Tag: Wikipedia

How Museums Are Like MOOCs, Part 1

stoneI am a strong advocate for user-generated content, such as Wikipedia, and open on-line content like MOOCS. I remain somewhat amused but mostly incredulous at the “sky is falling” folks who still bemoan this trend in knowledge sharing.

In my dealings within academia, over the past five years the discussion has gone from “online courses might work well, in x department, but not in our department, where face-to-face interaction is critical because . . . (fill in the blank) ” to the present day where most departments are at least experimenting with some form of  blended classes.  Now I particularly enjoy noting that students who I encouraged (or insisted/demanded) to enroll in remedial MOOC writing courses have dramatically improved writing skills.  Even my doubter colleagues realize that such improvements make their instructor jobs easier when reading through a stack of 10-page student papers.

I had a bit of an “aha” moment on all of this while listening to a To The Point podcast a few weeks ago.  The topic was Massive Open Online Courses, MOOC’s: The Future of Education?  The naysayers primary complaints expressed on the podcast rest with a lack of faculty control of MOOC content and whether MOOCs even work as an educational tool.  My suspicion is that those in the upper-echelons of MOOC and MOOC-like developments find these complaints rather amusing as the NeoLuddites of higher education make their last futile gasps to preserve the good old days.

But the source of my “aha” came from a different objection to MOOCs raised on the podcast.  The naysayers also point to the low completion rates of MOOCs.  Depending on how you cut it, as few as 5% of the tens of thousands of individuals who might enroll in a single course end up completing all the assignments.  In the past, my response to this objection was that even with a low rate of completion, if 1000 students finished the course, quantitatively, that is still a good number for a single professor’s course.  Further, if those 1000 paid say 25.00 per head for a high-end certificate of completion (known as the signature track in coursera-speak) seemingly that is an economic model that could ultimately sustain the venture long-term.

But then something happened to me and the “aha” struck.  I recently registered for the MOOC Content Strategy For Professionals: Engaging Audiences for Your Organization.  The course seemed ideal to explore a strategic orientation for engaging museum audiences.  At coursera.org, when registering for courses, one is asked to state if they intend to do all the readings, watch all the videos, and complete all the assignments.  As usual, I dutifully checked all the “yes” boxes.  The first set of lectures was fantastic.  I enjoyed them so much I ordered the textbook from Amazon.com immediately.  This MOOC presented the precise information I sought.  I reasoned the book would be a great supplement.  However, the assignment that constituted 70% of the MOOC course grade was about developing a content strategy model around a clothing campaign – not a project that resonated with me.  I decided I was not going to complete the assignment and therefore, not complete the requirements for the certificate.  In so doing, I was going to be part of the 95% statistic the naysayers suggest are MOOC failures.

A few days later I registered for the The History and Future of (mostly) Higher Education taught by Cathy Davidson that I reported on last week.  Upon registering, I checked the “no” boxes on my intent for completing the readings, videos, and assignments.  I actually wasn’t even certain if I wanted to watch anything of the MOOC beyond the lecture that piqued my interest – Teaching Like it’s 1992.  This registration marked a real shift in my thinking.  Previously, before registering for a MOOC I always read the syllabus and determined if I had enough time to complete the course requirements.  In this instance, I knew I wanted to listen to at least one lecture, but was not going to make a commitment to the entire seven week offering.  That decision was very liberating and instructive for me.  Again, from the linear perspective of registering for the course, completing all the tasks on the syllabus, taking the final test, and getting a final grade, the naysayers will argue this MOOC also did not work for me.

But I object.  Both MOOCs gave me exactly the information and training I sought.  So how can that be translated as the MOOCs not working?

Part of the answer to that question is found in Professor John Levine’s  Introductory Lecture for the Content Strategy MOOC where he notes:

Let me tell you a few important things about this MOOC, however. First since it is for professionals, there’ll be no grades and no tests.  It’s not a college course, it’s a program for you as a professional to master.  And then be able to use what you learn here and take it back to work.

That very statement addresses a point raised in a Ted Talk by Peter Norvig, a pioneer in the MOOC field.  Norvig states that “everyone is both a learner and a teacher.”  This understanding fits well within the understanding of MOOCs as integral components of informal, lifelong and free-choice learning.  As Norvig further discusses, this understanding places MOOC’s beyond the limits of traditional academia.  Of note, the naysayers rarely, if ever, address this point that Norvig raises.  I suspect the lack of input is because the naysayers perceive education from the pre-1992 paradigm.

Museums function in the same way.  As a general statement, in a museum you can come enter at any point along the path.  You are not required to read every label.  You are not tested before you leave the building.  But, you can engage with what you want for as long as you want.

Next week I want to explore the implications of the Museum as MOOCs.

Do you draw similar parallels between MOOCs and cultural heritage venues?

(Note:  In a preemptive response: 1) I would gladly pay 10.00 for either of the MOOCs noted above. 2) I am well aware that there are MOOC disasters out there.  The venture is new.  coursera.org is two years old.  I am certain a time traveling fly on the wall would hear all the same objections to Gutenberg’s first printing press in the 1400s.

