Interview with Shani Evenstein Sigalov

Author Shani Evenstein

How did the Wikimedian adventure started for you? 

That’s a really nice story, actually. 🙂 It was 2011 and Wikimania was hosted that year in Haifa, Israel. I was already part of the Open Knowledge Movement, heavily involved in Project Ben-Yehuda, a digital library of Hebrew writings (very similar to Project Gutenberg, only in Hebrew). A good friend of mine, who was already a Wikimedian (without me knowing about it!), said to me: „Listen, there’s this conference happening. I think you should come.“ Being very busy back then as well, I said, „I don’t know… I’m really busy… I’m not sure I can find the time“. But I then decided to make the time and go. On the week of the conference, I suddenly got a strong gut feeling, and said to my best friend: „I have a feeling about this conference, that it’s gonna be life-changing; it’ll be life before that conference and life after it“. And this is exactly what happened – I came, and on the first day attended a few sessions on GLAMWiki and Wiki in Education, and that was it. I was completely hooked. That day I joined Wikimedia Israel, had my first private lesson editing Wikipedia, and a week later I attended our first GLAM meeting with the Israel Museum. This led to leading the GLAM collaboration with them, then becoming the National GLAM Projects Coordinator for Wikimedia Israel, running lots of Educational Wiki outreach, lecturing about Wikipedia and running workshops for beginners, and also joining the board of Wikimedia Israel, all within a few months. I immediately got involved in the international aspects of our movement, and here we are, 8 happy years later, Wikimedia completely transformed my life and I never looked back. 

You are member of different Wiki groups and communities – tell us more about this?

Yes, I’ve been involved in various thematic groups throughout the years, and that stems from the fact that Wiki Outreach has always been the thing that I like to do most, good at and felt I can best have impact through. I am an educator at heart (and by profession), and loved talking to others about Wikipedia and other Wiki projects, training them and also creating partnerships with different organization to help knowledge become free and available to everyone. I’ve worked mostly with Educational, Cultural and Governmental institutions, both in Israel, and as years went by, in other places in the world as well. Being able to create long-lasting partnerships is therefore one of my favorite things to do, and it was also a great way to bring more women to activities and build the community, which is something I care deeply about. As years went by, I got heavily involved in Education, GLAM, Libraries, Medicine, and in recent years – Wikidata, running lots of different activities in each of them. Being involved in a variety of thematic groups working internationally, I started noticing that there are gaps, things missing, tools missing, training missing for the movement as a whole, things that local affiliates were not able to fix, and that the WMF did not touch as well. This got me increasingly involved in governance and in recent years I have been the chair for the WikiProject Medicine User Group and the founder and Chair of the Wikipedia & Education User Group. Both groups have similar goals, such as creating a global network of Wikimedians who can learn from each other, help and mentor newcomers, help curate and map information around our global activities and advocating internally for our joint needs, like technological tools (such as the Programs & Events Dashboard, or GLAM uploading tools). I’ve also been a founding member of the libraries User Group, am involved in the GLAM community and in recent years, very much involved in Wikidata. In all of them I try to connect people, create missing platform and advocate for the needs of these communities, so we can do a better job freeing knowledge together. 

You have your university course on Wikipedia – please share more details on this topic.

