Rethinking Wikipedia

I throughly enjoyed going through the Wikipedia instructor training. I teach at the high school and graduate levels and after this training I am rethinking the ways that Wikipedia could have a place in my classrooms.

Because I’m teaching in two spaces I constantly am balancing graduate school world and high school world in my head, so I am left with questions that speak to both of those spaces.

We still teach our high schoolers that they “can’t use Wikipedia”. This has evolved from asking them to never use it, to recognizing that of course they use it, but they should use it only as a jumping point and never cite it. After finishing this training and thinking about the pillars of Wikipedia I wonder how this high school policy (and my school certainly isn’t unique here – anti Wikipedia is the standard) impacts how our students think about acquiring knowledge from Wikipedia, and how they think about what is “true”.

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Wikipedia and its possibilities

One of the first things that caught my attention when I started the Wikipedia training, and that I have been thinking about since then, is that this project is only working within the United States and Canada (you can contact the Wikipedia Foundation to ask about local resources if you are not within these territories).

Since Wikipedia is accessible worldwide, this made me think about the many possibilities of collaboration (also taking into account this week’s readings) that would be easily attainable if this project extends. For example, the neutrality aspect, one of the five guiding Wikipedia principles, would be achieved by having multiple, and more diverse perspectives; students around the world could offer their viewpoints and provide enriching contributions. I also think that it would be very useful and challenging for students to collaborate with students from different nationalities, and it would be very beneficial to develop critical thinking skills.

Regarding the list of courses that are using Wikipedia, I was surprised by the shortage of translation and language content courses. I definitely hope to be able to use Wikipedia in my Spanish Heritage class next spring semester. The case studies offered by the training are very illustrative and they give us explicit ideas of how it works. Since some of us teach requirement courses where we have to cover specific material, I think that Wikipedia assignments (3-4 weeks assignments) can be easily integrated and built within the required content/syllabus.

Thoughts on the Introduction to The Wealth of Networks

In the introduction to Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks, he discusses how the Internet has created unprecedented ways for individuals and grassroots organizations to reach a wide network of others. Previously, this was a privilege afforded only to companies with both the latest in communication technologiesl and large amounts of capital, but now it can be accomplished by anyone with a smartphone.

In the 10 years which have passed since the writing of this book, Benkler’s assertions remain true, yet I can’t help but feel that we have moved into the next phase of mass communications, where companies are fully cognizant of the power of the individual and are actively seeking new ways to exploit this. It seems that we will need to come to terms with the fact that extreme awareness about where we are getting our information from is a requirement, lest we unwittingly serve the interests of entities with a lot to gain by public complicity.

This subject is especially pertinent right now in light of stories exposing the consequences that the glut of false “news” stories being circulated far and wide among users on Facebook. People are convinced they’re educating themselves on the facts, but in reality they are being fed news from completely fabricated sources. Just as bad, when people are content that they have all information they need from merely reading a headline.

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Wikipedia and the “Content Gap”

As a teacher who decided to use Wikipedia mid-semester in one of my courses going through the training and looking at the existing courses that use it has been mind opening. I am teaching a course right now to English majors working to become high school English teachers at Queens College and this course is somewhat of an intro to Common Core as it is to the framework of one of their state certification exams. I will spare you all the gory CC details, but something we’ve been working on all semester is “writing for audiences” in addition to wrapping our heads around the ways the CC has essentially made up new genres. One of these genres is “Writing Informative and Explanatory Texts.” I used Wikipedia as a way to help my students contextualize this kind of supposedly neutral information giving writing.

Some aspects of using Wikipedia in the classroom that seem really useful:

  • Time dedicated to analyzing and using sources
  • Asking students to analyze more closely a database they use often (Wikipedia)
  • Addressing and analyzing “content gaps”
  • Asking students to write something that is not just for the teacher, but is for a real-world context and a wide audience.

In searching the courses that are using Wikipedia, there were many different subjects represented from science to history to writing-focused classes. I also noticed classes from a variety of public and private institutions (Princeton, New York U, Michigan, Cal State Fullerton, etc.) A few courses caught my attention in part because a part of their curricular interventions are to address the “content gap” issue (a compelling way to think about the canon, representation, the archive, etc). These courses ask students to locate particular content gaps and then address them by writing articles. There is a “Radical African Thought and Revolutionary Youth Culture” class from Princeton that explicitly addresses the content gap problem. Similarly, there is a “Critical Pedagogy in the Arts” class at Cal State Fullerton and a “Haitian Creole in Context” class at NYU that do the same.