Applying Archaeology with the Public

excaThis semester I am teaching Applied Archaeology and Museums at the University of Memphis.  This course addresses my primary research interests – the preservation and presentation of cultural heritage and its use as an empowerment tool for the public.  Since I last taught the course two years ago, the resources for this empowerment tool multiplied exponentially.  A good bit of the growth comes from digital technology put in the service of human needs.  (Note this understanding of technology, well articulated by folks such as Clay Shirky, is at odds with the neo-Luddite perspective.  See here for my rant on all that.)

Access to the products of digital technology is not always simple or readily available.  Jason Baird Jackson posted an interesting piece on the high costs for accessing academic publications in a growing open access world.  The post includes a link to The Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine that allows an author to retain specific distribution rights for their published work.  Sherpa is a searchable database that lists distribution rights by journal that authors retain for open access distribution.  Here I am less interested in discussing specific open-access issues, and more some of the current venues and perspectives in which cultural heritage information is presented to the public.

On the digital end:

A common point for these new opportunities is that even in my low-tech and financially strapped museum existence, all are practical possibilities where the primary limitation is not technology but labor to produce the products – a situation that can circle back to volunteerism and community service learning.

A second common point is that products of these technologies are accessible to a public with a wi-fi connection and basic internet surfing skills.

However, when considering the products that will live in real-time contexts created by students in my Applied Archaeology and Museums course this semester – after all, isn’t that what applied is all about? – I am concerned that the products be relevant to public interests and needs.  Consider:

  • I had a back-and-forth with a recent graduate of our applied anthropology program who lamented that she felt well-prepared to write lengthy academic reports but her employers really only wanted the punch line impact statements, something her academic training left her unprepared to produce.
  • I am working with a student who is developing an exhibit for a county museum based on a several thousand piece surface collection curated in our museum repository for the past 30 years.    The intern was excited by my preaching about the need for the exhibit to be relevant to the public, including avocational archaeologists who visit the museum.  To that end, we discussed how the exhibit could interpret prehistoric trade and exchange, site function, and time period of occupation – all based on typical artifacts collected from the land surface after spring plowing or a good rain.  However, as a well-trained anthropology undergraduate, the student was reasonably obsessed with making certain she typed her projectile points accurately.  Her training made it hard to accept that the primary public interest of similar shaped points, from the same time period, manufactured at the same location, likely used for the same function, was not the correct typological name ascribed by an archaeologist several thousand years after the tools production.  An exhibit that is not typology focused is not “dumbing down” to the public, but rather, functionally interpretive and different.  That is a lesson from our co-creation with avocational archaeologists.

Co-creation with the public is a critical part of making resources relevant – whether digital or real-time.  Co-creation has become a buzzword in museum contexts for the past number years, as popularized by Nina Simon in her Participatory Museum volume.   My colleague Elizabeth Bollwerk and I have organized a fifteen paper session Co-Creation, the Public and the Archaeological Record  for the Society for American Archaeology Annual Meetings this April in Austin, Texas.  The session abstract is:

Co-creation in public archaeology is a means to engage and empower citizens to become stakeholders of the archaeological record. In museum contexts Simon (2010:278) writes that the purpose of co-creative community projects is “to give voice and be responsive to the needs and interests of local community members; to provide a place for community engagement and dialogue; and to help participants develop skills that will support their own individual and community goals.” The papers in this session discuss a variety of recent archaeological projects that implement the co-creative model. The contributions demonstrate how co-creation moves beyond “hands-on” educational experiences or typical volunteer programs because participants are invited to play an active role in designing and constructing the final products to address their needs and interests. Co-creation aligns with current emphases on informal, life-long, and free-choice learning models that foster public engagement in the preservation of cultural heritage resources. The papers in this session also explore the benefits and challenges of using this method and provide examples of best practices for implementation. Finally, these papers speak to the impact of co-creation on the discipline and how the process increases the ability of archaeology to contribute to debates on contemporary issues.

We are pleased that Carol McDavid, a pioneer in this process, including her work at the Levi-Jordan Plantation (link to 1998 website) will serve as a discussant for the session.

How do you envision co-creation in archaeology?

My Experience in Teaching a Class on Wikipedia, Part 3

eliz

posted before about the class response to their “greatest insight” gained from participation in the Wikipedia as a Research Tool course at the University of Memphis this past semester.  Here is my first post on the course that provides background on how I constructed the class and shifts in student thinking about Wikipedia over the semester.

This week, I take up a second question on their final exam where students recommended changes for the next time I teach the course.  Below is a representative sample of student responses along with my thoughts.

What about this class did not work for you?  How would you improve the course if offered in the future?

