Time for a Cultural Shift: Academia and Wikipedia

June 1, 2017 | Autor: Kara Kennedy | Categoria: Teaching and Learning, Digital Humanities, Pedagogy, Wikipedia Studies, Wikipedia
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Time for a Cultural Shift: Academia and Wikipedia Kennedy (June 2016)

10-minute Short Paper aaDH Digital Humanities Australasia 2016 Conference June 22, 2016 Hobart, Tasmania, Australia Time for a Cultural Shift: Academia and Wikipedia Kara Kennedy PhD Candidate in English University of Canterbury In this paper I will be going over the ‘why,’ the ‘how,’ and the ‘what’ a shift in academic culture regarding Wikipedia might look like. I believe academics have a responsibility to be involved in one of the world’s largest sources of information, and that Digital Humanities scholars should lead the way in teaching and modelling responsible use of this resource. So why should we make a shift in academic culture regarding Wikipedia? First of all, Wikipedia embodies several of the values of DH (especially being a hub of free, open, and accessible knowledge). It was launched in 2001 by Jimmy Wales, a financial trader, and Larry Sanger, a new philosophy PhD. It was actually started to help boost Nupedia, which Wales had started to be an online encyclopedia created by experts. But Nupedia had a lengthy review process and never got off the ground. Meanwhile, people enthusiastically started editing Wikipedia, so Wales and Sanger made that their focus. The goal was to “compile the sum of all human knowledge” and encourage collaboration for the greater good (Simonite 2013). A second reason to shift is that Wikipedia is used by millions of people, including students and teachers. The English version of Wikipedia is the 6th most visited website in the U.S. and 7th in the world with an estimated 475 million unique monthly visitors (Alexa; Ebizmba). In addition, the #1 most visited website, Google, pulls Wikipedia content into its fact boxes during search and presents the information as authoritative, giving it additional credibility. Thirdly, it lacks diversity. Crowdsourcing can be good for projects, but this crowd is not very diverse, and because it is anonymous, you do not know who is responsible for the content you are reading. It is estimated that only around 10% of editors on Wikipedia are women (Wikimedia 2011). And of experienced editors with more than 500 edits, only 6% are women (U of Minnesota study as cited in Paling 2015). According to Wikimedia’s survey in 2011, 39% of editors have a high school degree or less and 53% are under 30. And the pool 1

Time for a Cultural Shift: Academia and Wikipedia Kennedy (June 2016)

of editors is small. Academics should care that the information available in English about a world of over 7 billion people is being curated and controlled by only around 31,000 active editors (Wikimedia 2016). Wikimedia says that “if there is a typical Wikipedia editor, he has a college degree, is 30-years-old, is computer savvy but not necessarily a programmer, doesn't actually spend much time playing games, and lives in [the] US or Europe” (Wikimedia 2011, pg. 3). Indeed, almost half of editors are from only four countries, so their biases, assumptions, and worldviews are shaping the perspectives and writing that the rest of us are reading. There is little data about the ethnic makeup of editors, but based on the country data, Wikipedia has a long way to go toward having a diverse editorship. But as one woman said in a magazine interview on this lack of diversity, “When white men have been editing history since day one, they don’t see this as a problem” (Sarah Stierch as cited in Paling 2015). But academics should see this as a problem, and we are the ones trusted to increase knowledge through our research. We are the ones most likely to have access to good academic sources as opposed to general websites that the public can access. If you consider a hypothetical editor with access to the library and databases like JSTOR versus a hypothetical editor who is using information off the top of their head or something found through a Google search, which one is more likely to be adding accurate and well-researched information, that then potentially thousands or millions of people will see? We can supplement the research we already produce by making aspects of it more visible. Wikipedia editing is instant gratification and will benefit a greater number of people very quickly. Compare the number of people who will access an article on Wikipedia to the number who might read a book or journal article. Wikipedia is not a replacement for those, but we can improve articles that are then seen by undergrads and postgrads or other teachers. We can also make research more discoverable by adding references to articles. Many people (including librarians) are okay with using Wikipedia as a starting point for research, meaning that references on an article are more likely to be used. In fact, the altmetrics donut started giving 3 points for a reference on Wikipedia just last year (Williams 2015). Here’s a particularly relevant example for the Digital Humanities. The Digital Humanities article on the English Wikipedia had over 5,000 pageviews in the past month; unfortunately, it is a relatively short article that has been given only a C grade. Think of all of the potential students, teachers, and other people going to this article and leaving without a good sense of what DH is or what kind of projects we do. How many people have left this 2

