Learning patterns/Developing sustained academic-expert engagement
What problem does this solve?
When many of us think of academic engagement with Wikipedia, we picture college professors working with undergraduates to support their development of Wikipedia articles. However, not many organizations or programs actively facilitate ongoing engagement with the professors themselves. As knowledge professionals who are actively engaged in research and publishing scholarship, academic experts have a breadth and depth of knowledge that Wikipedia needs to reach its goals of knowledge equity. Sustained support for expert-engagement is crucial to integrating this key demographic of editors.
Although encouraging students to edit Wikipedia is an important way to teach research and writing skills while improving article content, there are many topics on which students as novice academics do not yet have the necessary breadth and depth of experience needed to structure an equitable, balanced overview. Scholars have a birds-eye view of research and scholarship in their areas of specialization and are well-positioned to incorporate perspectives represented in the scholarship of marginalized scholars with a clear and informed sense of due and undue weight in both vital, general interest articles as well as articles focused on academic topics.
Engaging academic experts can be difficult without thoughtful, developed, and sustained support structures. Wikipedia editing is disincentivized by academic reward structures (i.e., "publish or perish" professional cultures) and skeptical attitudes toward Wikipedia. Moreover, moving between the norms and practices of academic scholarship and those of Wikipedia can be tricky to navigate. Issues of collaborative writing practices, self-citation, what counts as original research, and how to signal your expertise to the wider community are just a few of the concerns that emerge. Many academics who do want to engage have trouble getting started and must rely on an underdeveloped, hard-to-find, hand full of help pages for expert-editors.
What is the solution?
A Wikimedian-in-Residence (WiR) can play a significant role as a liaison between Wikipedian and expert academic communities. Scholarly experts provide the expertise needed to improve articles on Wikipedia, while a WiR provides the editing confidence, technical skills, community knowledge, support, and resources to sustain an active academic editing-base.
Things to consider
Build trust in Wikipedia
With a history of skepticism toward Wikipedia, it is important to educate scholars about what Wikipedia is and how it works. Particularly in the humanities, underdeveloped articles and misinformation are easy to find on Wikipedia. Once experts understand how articles are created and how they can improve them, they see why it is so important for them to edit.
Reduce cognitive load
Getting started is hard no matter how much you know about a topic. Academic editors appreciate clear instructions, permission to start small, and a series of discrete tasks they can complete in order to get comfortable editing. Introductory tasks might include redlinking, hyperlinking, adding citations, and fixing grammar issues.
Create collaborative spaces
Experts like bouncing ideas off of other experts. Providing a set time for these conversations is a great way to encourage ongoing editing. Moreover, collaboration leads to emergent best practices or problems for experts on Wikipedia, something a WiR can help communicate to the larger community to reach a consensus on.
Engage a diverse community
Throughout our project, we worked to collaborate with CCCC member groups, which focus on specific subfields of writing studies. These included the Asian/Asian American Caucus, the Feminist Caucus, the Transnational Composition Standing Group, the Standing Group for Disability Studies, and the Global & Non-Western Rhetorics (GNWR) Standing Group. In doing so, we were able to learn from our diverse community of experts about the knowledge inequities they identify both within field-specific articles and vital general interest articles. This is a great way to develop a more diverse list of articles in need of edits and introduce the power of public scholarship on Wikipedia to a greater audience of experts.
When to use
- Expert involvement
- Strategies to generate interest, motivation and continuity in the digital education community
- Engaging non-Wikipedian academic editors to identify content gaps
- Let the community know