“I would improve the course by having students create articles from the (Wikipedia) list of requested pages. I feel it would be easier to have something to go off of . . . versus having students create an article on their own.  I noticed at the beginning of the semester, a lot of people were simply editing the articles for their high school. I knew very little about creating an article, let alone a music or album article, and therefore got to experience a lot more in-depth about how to create one. It was actually a lot of fun getting to mess around and figure stuff out, like figuring out how to create a track list or adding an album cover. I feel that if everyone stepped out of their comfort zones and did an article that required more than just adding a few sentences, they would get a better experience of editing an article and starting from scratch.”

The Wikipedia 12-week syllabus for article creation allows students to get half-way through the course before getting serious about the topic of the article they will produce.  Although I directed students to the request for articles page early in the course, the formal structure of the 12-week syllabus allowed for procrastination.  The focus on creating a page was in some ways a detriment to the process.  Some students created excellent pages and others not.  In hindsight, the expectation that all students will create an article results in inevitable substandard pieces being loaded to Wikipedia’s public space that will ultimately be deleted.   Simple fixes for this problem include:

  • to not set a mandatory sequential timeframe as the current 12-week syllabus does for moving the student article from the sandbox to a live page.
  • require instructor approval for moving the article from the sandbox to the live page.
  • or require students to submit their articles to the formal Wikipedia editorial process when moving the pieces from the sandbox.

Understanding the coding was difficult for me, and moving my page out of the sandbox and onto a live page posed many challenges. This however, was not a sign of a fault in class, as I was given the tools to resolve these issues. My only suggestion for reducing this problem would be to possibly create a page in class, as an example. This would allow the students to be more familiar with how to complete the tasks above before they had to do it on their own.

This comment flows into a discussion of Marc Prensky’s often cited article Digital Native, Digital Immigrants.  Though informative, the article seems to overstate the divide.  For example, the problems some of the students had with the technology in the class, seem counter to the sweeping generalizations of the divide painted by Prensky.  Simply put, as a Digital Immigrant, I overestimated the digital knowledge of the Digital Natives in the class.

Although I reviewed each step in class, we watched Wikipedia tutorials on same, and students were provided links to reference sheets for every process, some students had a difficult time with the rather simple Wikipedia coding.  Some students remained unaware of the Beta Visual Editor or reference templates, despite being discussed and used as examples in class.

The fixes to the technological concerns include:

  • require students to bring their laptops to class.  Alternatively, the class could be held in a computer lab on campus.
  • although I demonstrated all processes in class on existing articles, some students suggested that I create an article along with them.  This suggestion makes complete sense to me.  I was in error when assuming basic coding would be readily understood by all students.

Also, the course might be improved if the sister projects were emphasized a little more. This is just a personal suggestion because I was unaware of these projects before the class, and I was quite intrigued by them. I think spending a little more time investing some of these could be interesting and would shed more light on just how incredible Wikipedia as a whole is.

I enjoyed the reading journals and giving insight on specific things. The only thing that I really felt myself begging for during the year was just more class discussion. I really enjoyed listening to what my fellow classmates had to say about what they had found in their experiences.

The above two comments get to the essence of the changes I will incorporate in the next iteration of this course.  The course ended up focusing too much on the technical aspects of Wikipedia and not enough on the concept I really wanted to bring to the table – a discussion of user-generated content and open authority as in Lori Byrd Philip’s recent article The Temple and the Bazaar: Wikipedia as a Platform for Open Authority in Museums.  Although we did discuss blogs, webinars, MOOCs and related issues, in the future I will spend more time on these topics.

Also Case Studies: How Professors are Teaching with Wikipedia is an excellent alternative resource to the 12-week article writing syllabus.  The assignments in the case studies do not require creating a Wikipedia article but provide experience in the same production skills, such as editing articles and adding photographs or other graphics to existing articles.  These activities seem more suitable for the type of class I taught that met for only one hour, once per week for 15 weeks.

Here are a few summary points on my general experience with the class:

  • The course provided students with an experience in user-generated content where they were required to make decisions and assessments independent of their instructor.  Although successful, I want to push that experience further.  Unfortunately, a considerable amount of time in the classroom and for the students work outside of class got bogged down in technical minutia.  A one-hour per week, one semester course with Freshman, most with very limited experience in user-generated content, proved an insufficient amount of time to both introduce the concept and create the product.
  • Wikipedia video tutorials and information sheets contain somewhat of a mixed message about the real world experience of Wikipedia.  The admonition to “be bold” and abundant notations that you can clean up any mistakes after the fact, while true, is certainly not the position of many of the editors.  While some territoriality, dismissive, and elitist comments are not uncommon on Wikipedia, the majority of editorial comments received by my students were completely in order, supportive, and on target.  Whereas most students produced acceptable or superior products/edits, a significant minority put up articles of poor quality.  In fact, my greatest misgiving in the course was not having safeguards in place, such as noted above, to prevent poor quality articles from going public, that will ultimately be deleted.
  • I am strong proponent of open authority and user-generated content.  Throughout the course, I consistently emphasized that Wikipedia was only being used as an example to examine user-generated content.  Throughout the course for every Jimmy Wales video promoting Wikipedia, we watched a second video that presented a counter perspective.  Ditto for readings.  For example, a third question on the students final exam was to assess Tom Simonite’s The Decline of Wikipedia recently published in the MIT Technology Review.  Given the brevity of the class, I did not include readings or videos that might be termed more as rants or diatribes such as Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur.  However, given today’s polarized sociopolitical climate on almost every issue, there is an apparent need to expand student exposure to these more extreme positions and I will do so in the future.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and look forward to a revised course offering for the fall of 2014.