Time for a Cultural Shift: Academia and Wikipedia Kennedy (June 2016)

page thinking ‘that’s not for me’ who might have had a different reaction with more information or a better written article? Academia should want visibility for a less biased, more informed knowledge production. We in the Humanities are trained to research, write, and think about human society and culture. We have informed and valuable voices to contribute to the debates that go on about what makes it onto Wikipedia as notable enough, what appears on the front page, what information is deleted. We should be ‘at the table’ when these decisions are being made and address the invisibility of other perspectives and groups. We know women, for example, have been left out of history and knowledge production for a long time, and research shows they have lower levels of technology self-efficacy and confidence and are less proactive in learning new digital skills (Huffman et al. 2013; Accenture 2016). It’s not really a surprise that I haven’t felt like I should contribute, because no one in my years of schooling ever suggested that I should – the message was always avoid it and certainly don’t cite it. So how should we make a cultural shift in academia toward more responsible use of Wikipedia? First, we can make it part of our practice. This does not have to mean writing new articles all the time. We can take a ‘bits and pieces’ approach, adding references to the subjects we are interested in and are researching and gradually improving articles, or expanding stub articles. We can look up WikiProjects to work on underrepresented groups, like WikiProject Women or WikiProject Africa. Their pages have lists of to-dos, like articles that need to be checked and calls for experts to contribute (we could be those experts). For example, when I discovered that the collection of science fiction short stories written by women called Women of Wonder that was published in the 1970s didn’t have a page, I created one with a brief description and a list of the stories and three references. I’ve helped make women more visible, and now the next person to look this up will have more information and a starting point for further research. We should also be teaching our students how and why to contribute, which some teachers have already started to do. One of the benefits of Wikipedia assignments is that we can encourage our students to be active rather than passive, creators as well as consumers, of digital culture. Because increasing numbers of women around the world are going to college and favoring Humanities & Arts courses, we can help them in particular gain the confidence and skills to contribute both during and after the course (UIS 2010). Wikipedia can be a valuable teaching tool for students to learn digital literacy, including: 3

Time for a Cultural Shift: Academia and Wikipedia Kennedy (June 2016)

discovering the pros and cons of crowdsourcing and anonymity

negotiating within an online community

thinking about what constitutes truth and who decides

seeing how bots are used to help police content

navigating copyright restrictions

paraphrasing and referencing

learning the wiki mark-up language

We can’t ignore the dominance of Wikipedia. It has made subscription-based encyclopedias hard to support, so there are few alternatives. And people who don’t know how it works may believe there’s someone in charge behind the curtain, making sure it is correct, or that if something doesn’t have any article, it either doesn’t exist or isn’t important. Microsoft Word 2016 now has a Wikipedia add-in that can insert text and images directly from the site. Since it is becoming easier and easier to cite it and students are already consuming it, why not empower them to contribute and think more critically about it? So what will a shift in academic culture about Wikipedia look like? It will look like academics talking about Wikipedia in a positive light. It will look like academics and students using their privileges to share knowledge with those outside the paywalls. It will look like Digital Humanities scholars caring that the Digital Humanities article, which is the first port of call for many looking up what DH is, only has a grade of C. Let’s start by working together on raising it to featured article status. We should be modelling, teaching, and encouraging others how to use the resources and skills we have to improve and diversify this democratized source of world information. Because when it comes to Wikipedia and academia, abstinence just isn’t working.


Time for a Cultural Shift: Academia and Wikipedia Kennedy (June 2016)


Accenture. 2016. Getting to Equal: How Digital is Helping Close the Gender Gap at Work. https://www.accenture.com/t20160303T014010__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/PDF9/Accenture-IWD-2016-Research-Getting-To-Equal.pdf Alexa. http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/wikipedia.org Ebizmba. http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/most-popular-websites Halfaker, Aaron, R. Stuart Geiger, Jonathan Morgan, and John Riedl. 2012. “The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration Community: How Wikipedia’s Reaction to Sudden Popularity is Causing Its Decline.” http://wwwusers.cs.umn.edu/~halfak/publications/The_Rise_and_Decline/ Huffman, Ann Hergatt, Jason Whetten, and William H. Huffman. 2013. “Using Technology in Higher Education: The Influence of Gender Roles on Technology Self-efficacy.” Computers in Human Behavior 29: 1779-1786. Paling, Emma. 2015. “Wikipedia's Hostility to Women.” http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/10/how-wikipedia-is-hostile-towomen/411619/ Simonite, Tom. 2013. http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/520446/the-declineof-wikipedia/ UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). 2010. Global Education Digest 2010: Comparing Education Statistics Across the World. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: UIS. http://www.uis.unesco.org/Library/Documents/GED_2010_EN.pdf Wikimedia. 2016. “Wikipedia Statistics.” https://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/TablesWikipediansEditsGt5.htm Wikimedia. 2011. Wikipedia Editors Study: Results from the Editor Survey, April 2011. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/76/Editor_Survey_Report__April_2011.pdf Williams, Cat. 2015. “New Source Alert: Wikipedia.” https://www.altmetric.com/blog/newsource-alert-wikipedia/


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