Why do I have Authority to Edit the Page? The Politics of User Agency and Participation on Wikipedia

What is the power of Wikipedia to users that frequently consume it, but fear they don't have the authority to edit the page? Wikipedia's potential to represent the full scope of users' knowledge diversity is inhibited by several barriers that suppress inclusive participation.
Why do I have Authority to Edit the Page? The Politics of User Agency and Participation on Wikipedia
Contributors (1)
Created
Jul 05, 2019

Image Credit: Photograph taken by Serena Hughley (Spelman Class ‘20)


My first Wikipedia edit was sometime around 2003. I added a cultural reference that was made during a South Park episode. However, when I read the entire article, I decided that it was poorly written and needed much narrative improvement. The style seemed choppy, despite the relative accuracy of content. After providing more transitions and vivid action verbs, I felt as if I had done justice to readers by bringing high-quality writing to the article. I checked the page the next day, and my elegant composition had been overridden by clunky prose full of passive voice and simplistic descriptions. My ego was slightly bruised, but I had learned one of the first major lessons of Wikipedia editing: the community judges whether your edits will stand and you will need to decide if your work is worth fighting for. Fortunately, I’m a child of the web 1.0 Internet where anonymity was valued and deliberation with strangers was part and parcel of most online communication. Users most invested in some problem being solved would argue in some platform consistently and often enough to obtain a reputation that would enable them to compete with those who have established their credibility in the space.

Wikipedia Participation is a Novel Literacy

Wikipedia was very novel in that 2003 post-millennium scene. I was a queer Black Woman sophomore at a predominantly white college in the rural Midwest with all the time in the world to think. The United States was still panicking about 9/11. Deployments to Afghanistan were steadily increasing and George W. Bush was clumsily selling the idea of an Iraq war to Congress and the general public—both of which were eager to show their patriotism after the fall of the twin towers. The country muted discussions about race, amplifying colorblind slogans like “We are all Americans” to quell and silence a rise in anti-Muslim violence. Pride wasn’t as commercial because it was still very taboo to be out of the closet in America. Gay marriage was still illegal, so too was sodomy under the legal precedent of Bowers V. Hardwick.12 The violent deaths of Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena were part of national headlines that were putting a spotlight on the prevalence of hate crimes against LGBTQ people.3 Brown wasn’t part of the rainbow.4 Some of my gay and lesbian friends who waited to come out of the closet until college were being disowned by their families. It was unfashionable to be an anti-war, pro-gay, feminist, and/or an environmental activist, but I was highly visible on campus as part of the leadership board of our campus’s small, but growing LGBTQ organization—PRISM. These details matter because Wikipedia’s recognition of social issues was simply not part of a general conversation about user participation in 2003. As I compose this article, a banner boldly celebrating Pride is inscribed in Wikipedia’s top-level header. It is a sight to behold because I never imagined that public attitudes towards LGBTQ identities would transform so rapidly. I will return to this point later in the essay because the issue of editorial authority depends on the extent to which prospective Wikipedia editors feel as if the community recognizes their knowledge as notable enough to be represented in the space.

Me and my best friend at the time, let’s call him Dean—a gay white male computer science major—marveled at Wikipedia daily. I was looking up information for my Mass Communications class when he showed me the dynamic and free reference site. Astounded by its growth and mesmerized by a clean, organized interface, we found ourselves always using it. We noticed how the uniformity inspired by the graphic user interface (GUI) made any article *seem* true, but we resisted being tricked into believing false information. For example, when we checked Wikipedia for seemingly innocuous stuff like descriptions of a South Park or Queer As Folk episode, we would notice errors or missing information about intertextual cultural references. So we edited the page! However, neither of us would have identified as Wikipedians. Our editing was highly contextual and occasional because we were primarily connected to Wikipedia as consumers. We knew others labored there for free and we appreciated how useful it was. Editing was like a “nuclear option,” a power only to be used when absolutely necessary— in situations like sharing research that was discovered when settling a dispute over “facts” or to be a “Good Samaritan” and develop a stub or otherwise poorly organized article.

Contributing to Wikipedia felt satisfyingly subversive because it was easy and meaningful. In the United States of America, we have been socialized to navigate bureaucracy’s mazes of processing requests—which consists of seemingly never ending streams of forms to fill out, showing and obtaining government and institutional identification, waiting for the “appropriate person” to verify and authorize documents, submitting your inquiry to the other “appropriate persons” before waiting for any number of business days before you obtain a response that confirms or denies the completion of your ask(s). As Jean Anyon argued almost forty years ago in her widely cited article, “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work,” the education system tacitly prepares us to accept that we will be socialized into similar occupations as our parents and learn how to be managed in ways that perpetuate class inequality.5 However, Wikipedia afforded users more autonomy than formal education spaces. I didn’t need a username, my IP was sufficient. I didn’t need to have endless credentials or degrees to correct records that people would come to rely on, even if my edit(s) were reverted within seconds. Wikipedia was clearly shaking up the education system. My peers and I noticed and discussed that our professors were increasingly issuing threats and warnings about using and citing Wikipedia. They feared that their authority could be undermined by anonymous novices mischievously or haphazardly editing pages. But we weren’t stupid. We knew that there was a time and place for Wikipedia and it wasn’t in a college research paper.

