Dr. William Ashton

Dr. William Ashton audio

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And I've tried to think about what advice I'd like to give, you know, faculty interested in using Wikipedia, and what's the most important thing I've learned over these years, and that thing is that Wikipedia is a social media, and we tend to forget about that. We tend to think it's you know a document, but its social media. And there are positives and negatives to that or like the force, a light side and a dark side. So the light side is that the live edits on Wikipedia are live, that if a student goes to Wikipedia, makes an edit and that edit stays, the whole world can see that. And when do York students have that opportunity to have their writing displayed publicly? They rarely have that opportunity and this is a very exciting place, an exciting opportunity where York students can really show the world what they can do. Also students are part of a community. And so they can edit other people's articles, they can receive. You know input from other editors, they can reach out for help and they can join this community and get feedback on what they're doing. And that's another positive of the social media aspect. And then finally students can be recognized. One of my students did an article on group team effectiveness, and this was awarded good article status by Wikipedia. Only one in articles earned this status, so he certainly you know was proud and I'm proud of him for this work. So these are the positive side of you know the social elements or the social media elements of Wikipedia. there's also I say a dark side. When I see students not doing Wikipedia well and not succeeding what they're doing is they're ignoring the social elements. the you know I've sometimes asked students to reach out and find a friend on Wikipedia and or go to the tea house and get some feedback or try to ask our editors for feedback and they don't do this. I think one reason why they don't reach out for help is that they're shy, and that they're somehow shy or concerned about you know having other people look at their work. But then I think on the other hand some students when I encourage them to reach out they just don't get it. They don't get that Wikipedia is a social enterprise and that you have to get along with the other editors and so I've had students create edit wars. An edit war is when you make a change in Wikipedia, an editor deletes that, and then you go back and, you know, you add it back in, and then a big war starts. And that's not something that you want to do in Wikipedia. So that's basically ignoring the social element. and what's going on is you know students know that, well I want to see them edit things, and so they edit something and it's not acceptable, so they just revert it and they, you know, they submit it back in again just for the fact that they want to be graded by me. and that's not how I setup the grading system, but still you know if they're not really paying attention to what the community is saying, that certainly will impact on their grades, and that they're not working with the Community. And then other times students just don't care and they don't listen to what the other editors say, and that will end up with problems. I had one student who was warned by other editors about the fact that they were kind of plagiarizing or they were citing without proper, you know, citations, and then what happened was they have basically a whole article deleted because most of their references you know we're not properly cited. So you know the social media aspect of Wikipedia, that's I think the most important thing that you need to recognize as an instructor thinking about using it with students. But one final thing I've had successes with students, I've had failures with students, and as an instructor what's surprising is I have no ownership over it. I know that it sounds self-serving to say that the students who failed, you know, I wash my hands of them, but I did warn them about you know the community standards. I did explain to them about edit wars and how to avoid them. I encouraged them to work with other editors, and they just ignored that advice and they just stumbled ahead and their edits were deleted. And so it's really beyond my control. but also on the other hand Brandon, who had the “good article” status article, he basically you know this was an independent study, and it was hard for me and the independent study to keep up with him, and he took to what Wikipedia was doing, he entered the community and entered it very well, and then he just went off and did this all by himself. And I like to say well one of my students you know got good article status, but I really have so little to do with it. And that’s another surprising thing- you don't really need to teach students Wikipedia. Wikipedia is designed to teach the editors themselves. And you know a student who has just a little bit of you know self-awareness as a learner can go ahead and go off and learn Wikipedia. Junior high students, elementary school students are editors on Wikipedia, major editors on Wikipedia. It’s you know, the technology the skill is very easy. You just have to be motivated. there's this great video by a Wikipedia person at a conference talking about, it's titled “Wikipedians the weirdest people on the planet”, because their hobby is editing an encyclopedia, and that's that is indeed pretty weird. and so if you can imagine, this is the group of people that you're going to be working with and this is the motivation for you, that I'm motivated to go and edit an encyclopedia for fun. And you know I think that's another important element of whether a student succeeds or fails, whether or not they recognize that not only is it a social activity but it's a fun activity, and if you're not really having fun doing this then you're not probably doing it correctly. All right, thank you very much and it's a pleasure to have talked to you.