Yes! I’m very proud of my courses. It all started in 2013. I was a Wikimedian for 2 then, very much involved in the chapter and in outreach, when I heard that the Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University (TAU), where I work for a living, was looking for new and interesting elective courses for the Israeli Medical Program. So I simply said, „Why don’t we have a course about Wikipedia? It’ll be a win-win. Students will learn skills and will contribute Medical content to Hebrew to Wikipedia, which will benefit everyone!“. I thought I was just throwing this in the air (as I used to do in every opportunity I had, planting seeds, as Wikimedians do), but a  week later the head of the Academic Affairs Committee contacted me and said, „Let’s go for it. Please send me a syllabus and we’ll see if the Academic Affairs Committee approves it.“ 
So I had a new challenge, as this was uncharted territory. While we had lots of collaborations in academia with lecturers giving their students assignments related to Wikipedia, we never had a complete academic course, that gives students academic credit for learning about Wikipedia and editing it. So I used all my experience as an EdTech Innovation Strategist and Curriculum Developer, combined with my experience teaching Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects to newbies, and created a course syllabus. 
The course was approved by the Academic Affairs Committee and started in October of 2013, being the first course in the world to do that.The course has been running for 6 years now, with over 200 students participating over the years, creating almost 300 new medical-related articles on Hebrew Wikipedia, about 10% of all medical content in Hebrew, which have been viewed Millions of times by the public. And most importantly, the students reported a unique learning experience, saying the course as been a very meaningful experience in their academic lives. 
2 years after the success of Wiki-Med, I was able to convince the University Rector’s Office to approve a second course on campus, this time for all disciplines, not just Medicine. This course, which started in October 2015, is now available to all undergraduate students at TAU from all parts of the campus. In it, students reported a meaningful learning experience and contributed to a variety of topics in Wikipedia, WikiCommons and Wikidata, again, being viewed millions of times by the public. This year I revised the course completely and created a new course for the campus. I called it „From Web 2.0 to Web 3.0, From Wikipedia to Wikidata“, making it the first course in the world to feature Wikidata (right on time for its 6th birthday! :)). 
Besides what mentioned above, I’m extremely proud that my courses are also serving as a way to teach inclusivity and are doing something active to close the gender gap. In terms of inclusivity, a third of my course is composed of Arabic Native Speakers, as well as people who’s mother tongue may be Russian, French or Spanish. No doubt, those students struggle more with writing in a language that is different from their mother tongue, but I give them extra support and it gives me an opportunity to talk about knowledge gaps and how we are making an effort to be inclusive of all the voices in the world. Which also connects with the second point – in each course, the students must write 2 new articles, and at least 1 of them must be from the Women-in-Red initiative, part of the WikiWomen global efforts to close the gender gap. Some students understand the importance of doing that and closing other knowledge gaps so much, that they dedicate their second article to topics from the Women-in-Red list as well. In Wiki-Med course, for instance, He-Wiki did not even have a „Women’s Health“ category. We created it in the course and have been populating it ever since, so the students also feel like what they do actually matters. 
As years went by, my courses became a source of research. My MA thesis examined the Wiki-Med course or more broadly, incorporating Wikipedia into the Academic Curriculum, and my PhD focuses on Wikidata as a learning platform. So my academic work is now intertwined with my Wiki work and my research work, and I think that’s great. It give my work a chance to create impact beyond my university, and inspire other educators around the world to do the same.

What is your personal motivation to be an active part of the Wiki movement?

First and foremost, it is a deep and strong belief that all humans have the right for free education and access to knowledge and that what we do together matters. I also like being able to fix things that don’t work well, which has always been a strength of mine. This touches on ‘righting wrongs’, which is driven by a strong sense of justice. In addition, I like helping communities grow and empower individuals to fulfill their potential is one of my greatest joys in life, which is related to my educator’s nature. And finally, I have a tendency towards „Big picture“ processes and long-term projects management – I’ve always liked to drive projects from the idea phase to making them a reality. I like the different aspects of managing a process, relationships and working with others to realize a vision, which is partly why my passion has always been in Outreach and my talent has been creating long-term partnerships and connecting people. All in all, I think what we do actually matters. We change the world. One wiki-edit at a time. 

Tell us about your favorite Wikimedia project?

As you probably gathered by now, I have a passion for everything Outreach, but I have to say that beyond specific EDU / GLAM / Medicine projects, or even Wiki Loves, which I’ve really appreciated over the years, the biggest and most favorite thing for me in recent years has been Wikidata. It touches on everything we do, and it has the potential to really change the way humans (and machines!) interact with knowledge. 
The potential is so vast that it fascinates me to a point that I chose to dedicate my PhD research to it and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to explore how we can use Wikidata as a teaching and learning platform. I’m finishing the data collection phase in my research these days, and it’s been absolutely wonderful interviewing so many Wikidatans from around the world about their experiences. Hopefully this research will help make more bridges between Wikidata and the academic and research world. Fingers crossed. 🙂

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