Instead, Dean and I thought Wikipedia editing illustrated the liberatory potential of the Internet. Both of us, also Harry Potter dorks, spent hours discussing MediaWiki’s magic. Wikipedia was spellcasting for the masses. Anyone could edit the page quasi-anonymously. IPs can be tracked and traced back to identifiable users, of course, but these were the pre-Facebook days when Internet users cared a lot more about keeping online and offline identities separate. We knew that editing the page meant far more than just tinkering with some text. Back then, no WYSIWYG editor existed. From the ability to choose whether or not to “sign up” with a username to spending numerous days tracking edits to a page, editing meant that you were you were coding.6 With MediaWiki, coding was brought down to such an accessible level, which made any novice editor feel like a badass. However, we knew more was happening than that and we did research about how Media Wiki does what it do. The AMP (Apache—MySQL—PhP) stack ensures an archive of your edit. Even if you entered a flame war and got reverted repeatedly, your edit would be part of the site’s retrievable history. Moreover, the ability to store those edits on an unprecedented scale and sort through such a vast trove of robust documentation through a navigable interface were novel experiences afforded by these applications. For those of us who grew up taking high school courses like Business Computer Information Systems and Telecommunications (where Microsoft Windows was your only OS option and Office software was the only way you were taught about data management and HTML was all it took to make a website), Wikipedia provided access to an entirely different information architecture. As a new type of website, Wikipedia increased our curiosity about the dynamic, distributed possibility of different kinds of code, application systems, and online communities.

Furthermore, the power to tamper with even a millisecond of someone’s perception about the truth of any subject could have massive repercussions for education. No longer were generations going to take for granted who or what could count as notable enough to be part of a reference. No longer could educational institutions exclusively centralize student knowledge vis-a-vis textbooks. Wikipedia interrupted the gatekeeping mechanisms of academe, lateralizing who could have a say and opening up a frontier of deliberation that expanded upon the newsgroups, discussion forums, and Java-powered chatrooms by which Web 1.0 Internet users were accustomed. The library’s restricted section was now available to any magician seeking to make and break knowledge. Indeed, Wikipedia editing was and continues to be taught as a dark art.

Teaching Wikipedia and Student Resistance

These formative experiences with Wikipedia informed my understanding of writing in the “new digital age.” When I started teaching college composition as a first-year graduate student at the University of Oklahoma in 2006, nothing about Wikipedia or the burgeoning Web 2.0 felt that new to me. By that point, we were deep in George W. Bush’s war on terror, the recession was about to hit people hard, and uncertainty inspired a lot of us graduate students to avoid the workforce and prolong reckoning with the reality of our further descent into student loan debt depravity. During required Teaching Assistant workshops and seminars, as well as break room lunches and happy hours, anti-Wikipedia attitudes could inspire long self-righteous conversations about banning this resource in the classroom. Despite their claims to want more social justice in higher ed, nearly every writing teacher I knew—regardless of their political affiliation, gender, religion, etc.—seemed to loathe Wikipedia and take pleasure in talking about their tactics for catching students plagiarizing or even thinking about citing the resource.

Meanwhile, I was hoping my students would have a different experience with Wikipedia. Teaching with digital technology was still not fully institutionalized despite institutional calls for improving students’ digital and information literacy. I took advantage of these pedagogical appeals and started including various opportunities for students to edit Wikipedia. For example, I included a small activity during the first semester I ever taught—when new instructors were discouraged from deviating from the standard curriculum. It was a research assignment, in which I asked students to look at Wikipedia to see if there was an article about their hometown. We utilized government census data, as well as state and city websites and print reference entries, to update articles with current information. During this process, students noticed when major businesses, educational institutions, places of worship, and traditions (e.g. local festivals) were missing from Wikipedia. Students from rural Oklahoma and those representing different Native American tribes were surprised to discover the absence of their communities.

