Saturday, February 23, 2008

Obsessed with Wikipedia

You may not know this, but I'm obsessed with Wikipedia. Truly, I am. A confession: I love to read it. Another confession: I've even done some editing. I still don't let my students refer to it in their papers, though I may be coming around on that. It's a remarkable resource, at least, for what it is.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who's rapt with Wikipedia. I just discovered Jim Brown's excellent blog, Clinamen, which I've added to my blog roll. I don't know Jim personally, but what I do know is that he's a graduate student in Rhetoric and New Media Studies at the University of Texas - Austin. Clinamen is his attempt to work publicly through issues he's addressing in his dissertation, which focuses on Wikipedia. I haven't been following his blog long enough to know exactly what he's up to, but as far as I can tell, it's all about history, agency, collective writing practices, and the politics of knowledge production. Now that sounds like a dissertation to me.

Anyway, be sure to check out Clinamen. It's really interesting stuff.

P.S. For all you Deleuzians out there who are trying to put a finger on the word "clinamen," GD mentions it in his writings on Lucretius in Difference and Repetition, The Logic of Sense, and elsewhere. In a nutshell, it refers to the swerving of atomic particles--an apt metaphor for Wikipedia indeed!


Jason Mittell said...

Ted - why don't you let students "refer" to Wikipedia in their papers? I encourage my students to use it, but not to cite it as a source per se - rather they should use the site to read about something, and add their knowledge accrued from other sources. I've blogged more about it at length, but am curious the rationale behind your policy.

Ted Striphas said...

Hi Jason,

Thanks for your comment, and especially for linking me to your blog post on Wikipedia. It was very interesting and gives me lots to think about in terms of my "no Wikipedia" policy.

Apropos of that, I should have been a bit more careful with the language in my post. I wouldn't actively dissuade students from "referring" to Wikipedia, though I would actively dissuade them from citing Wpedia pages as definitive sources--at least, for now. And it's not that I'm opposed to Wpedia. Rather, I think one needs to train students in how to read, interpret, and engage with Wpedia entries as sources of knowledge, which might well take a class in its own right. At minimum, a meaningful engagement with Wpedia would, to my mind, need to explicitly foreground the history of page revisions and the nature of wiki technology. (This dovetails with the transparency issue you mention in your post.)

To up the ante a bit, I'm beginning to believe that the use of Wpedia as a source would demand a different form of writing, one less linear and traditionally authoritative than what one tends to find in academe. I'm not sure what that would look like, exactly, but I suspect it would be much more elliptical and provisional than the academic writing I'm most accustomed to.

Anyway, that's my two cents. Please drop me a line as you continue writing about Wpedia, because clearly, I have a lot to learn.

Jason Mittell said...

Ted - thanks for the reply. I agree that encouraging students to write via Wikipedia (and wikis in general) does force a reconceptualization of how we write and what we expect from a writing assignment. For instance, it's complicated to simultaneously tout the benefits of Wikipedia and hold to a hard-line anti-plagiarism position - you need to teach about various genres of writing, modes of delivery, etc. But I think the more we can get students to think about their own writing on a meta-level, the better - wikis have so much potential for demystifying the research & writing process and forcing reflexive practice that educators can't really afford to turn away from it without missing a great opportunity.

I look forward to seeing your thoughts on wiki-pedagogy develop as well!

Ted Striphas said...

Hi Jason,

I completely agree--the "meta" reflection on writing practices is essential to the higher education classroom, period. Moreover, what's so interesting about Wikipedia (and about wikis more generally) is that it prompts exactly that type of reflection on issues ranging from versioning to validity, plagiarism, attribution, authorship, authority, and more.

I'm going to have to think through these issues further, and indeed, you and Jim (whose blog I mentioned in my original post) both have given me a lot to think about. In short, though, I'm taken with your phrase, "wiki-pedagogy." I may have to run with it. ;)