More Wiki-mania


The Wikipedia-related buzz continues, so here’s more fuel for fires.

First, the video of the debate if you want to see people talking in all their visual splendor, plus a bit of video & Keynoting (thanks to media gurus Scott Witt & Joe Antonioli for arranging the recordings!).

If you care to read, not watch, Middlebury’s student newspaper has a good account of the debate. Student voices about this have not been particularly active in public (although I hear grumbling & scuttlebutt), but Chandler Koglmeier has some interesting perspectives on his blog worth looking at. And on the alumni front, check out Grace Armstrong’s thoughts – Grace graduated Middlebury last year and is now on a Fulbright in Brazil studying copyright issues, with a detour at the Berkman Center at Harvard. When people ask why I like teaching at an undergraduate-only school, I point to students like Grace, who are as smart and sophisticated as any grad student you’ll find, so her thoughts on the issue are typically insightful and complex.

I think what has become clear to me most through this media cycle is that the actual History policy (which I have only limited disagreements with) is less relevant than the way it has been popularly understood in the press and everyday discussion. While I support the historians for stimulating reflection on issues of research practices, source citing, and other things I hold dear, by framing the policy in the negative (“Thou shalt not cite Wikipedia”), it’s too easily interpreted as an outright ban made by scholars stuck in the past (see how I just did that too? isn’t rhetoric fun?). I don’t think that’s their motive or action, but it frames the debate: old-fangled legitimate historians vs. new-fangled media studies guy. And as us new-fangled media studies folks are quick to argue, how a topic is perceived and discussed is as important as the “reality” that triggers the conversation.

So where do we go from here? It’s clear that pedagogically, we need to foreground a reflection on what it means to do research in the age of digital participatory culture. As a few people have pointed out, by the time students get to college, they’ve already been encouraged to use Wikipedia as a legitimate source (and perhaps as a site to contribute to) in high school, and such habits are hard to break. But first-year writing and research courses need to engage with a range of sources to get students to reflect on their own assumptions & practices, not just to teach them new habits according to rigid guidelines and prohibitions, but to understand the nature of knowledge and education in a media environment that most of their professors find foreign. We’ll see how that goes…

Anyway, back to more important matters soon: TV.

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