These knowledge gaps taught them important lessons that I urged them to transfer to their general academic experience. Everyone in the room had a distinct and valuable experience. Everyone knew something that they could contribute. Everyone should feel free to participate (in editing) because it was mutually beneficial to themselves, the knowledge they added to the space, and those who could build on it over time. Knowledge is not a fixed entity that is given to you by others. Its production defines the ideal meaning of education, which is a fluid, temporal and embodied process of discovery and assertion. Some students were excited to edit Wikipedia, but most of them were scared. They didn’t want to do it wrong, or they challenged my authority to assign such a forbidden act of knowledge production. My Wikipedia editing assignments caused them to ask many questions about whether what I was doing was acceptable, or if their other instructors were wrong for not including Wikipedia editing in their courses.

To address the depth of their concerns, I weighted Wikipedia assignments as “homework,” or “participation,” with pass/fail credit. They got an “A” for even attempting to complete it or an “F” for not doing it. With no tutorials available or Wiki Education to provide me with scaffolding materials, I had to teach them how to edit based on my experience. Showing them the site’s functions like the history, talk, and sandbox features, as well as the importance of using a hacker name and drawing on our institutional library resources for secondary research, took at least two weeks out of the standardized syllabus. Nevertheless, I continued this instruction throughout my teaching at the University of Oklahoma and throughout 2009-2011 when I was obtaining my PhD at the Pennsylvania State University. When teaching at Penn State, I had far less room in the standard syllabus to deviate with my own assignments. Instructors were surveillanced more extensively there since we were observed at least once a semester by mentors and senior faculty. I relegated Wikipedia editing to “extra credit” assignments except during summer courses. In fact, Wikipedia editing was well-suited to giving students access to multiple literacies on an accelerated schedule. However, during full-length semesters, I taught students about plagiarism by including discussion about Wikipedia that focused on How integrity statements often fail to consider multimodal composition, collaborative authorship, and collective intelligence.

The Liberatory Potential of Wikipedia Editing

From 2011-2015, I took a break from Wikipedia editing in the classroom because I worked in Writing Centers and secured a tenure track position at Spelman College. When I started teaching Honors Composition, I resumed Wikipedia editing as part of my writing pedagogy. Since my last teaching experience, I was surprised to discover that Wikipedia had become a hot topic for those working on the intersections between race, gender, geography, and technology.7 I learned about FemTechNet, an ambitious collective of academics, artists, and activists dedicated to improving the Internet for marginalized communities. Their website taught me about Wikistorming and the herstory of Art+Feminism—a distributed global event designed to diversify Wikipedia’s coverage of women in the arts. I also discovered Wiki Education, which offered instructors numerous technical and content resources for teaching Wikipedia editing. Equipped with Wiki Education's sleek course management system and motivated by the intellectual challenge of representing “notable” knowledge from individuals and communities that are too often invisible in disciplinary sites of scholarship and teaching, I felt considerably more prepared to teach writing Wikipedia than ever before.

Within the educational space of an HBCU for women, I crafted a syllabus that situated Wikipedia as both capable of preserving and erasing Black Women’s intellectual and cultural herstory.8 By encouraging Black Women students to edit, I strongly believed that they could transform their attitudes towards Wikipedia. I wanted them to understand Wikipedia as far more than an easy, popular place to casually browse for information about entertainment or as a general reference for any topic. Few, if any, students had actually edited Wikipedia. Requiring students to work within the boundaries of representing notable Black Women’s increased their willingness of performing the radical act of participating in the development of living herstory. Through this effort, they could also learn critical digital literacy, service learning, research resources and methods, multimedia genres, and Argumentation. I underestimated, however, the extent to which these students would resist Wikipedia editing due to several fears that reveal the difficulty of equity work. For instance:

  1. Editing Wikipedia to improve content gaps sounds good, but are editors are often too unfamiliar with the Wikipedia community to fight for the knowledge they seek to represent.

  2. Editing Wikipedia involves numerous literacies that present barriers for first-time editors

    • Deciding whether to be anonymous/Choosing a username

    • Gaining technical experience with the Wikipedia website

    • Identifying areas of improvement without being too overwhelmed by the choices available

    • Learning how to navigate public and proprietary library resources for secondary sources

    • Experimenting with incorporating research into articles within the boundaries of Wikipedia’s “neutral style”

    • Starting conversations on the talk page with strangers and subjecting oneself to the possibility of harassment or endless dialogue

    • Reflecting on the editing experience in a supportive learning community

After teaching with Wikipedia for the first-time at Spelman, and failing to successfully acclimate most of my first-year honors students to the editing experience, I decided that my efforts would be more successful if I invited more faculty at my institution to participate in this unique teaching endeavor. We needed a cultural shift in attitudes regarding the potential for HBCUs to more comprehensively engage Wikipedia. I figured that if more instructors taught Wikipedia editing, students would feel more comfortable with the complex and novel experience. Inspired by a Black History month editathon that Howard University organized in 2015, I began seeking other instructors interested in digital humanities and teaching writing with technology.9