My Experience in Teaching a Class on Wikipedia, Part 2

buddysnow

I posted last week about the class I led this semester, Wikipedia as a Research Tool with freshman in the Honors Program at the University of Memphis.  That post provided background on how I constructed the class and shifts in student thinking about Wikipedia over the course of the semester.

For a portion of the student’s final exam, they responded to two questions aimed at evaluating the course experience.  First, I asked about the most important insight they gained from the class.  Second, I asked the students to recommend changes for the next time  the course is offered.

Below I present a representative sample of student responses to the first question and my commentary.  Next week, I will follow the same format on the student suggestions about changes for the next time I teach the course.

What was the most important insight you gained from this class?

Perhaps the most consistent insight students listed was that Wikipedia was not the completely unreliable information resource their high school teachers and some of their current college instructors warned them about.

At one point my middle school librarian said that Wikipedia was the devil. As a result, after all these years of being told that Wikipedia was an unreliable resource and that I was not allowed to use it, I just automatically thought that Wikipedia was not reliable.  Learning about how the website is run and that most of the “employees” are in fact volunteers gave me a better insight on the integrity of the website and the people who run it.

The most important insight I learned from the class is that Wikipedia is more trustworthy than I once thought.

I learned many things during this course, but the most important would be evaluating credible sources. Yes, I learned this in previous high school classes, but in college credible sources has a whole new meaning.

Of importance, the student insights were not based on an uncritical acceptance that everything printed on a Wikipedia page is a canonical truth.  Rather, the insights resulted from the examination of Wikipedia articles of the their own choosing, coupled with an appreciation for the editing process.

I saw first hand just how quickly incorrect information or articles without citations were taken down.

I did not even know that Wikipedia could be edited by everyone.   Teahouses and other editors are also available to help anyone create their own Wikipedia edits and articles.

One student’s comments on their own article creation was particularly insightful:

My page is actually being considered for deletion simply because it is too similar to another page. I was not aware of this and actually thought that my page would contain much more information than the one that took over mine.  This was however not the case. I blame the fact that I did not thoroughly read the other page. In all honesty I should have simply made a series of edits to the existing page. After using Wikipedia I have found that if an editor goes in with selfish intentions, he or she may not like he or she finds. Wikipedia is meant to be a place of selfless unbiased information. This would have to be my greatest insight.

Students enjoyed writing their articles, even if they often struggled with formatting and technical issues.  (In fact, technical considerations was the primary area students recommended addressing in future courses.  I will take up this point next week.)

“I actually enjoyed creating a Wikipedia article. I was really stressed and confused in the beginning because I did not know what to expect.  However, as I learned how to edit sections and add information, I began to enjoy creating my article. It was fun to mess around with the layout of the page and deciding what to add. I would consider making another Wikipedia page in my free time.

Some students were critical of their critics.  I will return to this point next week.

It is not so much that becoming a user is difficult, as it is quite simple, but, as demonstrated in many situations with articles presented in class, there are those individuals that seem to be very avid Wikipedia editors, and these people can be somewhat territorial.

Placing such heavy reliance on the community to police itself is a fairly brave approach to moderation, but one which fundamentally breaks apart the long-existing problem of moderators running pages in their own interests rather than those of the community.  While it may not be in its best shape at present, the existing architecture supports a self-sustaining community full of internal checks and balances which, though tedious, serve well to keep the project on task and neutral.  As someone who is very interested in the growth and development of internet culture, especially in the inevitable forming of social cliques and hierarchies, Wikipedia has offered me a new paradigm from which to view the world online.

Students came to an understanding of Wikipedia as user-generated content.

One of the most valuable things I learned from this class definitely had to do with how many people contribute to user-generated sites like Wikipedia. I never realized just how many people were so dedicated to the maintenance and improvement of the site. Even just from observing my own personal page, I noticed edits being made very quickly. This completely surprised me, as I thought my page would probably just stay under the radar since it was not a very popular or controversial topic. Also, I was astonished to realize how well maintained the site is given that there is not a large paid staff. This means that all the countless edits made on the millions of articles are reviewed and adjusted by citizens just like myself.

And finally, students in the course came away with an appreciation of how they can use Wikipedia in their research.  In another part of the final exam I asked the hypothetical:  “In your college level U.S. History class, you are assigned to write a 2000 word paper on the history of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  Will you consult Wikipedia in writing this paper?  If yes, how?  If not, why not?”

