More wikiness

Writing for Wikipedia is a challenge. When we write as students, it’s all about: What does the teacher want? What will make him/her happy so I’ll get a good grade? Whereas with an encyclopedia it’s all about: What will be useful to the reader? For this class, it’s a double challenge because the students have to consider both.

Someone writing a paper on Cotton Comes to Harlem might have to explain things about Chester Himes, or the blaxploitation film genre. In a web environment like Wikipedia, hyperlinking to related articles can accomplish all of that. Linking related articles into the new and newly revised articles will strengthen the encyclopedia. Maybe I’ll work on that.

Another challenge with Wikipedia editing is citing everything. In traditional papers, we build our own arguments and conclusions from available evidence. Wikipedia, however, is not the place for original research. It’s all about the available evidence. Our arguments and conclusions belong elsewhere. This brings to mind the recent Philip Roth vs Wikipedia incident. Roth found that the article on his novel The Human Stain had wrong information about what inspired it. He had his people contact Wikipedia to get it fixed, but Wikipedia responded that his word was not good enough: It had to be published somewhere, so the article would have a citable source. So he wrote about the situation in the New Yorker magazine, and that became his source. In our case, we can draw our own conclusions about the novels, but we have to be careful to filter out ideas that are not supported by citable sources. All in all, I think the class did an admirable job, especially considering that is probably the first time most of us have attempted anything like it.

Even though it is a challenge, I love this Wikipedia project. It’s an opportunity to make something that people can really use, to make the world a better place, even if only in a small way. @DrGarcia tweeted about an article from the London School of Economics on the scholarly benefits of writing for Wikipedia. Writing for Wikipedia is making a contribution to public knowledge, making something people can use, benefit from and build upon. And the student can point back to it and say, “I did that.” I’ve heard that some people think student work gets stuffed in the back of desk drawers and forgotten. That is not happening here. Hardboiled will not be forgotten.

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