Therefore, in summer 2016, me and Professor Jamila Lyn—colleague formerly employed at Morehouse College—collaboratively applies for an Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) grant to create an extensive three-day cross-institutional interdisciplinary faculty development event entitled, “Integrating Wikipedia into Writing-Intensive Courses.”10 In addition to 12 on-site faculty, we opened select parts of the symposium for free, remote participation to any interested Instructor or Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museum (GLAM) staff and faculty. All of our on-site attendees were first-time editors and faces similar challenges as students editing for the first time. Few, of any of them, actually incorporated Wikipedia editing in the classroom because they desired more editing experience and pedagogical support. However, some instructors explicitly taught about Wikipedia and encouraged their students to see it as a viable place to research and learn about 21st century politics of fact-making that could enable them to critique hierarchical structures of disciplinary knowledge production. They were also equipped with numerous teaching and learning resources that could assist them with their future plans to include Wikipedia editing in their instruction.

Me and Jamila decided that both faculty and students in the AUC might decide to engage Wikipedia if they could collaboratively connect over the problem of race and gender content gaps outside the classroom. Thus, we followed up on the 2016 ACS symposium in spring 2017 by co-organizing a Black Women’s Herstory Wikipedia Editathon. Our event took place alongside hundreds of other similar events as part of Art+Feminism. It was, to my knowledge, Spelman’s first-ever Art+Feminism Editathon and culminated in at least fifty new Black Women Wikipedia editors1112As previously discussed, the vast majority (at least 85%) of Wikipedia’s editors are (white) males. We were determined to change that, recognizing that Wikipedia offered a rich educational opportunity for students and faculty in the Atlanta University Center (AUC). We wanted to harness the power of discovery, debate, and documentation to diversify Wikipedia coverage. Furthermore, our objective was to more broadly conceive of the word “Art” in Art+Feminism. By adding more articles about notable black women in the arts, media, and advocacy, we aimed to show that Black Women’s fight for representation and control over our own individual and collective images has been both an artistic and political struggle.13 Moreover, I used the editathon as an opportunity to strengthen my efforts to teach Wikipedia editing in both introductory and advanced writing courses. I also used the event to strengthen partnerships in and across campus.14 For example, the Spelman Comprehensive Writing Program offered us space to hold the event inside our campus writing center, the Bonner Office of Civic Engagement, and the Atlanta University Center (AUC) Robert W. Woodruff Library offered a few librarians to help staff the event. Aleta Turner, a local Wikimedian and Circulation Supervisor at Athens-Clark County Library, also attended and assisted. Additionally, several on-campus units and organizations helped actively promote the event. These included the African Diaspora of the World program (ADW), the Office of the Provost, the Office of Undergraduate Studies, the Women’s Research and Resource Center.

On the date of the event, March 5, 2017, we conducted a two-hour training session. The tutorial room was a computer lab adjacent to the Writing Center and the English Department in the Camille Cosby Hanks Academic Center at Spelman College. Approximately 40, mostly young, Black Women students were in attendance with a few Black Women Faculty and several librarians representing various genders and ethnicities (white, Black, Latinx, etc.). Me, Jamila, and Aleta were co-leading the tutorial and offering editing assistance throughout the event. As we discussed Wikipedia editing from our diverse perspectives, I realized that our edit-a-thon was truly a rare learning space. Jamila had the least experience and could identify readily with new editors. I had some experience and connected easily with both faculty and student editors. Aleta had the most experience, which included deep knowledge of Wikipedia’s highest levels of organizational administration, and she generously provided extensive help to everyone across the board plus me and Jamila who needed more technical and cultural literacy about Wikipedia’s community. Our participants represented both non-STEM and STEM majors. We represented different institutional affiliations such as Morehouse, Spelman, Georgia State, and Athens Library. A few of us were men. This cast of characters, gathered in that large computer lab on a Saturday, typically don’t collaborate or communicate. But there we were trying to figure out how to hack one of the most challenging problems of our time: diversifying one of the whitest, most popular websites online.

Early in the session, several students asked, “Why do I have the authority to change the page?” This question about whether one ought to be editing Wikipedia on the grounds of ability and/or agency highlights one of the core problems that affects human potential for knowledge production along every boundary of teaching and learning across media, geographies, and institutions. Surely, as these suspicious students recognized, Wikipedia editing (especially as a Black Women) must come with some kind of risk. Online harassment is one well-known challenge, but to willingly publicly expose the reality of the limits|sum of one’s own knowledge also comes with a considerable psychological burden within the sociopolitical context of a patriarchal adversarial culture that incentivizes proclamations of certainty over truth.15 I bore witness to this problem during my prior experience teaching Wikipedia editing, but the problem was spelled out with brutal clarity among prospective Black Women editors. As I bring chapter to conclusion, I will continue to contemplate how the matter of new editors’ sense of authority affects how I interpret Wikipedia’s impact @ 20.

