. Most recently, the Open Education movement promotes the use of Creative Commons licenses to allow learners and educators to use materials without falling foul of copyright legislation, and outside of traditional education contexts like universities. The latest innovation to capture the imagination of students, educators and the press are MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses, offered for free by universities and other providers to as many students across the world as want to take them, packaging high quality content into a wide variety of interesting courses. You already have some MOOC experience – 23Things for Research is itself a sort of MOOC! Although the University of Oxford doesn’t officially participate in MOOCs currently, it does provide a wide range of OERs – Open Educational Resources – via Open Spires

But what makes the latest digital innovations in online learning so exciting is that social media enables learners to create, participate and share online, instead of just passively consuming educational content. We know that people learn something best when they’re actively exploring new ideas or solving problems together, rather than just being told about it or reading about it. And social media platforms facilitate this interactive learning via social networking tools, blogs, wikis, video and audio creating platforms, cloud storage and content curation, social bookmarking – all the tools, in fact, that you’re exploring in this programme!

Whether you’re participating in a MOOC or using online resources as part of informal professional development or to supplement your formal education, here are some suggestions for making social media an effective part of your learning approach:

Build a Personal Learning Network: Use networking platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to connect to people who are interested in the same things, and who will share resources which may be useful to you. If you manage your learning network well, your Twitter or Facebook feed can become a stream of interesting, relevant and useful resources which people have shared or sent your way.

Curate and manage: Make sure you have a robust system for finding interesting content again when you’ve discovered it, using curation apps like Pocket, Mendeley, Evernote or Delicious (editor’s note to participants:  most of these these aren’t an official ‘Thing’, but we’ll cover them a bit in Week 8). That way, you’ll be able to dig it out again for yourself or for others when you need to. Use tagging and metadata well, and you’ll not only be able to build up a personal library of resources, but you’ll be able to curate and share a collection which others will find useful too.

Create and share: You can learn quite a lot by lurking online and consuming content, but you will learn even more by making things yourself. Blogging, tweeting, creating and sharing Slideshares, infographics or videos will help you to process and articulate what you’ve learned at a deeper level, and well as developing your digital skills. What’s more, by sharing these artefacts, you’ll be helping others to learn from you, getting feedback from them on your own learning, evidencing your development and promoting your expertise. Many of these tools make it easy to create and share materials, meaning that it’s not just teachers and publishers these days who get to make learning materials; learner-generated materials are just as valuable a part of the process. It’s certainly more creative than just writing essays!

Interact and participate: Liking, sharing, retweeting and better still, responding, commenting and reblogging will help to build connections between you and others in your personal learning network. These social networks thrive on reciprocity, and your feedback, questions and encouragement will not only help others to learn, but will help you develop your own critical skills, start useful conversations and make new contacts to collaborate and share with. As well as making it more likely that others will do the same for you!

The internet has vast potential as a learning resource, but that is greatly increased when it’s not just a ‘broadcast’ medium through which you can passively consume content, but a social space where you participate, interact and contribute to the learning resources available.

Thinking strategically: Five things to do before you start using social media

The third in our series of guest post comes from Liz McCarthy, who runs 23 Things for Research and is the Communications and Social Media Officer for the Bodleian Libraries.

A little strategy goes a long way

A little strategy goes a long way

When you’re just tweeting for yourself or using Facebook to post photos of friends and family, you don’t generally think about your goals or impact. But when you start to use social media and other digital tools professionally – particularly if you are using them on behalf of a project, a department or a university – a strategy becomes more and more important. Like marketing plans or business documents, social media strategies aren’t something we usually learn how to do in higher education. But they don’t have to be difficult; you just need to be able to sit down and think about your goals and how you will measure the impact of what you’re doing online.

So. A social media strategy in five  easy steps?

  1. Do your research. A bit of situational analysis can go a long way. Who is your audience? Students? Other researchers? The public? Media? What tools do they use? You’re probably trying to reach more than one type of group, but it helps to think about who you’re speaking to where and what kind of messages you want them to hear.
  2. Think about your objectives. Are you trying to get the word out about your research or a project? Get people to read a paper? Connect with your students or peers? Objectives need to be specific.
  3. Determine criteria for success. How will you know if you’re doing well? Can you measure how many people go to your article via social media? Maybe you can monitor how many times your students engage with blog posts? Is it important to reach as many people as possible, or to have them interact with you? Success means very different things to different people and different projects, and it’s not always about numbers.
  4. Choose your tools. Which tools and services can you use to accomplish your goals? We’re all busy, and it doesn’t make sense to use every social media tool on offer. Think about your situational analysis. Where are your audiences? If you’re trying to reach students, does it make sense to Tweet, or is a blog the best route? If you’re trying to generate article downloads, what works best? Ask around, do some reading, and experiment.
  5. Write it down. I’m pretty sure that many good social media users out there have thought about some of this already, even if they haven’t set it out on paper. That’s great. Now write it down, whether that means scrawling it on a piece of notepaper and taping it to your monitor or preparing a formal document. At the very least, a written plan will remind you of your goals and success measurement. Beyond that, however, it may be that you can use your strategy when talking to funders or thinking about REF.

These steps and your final strategy should be empowering, not restrictive. Producing a strategy can mean producing something as specific as the BBC’s excellent strategy document (which combines what some see as an ‘appropriate use policy’ with a wider strategy), or something that simply outlines an audience and a mission in a few bullet points. There are lots of examples online, from the simple to the exhaustive, and lots of tools to help you measure how your objectives are doing (Culture 24’s excellent Let’s Get Real action research is a good place to start, and you can take a look at the Evaluating Social Media Impact presentation I gave earlier this year). The key is that you’re thinking about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you’re adapting and changing as your needs develop.

