The Wonderful World of Wikipedia

Last time I posted Elizabeth Dillon came to our university to discuss the Early Caribbean Digital Archive of which she is a co-creator. It was very enlightening to listen to her talk about creating the archive and the different plans she and her partners have for the archive in the future. It made me realize how time consuming and meticulous it is to create such a thing as an archive. New parts of the archive can only go public after much work and deliberation. While I never assumed that as soon as the idea for the archive was born the archive itself–POOF!–appeared online, it was still interesting to hear Professor Dillon’s talk. I truly respect all of the hard work that goes into creating an archive like the Early Caribbean Digital Archive. To tie it back to my final project, archives are also a type of “unfinished text”–its content and its online platform need constant revising and reworking so the user receives the best result possible.

But that’s not the only reason I’m posting tonight. I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve learned about what I call “The Wonderful World of Wikipedia” and how Wikipedia can be and is used in a university “classroom.”¬†(I’m putting “classroom” in quotation marks because I’m not sure if it is useful to call what I’m talking about–and what digital humanities scholars are talking about–a classroom. A classroom implies a hierarchy between the teacher and the student as well as a “traditional” way of learning. In other words, the students learn and the teachers teach; there is somewhat of a divide between them. This way of learning is also grade centered–students complete work for a specific purpose: a grade. Sometimes the grade is the only result of their work. That is to say, sometimes the grade is what the students “get” out of their assignments. But I digress…)

This week, for class, we were asked to take a look at the digital book, Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics, and choose a chapter in the book to blog about (which is what I’m doing now ūüôā ). ¬†However, before I begin I’d like to give a short preface. This week in class we’ll be discussing Digital Humanities Pedagogy and what that means for the future of higher education (and possibly education in general). In preparation for our class discussion we were asked to read a couple of works other than Digital Humanities Pedagogy. These works are: Cathy N. Davidson’s and David Theo Goldberg’s “Ten Principles for the Future of Learning” and Hybrid Pedagogy’s (Jesse Stommel’s and Sean Michael Morris’s) “A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age.” Both works imply that the digital world is creating a new way of learning that is affecting students and teachers. Because our way of learning is changing, our “classrooms” have to change as well. These works outline the principles of the Digital Humanities “classroom,” of learning in the digital age. Learning should (and is starting to) happen¬†“horizontally” (the teachers can teach and learn; the students can learn and teach). Learning also happens collaborative; learning becomes about the process rather than the result of the learning. ¬†In the last chapter in¬†Digital Humanities Pedagogy,¬†“Wikipedia, Collaboration, and the Politics of Free Knowledge,” Melanie Kill posits Wikipedia as an important part of the digital age and one that can and should be used in the new “classroom” for a wide range of learning.

In “Wikipedia, Collaboration, and the Politics of Knowledge,” Melanie Kill attempts to deconstruct Wikipedia, what it is and what it entails, and how it can be used in the classroom. First and foremost, she states that Wikipedia “provides students with a range of opportunities to work as intermediaries between the disciplinary expertise they are studying, a public system of knowledge curation, and a global audience of readers” (Kill 389). ¬†Wikipedia offers allows students to learn and participate in knowledge creation. No longer are students writing essays and papers that only a few eyes can see, but with Wikipedia, students write for multiple sets of eyes, for a global audience. They can have the opportunity to add to public knowledge. As Kill states, students move beyond working for grades to working to create social knowledge and action. The digital age, and websites like Wikipedia, open students up to a vast learning community. When they learn and share knowledge, they contribute not only to theirs and their classmates’ knowledge, but they contribute to strangers’s knowledge, too.

Wikipedia also involves an important aspect of the Digital Humanities and one that has popped up again and again in our class discussions this semester: collaboration. Kill states that collaboration is not only an essential part of being a student, but it is also becoming an essential part of being a “citizen” (Kill 390). As the “real world” is becoming more and more collaborative, students are constantly being asked to be so as well. Participating in Wikipedia in the “classroom” can prepare students for life beyond academia.