The issue of authority always deeply unsettled Spelman students, whether they are writing with pen, voice, and computer. These Black Women, bravely engaged Wikipedia—the website that anyone can edit—as often as any user, but with little sense of duty to contribute to the space—even when they see poorly written or inaccurate information is dangerous. As I previously illustrated, Wikipedia is frequently used and relied upon as a reference, despite many teachers’ typical ominous warning: don’t use Wikipedia as a source. Nevertheless, Wikipedia offers much easier use than many traditionally educational materials. The free platform continues to work its way into formal education through Google’s algorithmic power as a major broker in the knowledge economy—its powerful search engine juts Wikipedia entries to the top of results, obtaining automatic trust from users through its familiar and well-organized GUI.16 17

Furthermore, Wikipedia serves as a subtle, but powerful, form of Information warfare against colonized populations. The colonial act of erasing cultures includes the psychological condition of feeling as if you cannot and should not “disrupt” the information architecture. The dominance of white male editors correlates with a severe lack of participation and coverage about people representing historically disadvantaged groups, especially women of all races and ethnicities.18 19 2021 22 23 24 25

However, due to its radically open platform design, Wikipedia’s homogeneity is not destiny. In fact, some studies critique estimates of user demographics, which raises questions about how Wikipedia editing is researched.26 What appears depends on user participation, in terms of a willingness to engage the community and make compelling arguments in defense of one’s edits. In addition, even if a user’s change is overridden or reverted, the wiki architecture enables the archiving of any and all user activity. Imagine if Wikipedia existed during the unfolding of some notable historical events like U.S. slave rebellions, the American Revolution, or the Civil War! What appears on screen would be one “coherent” story, but a quick click on the talk page would tell several others—an organized patchwork of all the disputed offering a portrait of thought evolution and exchange rapidly taking place in real-time. When learning about the significance of contemporary movements like #SayHerName and #BlackLivesMatter, such a distributed perspective is possible because editors representing various subject positions have the power to establish complex narratives that aren’t centralized by a vacuum of academia and/or law enforcement.

Nevertheless, participants’ anxiety about editing funk up the how-to tutorial approach, marking the authenticity of a distributed global event designed to diversify Wikipedia’s coverage of (Black) women in the arts. The students continued to have conversations about editors’ authority throughout the rest of the event. This ongoing inquiry demonstrated that a single day was hardly enough time for us to grapple with the historical problem of Black Women recovering and documenting our intellectual and cultural history. In fact, I had anticipated the limitations of editing Wikipedia in classroom vs. open community environments. I knew that the A+F editathon would need to move through space and time before and after it's happening. Thus, I strategically connected the event to three courses, as well as their service requirement at the college.27 28 29 30

Wikipedia, Inclusion, and Digital Citizenship

As Wikipedia turns 20, it is older than my first-year students. They have grown up with it their entire lives, but they continue to learn about it as a space that is off limits to the classroom. For nearly all of them, they have been trained to believe that Wikipedia editing is not a possibility available to them. However, since 2006, one of the major shifts in attitudes towards Wikipedia is that it has become an object of critique for reproducing social inequality. In particular, grand narratives about Wikipedia’s unreliability have somewhat shifted in its rationale. One of the dominant arguments against Wikipedia’s legitimacy was that it would be prone to misinformation because user anonymity would encourage deceit. Although this continues to be a popular critique of Wikipedia, the problems of diversity and inclusion has increasingly drawn global attention from artists, scientists, activists, librarians, curators, and educators. Wiki Projects like Women In Red and the African Diaspora focus on expanding race and gendered content. Feminists like Adrienne Wadewitz increased public awareness about the problem of gender inequity on Wikipedia. Jacqueline Mabey, Siân Evans, Michael Mandiberg, and Laurel Ptak founded the first Art+Feminism in 2014.31 These initiatives, led by experienced Wikipedians, have globally expanded through the growth of both Art+Feminism and Wiki Education, which are both officially non-profit organizations with staffs and structured program support.