Without exception, every student said they would consult Wikipedia as a starting point for further direction in their research.  For example:

The most important insight that I gained from this class is a confirmation of what Wikipedia is actually about. I always knew it was an encyclopedia but most people used it differently. Wikipedia is not a research tool, or a source shopping list, and even though it can be used in those ways, what Wikipedia is really about is being an online encyclopedia. It is simply an online “book” of facts, and these facts are then used to inform people. I do not think that Wikipedia ever had the intention or wanted to become acceptable as a citable source.

 My own greatest insight from the class has to do with how I will teach the class next time.  The one-credit hour course met only once per week for one hour.  I found the 12-week syllabus provided by Wikipedia overly ambitious for some students in the class.  In fact, up to one-half of the articles written by the individual students will ultimately be either deleted or combined with existing articles.  At the same time, half of the class completed articles of worth, and the entire class received a solid introduction to the pros and cons of user-generated content.  I will return to this point next week.

 

My Experience Teaching a Class on Wikipedia, Part 1

Untitled

Wordle generated from word associations with “Wikipedia” at the beginning of the semester.

This week is the final session in the Wikipedia as a Research Tool class I taught this semester to Freshman in the Undergraduate Honors Program at the University of Memphis.  I have blogged a bunch in the past, most recently last week, on the merits of Wikipedia in both higher education, cultural heritage and museum studies, and as an information resource.  Generally, I find that Wikipedia gets a bad rap largely from ignorance about the evolution of the resource or from those not understanding the intent of the tool.

Regardless, on the first day of class this semester I aimed to gauge the students knowledge of Wikipedia, determine their specific interests in the subject, and go from there.  I had in mind that each student would create their own Wikipedia article or substantially edit an existing page.  Early on I made contact with Jami Mathewson from the Wiki Education Foundation.  Jami sent me a packet of information that included a 12-week syllabus for writing a Wikipedia article.  Wikipedia has many intro and how-to brochures/tutorials available through Wikimedia Outreach.  I did not use all the resources available to me as an instructor in the course, especially having the students turn in all assignments in the Wikipedia course space.  Next time I likely will.  

My own syllabus follows the one Jami provided, supplemented with additional assignments and readings.  My additions focused less on a discussion of Wikipedia and more on the concepts of user-generated content, open authority and public access.  In class, I noted to students that Wikipedia will give way to something else, in the same way that Friendster, was replaced by My Space which lost out to Facebook, which will be overshadowed by something else.  One course objective was to contextualize Wikipedia within the noted concepts.  For example, a portion of the student’s final assignment is to assess the recent MIT Technology Review article The Decline of Wikipedia.

On the first day of the semester and again this past Tuesday now nearing the end of the semester, students created a list of word associations for the term Wikipedia.  The lists were spontaneous responses.  The instructions were simple “Take out a piece of blank paper and write your name at the top.”  When everyone had done so, I instructed the students to “Write a list of words that you associate with Wikipedia.”  The students responded for two minutes.  The wordle or word cloud at the top of this post is from lists the students created on the first day of class.  The wordle below is from the lists the students created this past Tuesday.   

The wordle from the first day of the semester can be read as “Wikipedia is for internet based research to obtain information.  Although a helpful search tool, Wikipedia is unreliable.  Wikipedia is used in plagiarism.  Some schools ban the use of Wikipedia.”

The wordle fourteen weeks later, shown below, is markedly different in several respects:

  • Research, the most common word listed at the start of the semester is completely missing at the end of the semester.  This change likely reflects a consistent class discussion over the semester that Wikipedia is a very useful starting point to obtain information, but not the final stop in doing scholarly research.
  • Unreliable in the first wordle is completely missing from the wordle at the end of the semester and is replaced by reliable and at the same rate.  This switch is very easy to understand.  Most students, commented in their weekly reading journals how surprised they were at the amount of editing done on Wikipedia articles as documented on article history and talk pages.  The students were also surprised at how quickly other users edited their own articles, in some cases adding references, in other instances deleting content that was not neutral and expressed a specific point of view.  The shift from unreliable to reliable also reflects a concern raised by students on the first day of class – they felt ill-prepared to argue against their high school teachers who banned or strongly discouraged the use of Wikipedia.  Their own experience with Wikipedia provided them with the arguments they needed.  Of note neither plagiarism or school banned appears on the final wordle.
  • Other terms that appear in the wordle at the end of the semester such as user-generated, free, citation, accessible, neutral, and encyclopedic represent an appreciation of the Five Pillars of Wikipedia.  International is a very logical inclusion on the final wordle for students who spent any time exploring the Wikipedia education pages.

So what does all of this mean?  Have I effectively duped some of the best and brightest into believing that Wikipedia is something useful and students do not really need to heed the dire warnings of folks such as modern-day digital Luddite Andrew Keen who in his Cult of the Amateur warns that with such user-generated content:

“The monkeys takeover.  Say good-bye to today’s experts and cultural gatekeepers – our reporters, news anchors, editors, music companies, and Hollywood movie studios.  In today’s cult of the amateur, the monkeys are running the show.  With their infinite typewriters, they are authoring the future” (p. 9).