Wikipedia: Learning by sharing knowledge

The second in our series of guest posts come from Jisc Wikimedian Ambassador Martin Poulter, who takes a look at why using Wikipedia in education is important.


Librarians collaborated with Wikipedians old and new to improve articles related to Multnomah County, Oregon.

Billions of people around the world crave education, but lack the resources we take for granted. Adequate libraries and current textbooks are out of their reach, but they are increasingly getting internet access. Meanwhile, every day in universities and schools, talented students are writing essays, then handing them in to be read by a tutor who already knows the topic, to be marked and eventually thrown away. If only that student work could be put into a free, multilingual, knowledge-sharing space.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, is part of a charitable project to give everyone on the planet free access to the sum of all human knowledge. This takes enormous effort from tens of thousands of volunteer editors, and after thirteen years it is still very much a work in progress. In many areas, Wikipedia has a real need for decent, well-written content.

In writing an online encyclopedia, the Wikipedia community needs people to:

  • choose and evaluate sources
  • represent sources with the right amount of relative weight;
  • structure information clearly to convey what is known about that topic;
  • write neutrally without bringing in subjective interpretations and opinions;
  • write in an original way to avoid plagiarism;
  • write accessibly for the widest audience;
  • check grammar and wording;
  • illustrate by finding, creating, or adapting images;
  • review articles against quality criteria;
  • and to discuss and justify these choices with people who may have a different perspective.

So there are research, textual, social and even legal skills involved in being a Wikipedian. Users do not need all these skills from the outset, but can start small and develop them by interacting with the community.

These look very like the skills that we try to develop and sharpen in degree-level education. That is why, in education systems around the world, hundreds of academics have set their students to improve, critique, translate, or illustrate Wikipedia articles. Articles such as Dictator novel, Implicit self-esteem and Nuclear energy policy in the United States have become rich and informative through student involvement.

Writing for the world, rather than just for one’s tutor, is potentially very motivating. It also risks ‘stage fright’. The course and assessment need to be structured to ensure learners are comfortable with Wikipedia’s norms and prepared to make the right sort of contributions.

Many lecturers and teachers are still suspicious of Wikipedia and (in vain) tell students to avoid it altogether. They see it purely as a reference resource. Seeing it as an educational process or as a knowledge-sharing community gives a different perspective: A poor Wikipedia article offers an opportunity to create active – and in some cases extremely rewarding – experiences for learners, while improving the world’s access to free educational material.

The US-based Wikimedia Foundation  has some case studies from educators and here in the UK there is an index of education projects that may provide inspiration and guidance.

Martin Poulter, based at the University of Bristol, is the Jisc Wikimedia Ambassador (funded by Jisc and Wikimedia UK) from July 2013 to March 2014. He edits on Wikipedia as User:MartinPoulter.


Dabbling in Social Media: Starting small

38904ca7-attr-1600x1342A guest post from Abigail G Scheg, Assistant Professor of English at Elizabeth City State University

Although there are already a number of instructors across disciplines and institutions using social media in their classrooms, there are also a number who shy away from these technologies. Some instructors are hesitant because they do not have social media accounts and do not feel that they have the time to commit to it now. Others are wary of student interest and engagement and worry that if students are permitted to use social media accounts, they will lose focus on their coursework.

Generally, the term social media is linked to individual use of certain websites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest. Social media actually refers to any type of writing that has large social engagement, and this includes blogs and wikis. Along with targeted use of Facebook etc., blogs and wikis afford the opportunity for many people to engage, interact and respond.

While Twitter is my favorite social media tool to use in my classrooms, Twitter is a big step for a hesitant instructor. My suggestion is to take small steps with a blog:

  1. Start by investigating the social tools that your LMS (learning management system) offers. In Oxford, that means WebLearn, but for other universities that could be Blackboard or a variety of other tools. Many of these tools have blog, forum and wiki capabilities.
  2. Investigate any WebLearn training (or training for your LMS if you’re outside Oxford) and ask for help (virtual or face-to-face).banner_inst
  3. Begin with one blog assignment such as an introductory forum. Have students introduce themselves at the beginning of the semester and share some information about their lives or interest in the course. Require that the students respond to one another.
  4. Try to engage as well. Comment on a few students’ posts to see if they respond or how they react.
  5. Evaluate the workflow and outcomes of this small implementation. Did it go well? Did you feel unprepared? Did you (dis)like the concept of blogs or wikis, but (dis)like the setup of this particular one?

Once you make a small step, you will feel more comfortable taking additional steps. If this initial blog is successful, then you could require blog posts as a weekly assignment. Or you could move outside WebLearn or your LMS to a blog website like Blogger or WordPress (see Thing 2: Setting up a blog, for help).

Eventually, you could venture into more experimental social media websites such as Twitter. Always take time to familiarise yourself with a new technology before implementing it in the classroom. Allow yourself a time to learn the etiquette and capabilities of a social media website in case your students have questions. You will find a tool that works for you, the students, and your specific discipline. Before you know it, you’ll will be a social media expert!

Dr Abigail G Scheg is an Assistant Professor of English at Elizabeth City State University in the department of Language, Literature, and Communication (LLC). She researches and publishes in the areas of online pedagogy, social media, first-year composition, and popular culture. On the off chance she is not working, Dr. Scheg can be found enjoying time with her husband, family, friends, or traveling.