Netizenship, traditionally, referred to an Internet users ethical participation in building open software, producing and managing information resources, and advocating for policies like Net Neutrality that resist corporate control over the Internet’s architecture.32 33. This vision of global activism outlines the potential of participatory decision-making and the emergence of a social consciousness dependent on interaction via the world wide web. Currently, the Internet’s role in moving its users towards a more peaceful, equitable future seems mired in a maze of hostile communication. The pervasiveness of hate speech, “fake news,” and hypersexualized images of women and young girls are barriers to social progress, as these problems reflect and replicate the realities of economic scarcity and overwork all around the world. Information control structures community purpose and activity. Consequently, many Internet users are increasingly concerned about how Wikipedia affects representation in ways that explicitly acknowledge racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and nationalism as stratification systems that are dutifully served by online communities. I hardly expected Wikipedia to become part of discourses that focus on how digital technologies perpetuate inequality. As a result, I severely underestimated how social media would scale communities invested in social justice. The same educators that used to be skeptical of Wikipedia because it compromised the academia’s authority over knowledge production, may now be invested in learning more about how Wikipedia might function as a place to resist discrimination against minoritized knowledge. This emphasis on Wikipedia as a site of social justice work redefines its potential uses in formal education. However, as brand new editors come to the space, the extent to which they feel the authority to share what they know is stifled by several aspects of digital illiteracies. For example, the notion of making “herstory” needed to be realized.34 The Wikipedia platform contains several complex technical features that can intimidate any user attempting to work behind the hood.

As an English/Writing faculty, I occupy a strange limbo space between Arts and Humanities because I teach students how to both interpret and produce various texts across media. Moreover, I am connected to STEM because I teach students how to use technology (e.g. writing is a technology and digital writing forces me to introduce principles of composition for web development and design, as well as how to adapt to emerging writing genres in both online and print media cultures). My own interdisciplinary identity enabled me to both organize an editathon and integrate Wikipedia into my pedagogy because I understand it as an opportunity to show how an intersectional approach to digital humanities and critical information and media literacy destabilizes learning spaces that overemphasize the professor's role as the knowledge keeper and verifier. Directly involving students actualizes the bedrock of their freedom to participate in our contemporary knowledge economy—Can they be motivated to use Wikipedia to learn how to fill gaps in knowledge that our communities know (or what we ought to know), do credible research, sort through the infoquake, and mark their authorship in a public collaborative writing space?

Indeed, one of my major motivations for teaching Wikipedia editing since 2006 is that I have observed its potential for deeply engaging our students with 21st century knowledge production and intellectual service in several complex ways. First, students learn how to think critically about underserved disciplines like the arts and humanities by recognizing the extent to which they are absent from mainstream digital sites of knowledge making. Next, they recognize their ethical obligation to participate in globally distributed attempts to represent that knowledge for the purposes of educating the public about the value of Black Women’s contributions to the world. Third, they participate in crafting a narrative about the notability of black women across the diaspora, which enables them to learn more about how the arts and humanities is inextricably related to other fields of production that affect human decision-making such as media and advocacy. Throughout this process, students acquire invaluable research, writing, and critical thinking skills. Finally, Wikipedia editing can align student, faculty, and staff goals in a distinctly womanist method—through editathons, for example, everyone was invited to participate, regardless of “expertise,” because we all know something. By coming together to share our knowledge, we all benefited from the exchange. The social aspect of knowledge production and learning strengthens our spirit and our will to seek wisdom in the honor of both our individual excellence and our ancestors–to whom a great cognitive and emotional debt must be paid for our ability to tell the “herstory” of black women’s intellectual and cultural legacies.

Overall, Wikipedia has real implications for teaching and learning practices at HBCUs and higher education, in general. It transforms relationships between teachers across disciplines, who desire to know more about effectively exchanging–not simply transferring–learning with our colleagues and students. As Wikipedia continues to become a fundamental aspect of integrating social justice with emerging technologies, it is critical to look towards Wikipedia @20 to imagine how we might facilitate knowledge making with real impact that enables our community members–not just students, but faculty, staff, and residents–to chart meaningful paths of discovery.


[1] Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186, 106 S. Ct. 2841, 92 L. Ed. 2d 140 (1986)

[2] Yvonne L. Tharpes, "Bowers v. Hardwick and the Legitimization of Homophobia in America." Howard LJ 30 (1987): 829.

[3] David Artavia. “Matt Shepard, Tyler Oakley: Lives Separated by Two Decades of Change.” The Advocate, September 24, 2018.

[4] Alex Abad-Santos. “Philadelphia's New, Inclusive Gay Pride Flag Is Making Gay White Men Angry.” Vox. June 20, 2017.

[5] Jean Anyon. "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work." Journal of Education 162, no. 1 (1980): 67-92.

[6] Kevin Brooks and Chris Lindgren. "Responding to the coding crisis: From code year to computational literacy." Strategic Discourse: The Politics of (New) Literacy Crises (2015): 1-22.