I think not. Or as I have noted in the past, “what a fine job us primates are doing!”

In Part 2 of this post, the students will speak.

Java Printing

Wordle generated from word associations with “Wikipedia” at the end of the semester.

Why I Blog About Archaeology

rails to trailsSo Doug, over at Doug’s Archaeology, launched a blogging carnival leading up to the Blogging in Archaeology session at the Society for American Archaeology 2014 meetings in Austin.  The idea is that Doug will pose a question each month, folks will blog away on their own blogs in response.  Doug will then summarize the individual posts at the end of the month, and post the set of links.  The carnival and SAA session have the Twitter hashtag #blogarch.

So, if you are up to writing a response to the monthly question on your own blog send the link to Doug’s Archaeology and/or email him (drocksmacqueen@gmail.com) the link.  Sounds like party!

Doug posed two questions for this month to which I respond below:

Why did you start to blog?

I wrote my first archaeology blog post four years ago (next week) that included in part:

In early November of 2009, I participated in a session at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference held in Mobile, Alabama.  The session focused on taking Archaeology into the Community.  The papers addressed diversity of issues including a traveling ArchaeoBus, site visitor programs, archaeology fairs, museum exhibit development, Native American representation, archaeology in the classrooms, and more.  The session was a blast!  I learned a lot was able to meet folks with an interest in what I think of as applied archaeology and engaged scholarship – basically a reciprocal and symbiotic relationship between us as museum/archaeology folks and the communities who through their tax dollars are our employers.

Besides exposure to innovative and creative ideas, a couple of other things stood out to me about the session.  First, ours was the only session at the Conference that directly addressed archaeology or museums as educational resources for the broader community.   Second, the first speaker at the session, Nancy Hawkins Outreach Director at the Louisiana Division of Archaeology and a 20-year plus advocate for Public Outreach, commented that it was nice to see “the choir” assembled – noting the small but loyal cadre of advocates for the mission.

However, coming away from the Conference, I am optimistic that there are quite a few more singers in the choir in the Southeast United States.  One important idea was that the session participants stay in dialogue, reach out to others, and continue the conversation.  This blog is meant to be a part of that process.

So that was four years ago.

And the second question Doug posed, Why do you keep on blogging?

Just recently, I was quite surprised that my college chose my blogging as the basis for a “Faculty Spotlight” story, that read in part:

Dr. Robert Connolly, Associate Professor in the Anthropology Department and the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa launched his blog Archaeology Museums and Outreach about four years ago. . . . The posts include interviews with cultural heritage professionals, reports on innovative research projects, book reviews, and more. Connolly notes that the post that received the most hits and reblogs was the recent “Thoughts on How to Get a Museum Job.”

In evaluating his blogging efforts, Connolly says “I am really somewhat lazy about promoting the blog. Primarily, I focus on a specific niche of the cultural heritage student or professional interested in public engagement. If you Google my blog title, you will not find another blog with that focus. So I definitely fill a niche and the interest continues to grow. Unique hits per post range from as few as 500 to many as 3000 per week.”

Connolly also believes that blogs are more accepted in academic circles today. He points to The London School of Economics and Political Science as one of the leaders in academic blogs. He also cites Paul Mullins’ blog Archaeology and Material Culture as an example of a blog with well researched and referenced posts. Mullins, chair of the Anthropology Department at IUPU and the President of the Society for Historic Archaeology is a strong advocate for considering alternative academic products as legitimate scholarship.

Archaeology, Museums and Outreach also provides Connolly with numerous networking and professional opportunities. “I have published three peer reviewed articles from invitations by editors who asked me to expand a concept I presented in my blog. The blog also brings national and even international exposure for the C.H. Nash Museum. A benefit of blogging that I enjoy a great deal is developing “colleagues” who I will likely never meet in person or even speak to on the phone. For example, I regularly engage with a vibrant network of museum professionals in Australia, one of whom has reviewed my article drafts prior to publication.”

Connolly acknowledges that reading and writing blogs can be a huge time drain and produce little. But ultimately, he sees a bright future for such user-generated content. This semester he is teaching an Undergraduate Honors Forum titled “Wikipedia as a Research Tool.” Like blogs, he is convinced that Wikipedia has a place in academia. “In my Museum Practices graduate seminar, we spend about 45 minutes of one class period discussing the ethics of repatriation using the Elgin Marbles as a case study. I had been using a brief chapter from an archaeological text as background reading for the students. A couple of years ago, I went to the Wikipedia page for the Elgin Marbles. I found a balanced and up-to-date 5000-word article with over 100 references that approached the discussion from multiple perspectives. I realized that for the purposes of a single class case study discussion, I knew of no better single resource than the Wikipedia entry.”

