This Tuesday, my friend and colleague David Silver invited me to a meeting held in San Francisco's downtown offices of Wikimedia Foundation. Wikimedia is the non-profit organization that supports the creation and delivery of free digital media content. Its most famous project is the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
The purpose of the meeting was for us to get a peek behind the curtain and to discuss ways that wiki-folks might support professors and students in creating public projects to be shared through the Wikimedia platform. I had the pleasure of spending my morning talking about teaching and technology with Wikimedia campus coordinator Annie Lin and professors Melissa Meade, Crispin Thurlow and David Silver.
We discussed several things that students (and faculty) need to understand when working with such a platform.
1. the technical aspects of publishing,
2. media literacy and accuracy, and
3. the culture of Wikimedia: co-creating and sharing media.
From the technical standpoint, publishing to a platform such as Wikipedia presents a barrier. Die-hard Wikipedians may bulk at this idea, but this is a real issue that prevents professors from using the tool in class when we don't want to spend too much class time on learning and troubleshooting the technology.
To help overcome the technology barrier, Wikimedia folks treated us to an excellent printed guide that is also available on the wiki bookshelf for a free download.
In addition to technical help, the guide addresses issues of media literacy also valued in academic writing. The twenty page booklet offers useful tips on what makes a quality article and answers the questions such as, what is the typical structure of a Wikipedia article? What content should be included to give the article credibility? What footnotes, bibliographies and references should the author include?
But even if students overcome the technology and literacy barrier, there is another force to be reckoned with and that is the Wikipedians themselves, who can be...as Wikipedia describes "less agreeable" than most people. J. M. Reagle's recently published book Good Faith Collaboration looks like a very interesting ethnography of Wikipedia culture and may be a good read if you are considering using this platform in class.
During our meeting, everyone in the room seemed sincerely excited about the potential of Wikipedia based assignments. We embrace the idea of encouraging students to contribute to collective knowledge, to collaborate across space with students on other campuses and to become more critical consumers of information.
Wikipedia publishing still feels like quite an undertaking, but it is encouraging to know that the folks at Wikimedia are interested in supporting those of us who are willing to explore this platform for public scholarship.
David with his daughter, talking about teaching in the Wikimedia office.
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