[7] Ari Schlesinger, W. Keith Edwards, and Rebecca E. Grinter. "Intersectional HCI: Engaging Identity through Gender, Race, and Class." In Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 5412-5427. ACM, 2017.

[8]See the Wikis, Wikipedia and Writing syllabus.

[9] Howard Students and Professors Among Many Helping to Add More Black History to Wikipedia's Predominantly White Database. Atlanta Blackstar, February 22, 2015.

[10] For more information and resources, see: Teaching with Wikipedia [Open Resources] and the ACS symposium webinar packet

[11] Tyler Stephens. Spreading Black Girl Magic to Wikipedia. The Blueprint, May 2017.

[12] See also: this Photo Gallery of Spelman’s Art + Womanism 2017, as well as Reflections and Press of Spelman’s Art +Womanism 2017 and our total Contributions

[13] See also: the 2017 Spelman A+F Meetup Wikipedia Page for more details about the event, editing approaches for making herstory, and selected articles for development

[14] We acquired significant financial support from Morehouse Academic Affairs ($1,000), Spelman Honors ($500), the Spelman English Department ($300), Art+Feminism ($100), and the Wikipedia Foundation ($500 worth of swag)

[15] Heather Ford and Judy Wajcman. "‘Anyone can edit’, not everyone does: Wikipedia’s infrastructure and the gender gap." Social studies of science 47, no. 4 (2017): 511-527.

[16] Alamir Novin and Eric Meyers. "Making sense of conflicting science information: Exploring bias in the search engine result page." In Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Conference Human Information Interaction and Retrieval, pp. 175-184. ACM, 2017.

[17] Lee Rainie and Bill Tancer. "Wikipedia: When in doubt, multitudes seek it out." Pew Research Center Publications. Online verfügbar: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/460/wikipedia (26.04. 2007) (2007).

[18] Benjamin Collier and Julia Bear. "Conflict, criticism, or confidence: an empirical examination of the gender gap in Wikipedia contributions." In Proceedings of the ACM 2012 conference on computer supported cooperative work, pp. 383-392. ACM, 2012.

[19] Aaron Shaw and Eszter Hargittai. "The pipeline of online participation inequalities: the case of Wikipedia editing." Journal of Communication 68, no. 1 (2018): 143-168.

[20] Jennifer C. Edwards. "Wiki women: Bringing women into Wikipedia through activism and pedagogy." The History Teacher 48, no. 3 (2015): 409-436.

[21] Kat Stoeffel. “Closing Wikipedia's Gender Gap - Reluctantly.” The Cut. NY Mag, February 11, 2014.

[22] Adrianne Wadewitz. "Wikipedia is pushing the boundaries of scholarly practice but the gender gap must be addressed." Impact of Social Sciences Blog (2013).

[23] Claudia Wagner, David Garcia, Mohsen Jadidi, and Markus Strohmaier. "It's a man's Wikipedia? Assessing gender inequality in an online encyclopedia." In Ninth international AAAI conference on web and social media. 2015.

[24] Gráinne Ní Aodha. “Wikipedia's Community Is 85% Male, and Founder Jimmy Wales Isn't Sure How to Fix It.” TheJournal.ie, October 29, 2017.

[25] Jodi L. Wilson. "Proceed with extreme caution: Citation to wikipedia in light of contributor demographics and content policies." Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 16 (2013): 857.

[26] Benjamin Mako Hill and Aaron Shaw. "The Wikipedia gender gap revisited: Characterizing survey response bias with propensity score estimation." PloS one 8, no. 6 (2013): e65782.

[27] If English 193: First-Year Honors Composition or English 453: Writing in Professional Contexts students registered, edited, and volunteered at the event—attending for a minimum of two full hours. They could waive one missing homework assignment, or add a half a letter grade increase to the final portfolio assignment (which is weighted most heavily out of their graded assignments) if they diligently completed all their homework. If they chose to stay and work the entire event (lunch provided), they could apply the credit for up to one whole letter grade increase and to waive one missing homework assignment AND one unexcused absence. Every single FYC student showed up at some point of the event and several ENG 453: Writing in Professional Contexts students attended and participated, as well.

[28] I was also teaching English 390: Writing and Editing New Media. Wikipedia editing constituted their work for over half the course. The editathon presented an opportunity to link that public digital writing to offline community engagement. All students were required to attend as part of our homework schedule. They could use the event to dedicate time to researching and editing on their chosen article. Similar to the English 193 and English 453 students, they could volunteer to waive an absence or make up a homework assignment. No letter grade increases were offered to these students.