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Final Paper Assignment

Hi, all. I’ve posted the final paper assignment under a new top menu item entitled “Assignments”. To save space I eliminated the First Paper Assignment menu item and combined it under a general “Assignments” tab at the top of this screen.  Hope that’s clear. Let me know if you have any problems opening this.

Assignment: Critical commentary on the theory and practice of Wikipedia

Critical commentary on the theory and practice of Wikipedia
(the three volunteers will write a blog entry for the Nov. 21 class)

Explore the following three areas of Wikipedia dedicated to supporting instructors using Wikipedia in the classroom, then write a provocation based on w what you think about what you discovered.

1.       Training:
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Franco Moretti’s “Graphs”

Franco Moretti’s chapter entitled “Graphs” from Graphs, maps, trees abstract models for a literary history analyzes the trends in literary history across the world, with a special focus on novels. Moretti’s stated goal is to create a more rational literary history because the sheer number of novels published over time prevents scholars from relying on close reading because it is logistically unfeasible to closely read the many thousands of novels. Moreover, focusing on one author or groups of authors leaves out too many others to be able to make reasonable arguments about literary history.  Moretti’s solution is to “graph” hundreds of novels over time either to measure the number of novels per decade and number of novels in a given genre. The graphs he produces demonstrate, perhaps, the connection between political instability and novel writing during the 19th century in Europe or the impact of colonialism on literary forms. This chapter raises a few questions. Where does Moretti’s work, the graphs, fit in with the rest of literary history? Does it intend to replace or improve literary history? Does close reading still matter when graph making can chart provocative and insightful arguments? Does this method, for example, adequately provide explanations for how genres shift or are exported?

Franco Moretti’s “Trees”

Franco Moretti takes the study of genre as his subject, not individual texts. My provocation for the “Trees” section of his though-provoking work “Graphs, Maps, and Trees” involves the idea of the novel as a temporal “slice.” Diachronic succession vs. Synchronic drifting apart. Moretti is using innovative theories to help define fresh morphological distinctions for the novel as genre. What types of novels embody portions of synchronic and diachronic morphology? Is it possible to have characters that embody consciousness that differs along these lines? What would a novel look like that had one of these morphologies on the local level, and the other on the global level, made clear through a close reading of the text? What happens if those distinctions are reversed? Can a novel be written to be read both ways, depending on a variety of entry points?

Mapping “Landscape Lit”

I had mixed feelings about Moretti’s Graphs Maps Trees after I first read it; upon a second reading, they are just as mixed. For one thing, I don’t believe he makes–or intends to make–arguments so much as offer personal thoughts and suggestions about the various methods he demonstrates to model analyses of literary history. Which is perfectly fine, as long as I remember to read it with that in mind. Most theorizing about literary or any other kind of history-writing works much harder to convince the reader, so it’s easy to forget that Moretti is taking a different approach, or assume that he is trying to convince. So I’m offering a more personal reflection on it because this is the model Moretti uses.The book’s three chapters are essentially three different demonstrations of his hobby–a version of lit-crit show and tell.  It’s hard to respond very critically when it seemed he was never out to prove anything.This is not to say I don’t enjoy Moretti’s approach. If anything, the provisional and breezy nature of his presentation is really refreshing.

In the chapter “Maps,” the results of his experiments hardly seem replicable; they depend upon particular texts in a single genre and an esoteric collection of claims in the realms of science and philosophy. Moretti’s use of geography and geometry to analyze form in regional literature does, nevertheless, open up his reading of the texts he’s working with. His maps are as much visual abstractions of narrative form as they are diagrams that illustrate “social geography,”or that plot out specific elements of the narrative.  By creating abstractions of rural/regional narrative, he takes mapping this genre to a level that previous critics of the genre, such as John Barrell, had not thought to go. However, I was never particularly wowed by this move. While it seems very smart and possibly quite useful, it doesn’t challenge me to approach the genre all that differently than before. Now I would simply read more carefully and with more attention to space and its relation to social relationships and plot.

The idea I find most provocative–because it had never before occurred to me–is Moretti’s final statement in the chapter, that there is “a direct, almost tangible relationship between social conflict and literary form.” This is an extension of his earlier riff on form and the internal and external forces that create it. But really he goes out on a limb with such a broad claim, because he’s only shown that it applies to the texts he’s been working with. Furthermore, it’s unclear whether, by “form”, he means genre or the shape of an individual narrative or collection of narratives; and whether, by “conflict,” he means strife within the world of the narrative or in that of the author. So, my question is, if we use maps to plot social geography and narrative arc in any other works of regional “landscape lit,” do you think this claim would still be be supported? Conversely, does this technique reveal such relationships in a way no other approaches can?