Kill also discusses Wikipedia as a new type of genre, an innovative encyclopedia of sorts. It is innovative because it is a collaborative creation. It allows its users to find information and discover the conversations between the editors of the webpage that happen “behind the scenes.” ¬†We are all aware that we can press the “Talk Tab” on any given page which will allow us to discuss the page’s content with other users. We can also “edit” the page and view the page’s history, seeing its various edits and revisions. Kill makes an important point that correlates to the various tasks we can do on Wikipedia. A student can use Wikipedia to simply edit typos and grammar, or can edit pages, adding and revising information for others to see. Inevitably, another user will then edit our edits because that is the nature of Wikipedia. By nature, it’s open to adaptation and free use. That’s what we love about Wikipedia. But that’s also what makes it controversial.

I like Kill’s essay because it does not ignore the controversy around Wikipedia–she knows that people see Wikipedia as “too open” to revision. If anyone can edit, how can we know its information is correct? If there are no established rules to Wikipedia, how can we trust its credibility. Most importantly, why should we teach it to our students? Another way we can phrase that question is, what can it offer to our students?

Asking a student to participate in Wikipedia is not without challenges and Kill gives us some suggestions that will hopefully erase those difficulties. They are:

  • Situated Practice
  • Overt Instruction
  • Critical Framing
  • Transformed Practice

I think what’s most important about Kill’s essay is that it suggests (or rather, it tells us) that Wikipedia can and should be used for learning. It participates in collaboration, open access, and teaching and learning for all. Towards the conclusion of her essay she indicates that students may use Wikipedia to look up information, but it is rare they understand how to use it and how they can add to it. It is up to teachers to show them. Once shown and if led properly, students will learn to share in the creation and distribution of knowledge. With Wikipedia, students can gain a voice and give others a voice as well.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll go add to Wikipedia now.

Mapping to Interpret Texts

Today Dr. Elizabeth Dillon, co-creator of the Early Caribbean Digital Archive, is coming to campus to talk about the archive and discuss her new book, New World Drama: Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1649-1849. In order to prepare for her visit, my class was asked to tool around the Early Caribbean Digital Archive and come up with questions to ask Dr. Dillon. Being that my class is currently working on our CommentPress collaboration and specifically, being that I am writing my subchapter of CommentPress on the “Unfinished Text” it is extremely appropriate and convenient that Dr. Dillon come speak with us now. I hope to ask her about the most challenging parts of creating the archive, as well as when she and her co-creators decided it was time to make the archive open for public view. How did they know it was “ready?” Was its readiness predicated by it’s usefulness to their audience? How often did they have to edit the project and how often do they go back and revise, add to, or take away from the project? These question stem not only from my interest in the archive, but also my interest in the unfinished text that the Digital Humanities create. I would like to see if we can link the unfinished text to the archive as well as a digital book or blog. Likewise, I want to ask about her experience collaborating the project. On the most basic (and naive) level, I want to know how the collaborating worked when creating the project. How did they decide who did what and when it was time to work together?

However, I’m not posting today just to voice my questions that I have for Dr. Dillon and the Early Caribbean Digital Archive. I’m posting today because something I came across in the archive reminded me of the topic of a couple of my posts a few weeks back. Google Maps.

A few weeks ago my class had a presentation on how to use Google Maps for scholarship. We were also asked to find an example of a Google Map that was used for scholarship and evaluate it. If my memory serves me correctly, the Google Map I found was helpful, but not that helpful. It was actually a use of Google Earth to track changes in Concord Massachusetts. You can check out my post about it here.

That being said, I found use of Google Maps in the Early Caribbean Digital Archive very, very successful. A student created a Google Map of Mary Prince in The History of Mary Prince. While I must admit that I’ve never read the narrative, the Google Map that racks her movements in the novel was extremely interesting. The student not only used the map to track Prince’s movement from place to place, country to country, but he also used the map to track the level of her agency in her movements. He color coordinated her movements to match the level of agency that existed in her movements. Each of her movements have an explanation attached to them and, citing from the text and interpreting it, he supported his claims for her level of agency in the move. Find his map here, along with another map of the ECDA Early Caribbean Slave Narrative Exhibit.

I not only like the student’s Google Map on Mary Prince because of it’s neatness, transparency, and helpfulness, but I also like the student’s Google Map because it is a great use of using Google Maps to interpret texts. It opens up so many options (in my mind at least) on what Google Maps can do not only for scholarship, but for a student learning in the university. The student’s Google Map takes Google Maps tools, masters them, AND uses them to assist him in his OWN interpretation of the text. It’s a great model for the rest of us students out there who are looking for innovative ways to show our interpretations of the texts we read.