[29] English 453 (Writing in Professional Contexts) students were required to weigh in on the design and promotion of the event. They gave feedback on the poster, composed sample press releases, analyzed Art+Feminism’s Organizer kit, and proposed marketing strategies. The event offered a great opportunity for students to learn about project management and professional communication genres. Few, if any students, had composed a press release and practicing this genre felt “real” to them.

[30] At Spelman, first and second year students are required to complete 10 hours of service per week through our Bonner Office of Civic Engagement. Convincing its director to authorize the editathon as a service event significantly increased participation and radically transformed the institutions understanding of service.

[31] Robin Cembalest. “101 Women Artists Who Got Wikipedia Pages This Week.” ARTnews, February 6, 2014.

[32] Michael Hauben and Ronda Hauben. "Preface: What is a Netizen?." First Monday 3, no. 7 (1998).

[33] Ronda Hauben, Michael Hauben, Thomas Paine, and Larry Roberts. "The International and Scientific Origins of the Internet and the Emergence of the Netizens." The Amateur Computerist (2007): 7.

[34] See “Herstorical Womanist Research Methods.”

Discussions

Labels
Jake Orlowitz: I love this essay so much. Thank you for it and for all the work you did the past 20 years! One note, you end on ‘discovery’, and I wonder if you also want to bring up something like ‘and to shift who has authority in our society’. Just a thought. Thank you again! This is a great addition to the project.
Jake Orlowitz: applied?
Jake Orlowitz: intentional capitaliation? prefer italics? or just a typo?
Joseph Reagle: Do you remember what it was? Is it still there?
Joseph Reagle: I appreciate this reference to the project title, but the Press might end up with a different book title and these then might be confusing. Perhaps best to not use?
Joseph Reagle: delete
Joseph Reagle: ?
Jake Orlowitz: I believe… editing Wikipedia may meet a volunteering requirement for students.
Joseph Reagle: ?
Joseph Reagle: make case consistent with preceding “enable”
Joseph Reagle: tighten/restructure
Joseph Reagle: clarify
Joseph Reagle: delete
Joseph Reagle: hard to parse
Joseph Reagle: delete
Joseph Reagle: two periods (and collapse notes)
Joseph Reagle: “users’”
Jake Orlowitz: perhaps user’s is intended
Joseph Reagle: clarify
Joseph Reagle: Yikes! Great point that boggles my mind.
Joseph Reagle: took me a couple of reads to parse
Joseph Reagle: clarify/restructure/tighten
Joseph Reagle: lowercase
Joseph Reagle: “is easier to use”
Joseph Reagle: meta-discourse a little stilted.. “As I showed” or “As we saw” ?
Joseph Reagle: delete
Joseph Reagle: this bit of meta-discourse seems awkward, especially stuck on the end of a paragraph; it should at least be its own paragraph (do try varying the length of paragraphs), and I suspect there’s a smoother way to reorientate the reader but not sure how yet
Joseph Reagle: slash?
Joseph Reagle: Chicago style: spell whole numbers
Joseph Reagle: insert period (and collapse notes)
Joseph Reagle: “in the”?
Joseph Reagle: “our”? / delete?
Joseph Reagle: lower case?
Joseph Reagle: “College, a women’s Historically Black College and University (HBCU).”
Joseph Reagle: New idea: simply write “Spelman, a women’s historically black college” and then in the next paragraph “Within the educational space of Spelman” because later in that sentence you again provide the context of Black Women’s herstory.
Joseph Reagle: explain
Joseph Reagle: delete?
Joseph Reagle: delete for concision
Joseph Reagle: Like you, I teach with WP but I’ve never feared it as a challenge to my authority. I’ve rightfully worried about uncritical use and plagiarism. Sticks in the mud might’ve feared change, or what they did not know… Even so, not all of my students know that WP is inappropriate as a substantive source…
Joseph Reagle: “requests”
Joseph Reagle: tighten: “when we checked Wikipedia for trivia about a South Park or Queer As Folk episode, we noticed“
Joseph Reagle: tighten: “we often used it.” ?
Joseph Reagle: “My best friend and I” (a couple of sentences start with “me”)
Joseph Reagle: we want to go easy on notes: trim unnecessary ones; collapse sequences (1&2) into a single one; and combine multiple ones throughout a pagaraph near its end if possible; prose notes should, if possible, be integrated into the prose or struck (hard, I know!)
Joseph Reagle: Can you include your thesis at the start, perhaps with a connection to our theme?
Joseph Reagle: Engaging start. I like the tone/voice throughout: personable, experienced, and interesting.
Joseph Reagle: tighten for concision/clarity
?
Aleta Turner: Hi Alex, Could you please update the name of my library to the Athens-Clarke County Library? This is the official name, and it distinguishes it from libraries in all the other towns named Athens. Thanks!!