Reaching into the past: Working with Wikipedia and students

Matthew Neely, Bodleian archivist in charge of the Rycote website, shows original manuscripts to sixth formers
Matthew Neely, Bodleian archivist in charge of the Rycote website, shows original manuscripts to sixth formers

This post was written by Liz McCarthy, Communications and Social Media Officer for the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford

After organising two ‘regular’ editathons, I feel fairly comfortable with the processes involved in getting a group of adults together to learn about and use Wikipedia and our resources at the same time. But with the recent launch of Rediscovering Rycote, an online archival resource exploring a Tudor mansion, we wanted to try something different.

Wikipedia provides the ideal platform for getting students to think about sources of information and why they matter. We decided to invite a group of 30 Year 12 students to join us for a morning session on Wikipedia; working with Merton College’s Schools Liaison & Access Officer meant that students could round off the day at Merton College, taking a look at University life.

The students, who came from seven schools around southern England, started their morning session learning about the Rycote resource from the project archivist. Once they knew what they were dealing with, Doug Taylor, our Wikimedia trainer, began to introduce them to the basics of Wikipedia.

Doug walked the students through their accounts as well as the various components of a Wikipedia article and some of the basic editing formats, especially those for citations. Once they felt comfortable, the students moved on to adding images related to the Rycote project to Wikimedia Commons, using the online resource to ensure they added the correct metadata. We talked them through adding the images to the articles themselves; although there wasn’t time for a great deal of article editing, some students were able to update articles with images. As we finished up, the students had the opportunity to look at some of the original documents featured on the website – including a letter signed by Elizabeth I, which elicited some ‘oooohs’.

The session’s goals were partially different than a typical editathon. Rather than facilitating lots of editing, we hoped to show students how editing worked and give them the tools to approach it on their own. It may be too early to know whether the students will return to Wikipedia, but comments during the day along the lines of ‘I hadn’t realised how easy this was!’ and ‘I could definitely do this at home’ were encouraging.