Connolly notes that the aspect of Wikipedia that most surprises the students in his current Honors Forum is the rigorous editing and referencing process in creating Wikipedia pages. “One aspect of user-generated content that I enjoy the most is the need for critical assessment of the printed word. We did an exercise on the first day of class this fall where the students were able to see that the Wikipedia entry on a particular topic was actually better researched and more reliable than a report on the same topic in the Smithsonian Institutions Contributions to Anthropology. We continue to move in a direction where the venue of presentation does not always determine the worth of the written word, rather the scholarship on which the text is based. Blogs and other forms of user-generated content clearly have a place in that discussion.”

That’s it for me in a rather large nutshell.  Ultimately it comes down to the exchange of ideas.  If I think about the most stimulating and interesting information I come across on a regular basis, the starting point, whether a research update, innovative approach to programming, a book review or whatever often is in the form of a blog post.  I enjoy participating in that process.

Wikipedia as a Scholarly Resource

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By User:Husky and h3m3ls, Mischa de Muynck and Niels [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Over the past couple of weeks, students in my Museum Practices graduate seminar presented their semester projects.  An Egyptology Art History graduate student, Chris Stelter, presented on the 66 short biographies he created for the renovation of the American Legacy exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum here in Memphis.  He used Wikipedia as a primary resource in the project noting that “. . . using Wikipedia as a main source has helped me make a new mental connection between the available information, what I myself, as a museum professional, want to present, and what a visitor would want to take in.  Since I am providing information for the public and Wikipedia is made by the public, it provides an interesting connection between scholarly research and public intake.”

In discussion after his presentation, Chris noted a certain trepidation at using Wikipedia for a “scholarly” project.  When asked what he would use if he were creating similar biographies for a group of Egyptologists Chris suggested the Who Was Who in Egyptology volume – arguably even less inclusive than Wikipedia.

Regardless of the specific merits in using Wikipedia to collect the Civil Rights leaders mini-bio information, which I find wholly appropriate, I found the class discussion interesting on another level.  As I reflected before in this blog, the very mention of a virtual museum or Wikipedia as a scholarly resource caused audible gasps from seminar students five years ago.  This year after Chris’ presentation the class was able to have a reasoned discussion, while still noting that Wikipedia was loathed by the vast majority of their professors.

I have posted before on Wikipedia as a research tool and specific applications in museums.  Six months down the road from those posts, the potential of Wikipedia as a research and information tool continues to grow.  A mid-year review of the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums with Wikipedia (GLAM) points to this evolving direction. Also, consider the following links:

  • Michigan Wikipedians as “The first student group of its kind in the country, Michigan Wikipedians support the use of Wikipedia on campus for purposes of education. Similar to the Open.Michigan initiative, Michigan Wikipedians foster the development of educational content that can be used globally under open licenses. The club is open to all students and faculty of the University of Michigan, as well as community members who are interested in Wikipedia.”
  • The very entry for Museums in Wikipedia is a 7000 word article with 45 “scholarly” references.  The article covers everything from the etymology of the word to virtual museums.  Were the essay written as an undergraduate honors thesis, the student would be given an A and a strong letter of recommendation.
  • This Wikipedian in Residence link lists the intent, function and experience of individuals who have taken up such assignments at a range of institutional types as essential collaborators, builders, and promoters of Wikipedia.  Scroll to the bottom of the linked page to view projects that the Wikipedians have piloted.

I was reading Debbie Morrison’s most recent post on her Online Learning Insights blog and was a bit overwhelmed when reflecting on the general reluctance of higher education to embrace these potentials, choosing instead to hunker down in their silos.  Then I got to the paragraph heading “Personal Learning Network” in Debbie’s post and it started making a good bit more sense. She wrote about the importance of personal motivation in accepting the new technology. I thought of how in 1994 while finishing my PhD I taught a course back in my hometown titled “Anthropology and the Internet” in a department of eight faculty of whom only three even had email accounts.  One faculty member that year proudly refused the computer the University had offered him choosing instead to continue typing his manuscripts on an IBM Selectric typewriter. However, when he realized he could get the daily Mexican newspapers where he did his research online, he became a convert overnight to the wonders of the digital age.  Based in part on pressure from students in that class, the next year the department had a computer lab set-up.  Can a reasoned and objective assessment of the scholarly applications of Wikipedia be far behind?

How do you use Wikipedia as a tool in your scholarly work?

Wikipedia, Museums, Trade and More

I have blogged before about Wikipedia and both the positive and negative “professional” reactions to the resource.  Returning to that thread, one of the more interesting sessions I attended at the American Association of Museums meetings last week in Minneapolis dealt with Wikipedia – specifically the GLAM-Wiki Initiative (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums with Wikipedia) that aims to help “cultural institutions share their resources with the world through high-impact collaboration alongside experienced Wikipedia editors.  It is an unparalled opportunity for the custodians of our cultural heritage to present their collections to new audiences.”

A GLAM promotional flyer distributed at the session cites articles in The Chronicle of Philanthropy that report on the work of Smithsonian Wikipedian in Residence Sarah Stierch, an article in the The Atlantic on National Archive Wikipedian in Residence Dominic McDevitt-Parks, and a New York Times piece on Wikipedia in the British Museum.  A monthly GLAM newsletter demonstrates the international, albeit western, scope of the GLAM Initiative.

