Megan Wacha

Megan Wacha audio

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The administration, and to be honest many of our faculty were resistant to the idea of bringing Wikipedia into the classroom, until eventually a faculty member professor Kim Hall, called to ask if she could partner with us to replace a traditional course paper  with having students write Wikipedia  articles. The course was an advanced seminar called "The worlds of Shange" that provided an in-depth exploration of Ntozake Shange, poet playwright novelist and an alumna of the college, who's best known for her work "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf". With Dr. Hall, students really engaged critically with Wikipedia as well as with their experience on it, so they wrote essays off Wikipedia reflecting on their assignment, as well as blog posts in a password-protected private course site. this might seem  somewhat counter intuitive to a course  that is very much about being in the  open and writing in the open and for the public, but it was absolutely imperative that students had a space to speak  freely about their experiences without  the interference of other actors, and to  that extent Dr. Hall also made it a  point not to grade them  on what they wrote on Wikipedia. They had they had certain  requirements and certain length requirements but those were going to change when other editors started going  in and making their own edits. Instead they were graded on their engagement with the process. So the impact of this class was huge. It was huge on me, it was huge on the relationship between the library and its faculty because this was such a collaborative effort, and it was huge on the impact of the students and the impact of the students. It’s really amazing to see how they’re grappling with writing for a public audience, finding sources to support an article about a highly notable individual who has actually had very little scholarship written about her and her works. And to see them as well grappling with issues around gender, around race and with writing about these topics within the white ethnos of Wikipedia. And I felt the echo of this yesterday. Yesterday I went to visit a course taught by Dr. Shelley Eversley at Baruch College. It’s an advanced seminar on Arts in New York City and she as well is transitioning to having students write traditional articles into writing them on Wikipedia. they're doing it collaboratively, so they had groups of students that wrote three or four different articles and they got to meet with the artists, take photos of them and their work, add them to Wikimedia Commons and then bring them into the articles, and the students took this as an opportunity to go into an area that we never could have anticipated. They went to, because Wikipedia's in 299 languages- and that’s growing increasingly as we work with indigenous and First Nations communities- and they went into the languages of their first language and they started to translate. So that by the end of the day students were editing Wikipedia in six different languages, including English, Spanish, Japanese, Bengali, Russian, and Ukrainian. And so it was a truly exceptional experience, and one that happened because, you know we opened it up.