So what does all of this mean for enhancing either the visitor experience in museums or outreach beyond an institutions walls.  The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has been in the forefront in the U.S. in employing QR codes, videos, and other tools to access Wikipedia-based information in multiple languages on museum objects.  New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Wikipedia page provides an example of the extensive museum-based on-line information.  Visit the  MoMA Wikipedia entry for Van Gogh’s Starry Night to see the potential of information exchange.

Perhaps to best visualize the potential, check this page from the National Archives that lists the over 100,000 images in queue for loading to a WikiCommons site.  Impressive as well are the number of images categorized to date by the public.  The editathon concept is used to check and upgrade the accuracy of Wikipedia entries.  An example of an editathon in New York City is found here or at the British Library here.

The GLAM initiative is a prime example of how Wikipedia and user-generated content continues to move front and center as a mainline information resource.  Today, those wringing their hands over user-generated content with the dire warnings of the Cult of the Amateur hold as much weight as those who argue if we had been meant to fly we would have been born with wings.  End of story.

In other web-based offerings, this week Jennifer Carey at Indiana Jenn posted about Stanford’s new Orbis Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World.  Check this one out for certain – a very impressive tool for modeling exchange networks and travel in antiquity.  Such an application to model exchange in Eastern North America from the Archaic period to Contact would be incredibly useful.  Given the pace of online resource development, I suspect that a North American prehistory edition of Orbis is not a long way off.  Jennifer also links to the new Edx project where this fall Harvard and MIT will partner to offer free online courses where you can get a grade, but not a degree – not yet anyway.

What are your favorite new online research tools?

In Defense of Wikipedia as a Research Tool

At the end of my graduate seminar this past semester, I suggested that while I did not as a whole consider Wikipedia a “scholarly” resource for citations today, it was certainly a good starting point to search out relevant references.  I proposed that five years from now, the next iteration of Wikipedia might prove to be a legitimate scholarly resource, citable in papers in the same way survey textbooks are today.

That class discussion prompted me to pull a book that had sat in my “to read” stack for the past couple of years – The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen.  His thesis is that Wikipedia, YouTube, etc. are the breeding grounds for amateurs to spread their misinformation, contrasted to the high standards of traditional professional journalism and scholarship.  I hoped the book would give an alternative to my classroom advocacy of such online venues as tools for engagement and dissemination of information. I read the Introduction and Chapter 1 and was greatly disappointed.  When I got to page 48 and read Keen’s rant against the “citizen journalist” reports from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I realized he writes from an elitist and Luddite perspective.

My interest in this discussion is from the perspective of whether such online resources are at least starting points for valid and reliable research information.    This week my Applied Archaeology and Museums class, will discuss plans for their first class project.  Students will prepare written papers on repatriation of the Elgin Marbles.  We will then have an in-class debate on the pros and cons of the Elgin Marbles repatriation.  I looked at the Wikipedia page for the Elgin Marbles.  After spending 15 minutes clicking through the various links on the page, I realized it would simply be stupid of me not to point students toward this as a first resource for the class project.  Check out the page.  I think you will agree.  The page simply is not the idiocy Mr. Keen rants against.

In a recent blog post Jennifer Carey links to a list of 15 resources for free scholarly information.  I was particularly intrigued by the Wikimedia Foundation’s project Wikiversity that is “devoted to learning resources, learning projects, and research for use in all types and styles of education from pre-school to university, including professional training and informal learning.  We invite teachers, students, and researchers to join us in creating open educational resources and collaborative learning communities.”   Sounds exactly like the nightmare Mr. Keen wrote about.

Here is what I learned about Wikiversity in 15 minutes of clicking.  Wikiversity has some well-developed modules, principally in the hard sciences. I am preparing for a special course this coming fall flowing from Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.  Through Wikiversity I found that this spring a module Political Simulations and Gaming is being created through the Department of Board Game Design  at the University of Westminster.  I will check back in a few months.  Seems a great potential resource.

The naysayers such as Keen are like the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1400s who issued a death sentence for those using the Gutenberg printing press.  (I got that info from a scholarly reference cited on a Wikipedia page.)  Wikipedia and other online user-generated resources have the same range of quality as the “professional” community.   As with the Gutenberg’s press in the 1400s, Wikipedia and other user-generated resources will continue to grow as new technologies.  In just a few years, Wikipedia has quite admirably raised the bar of their quality.  Such user-generated resources are effective tools for the types of engagement that archaeologists and museum professional strive in their outreach efforts to the broad public we serve.

Try this – go to Wikipedia and search your favorite archaeological or museum something – whether NAGPRA, Hopewell Culture, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Field Museum of Natural History . . . Then ask yourself, is this good user-generated information for the public to have ready access?  If it is, that’s great.  If not, perhaps you should use some of your own expertise to user-generate some content!

How do you use Wikipedia or other online sources in your work?

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