Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Quick Thoughts on Wikipedia Debates

Friend and Colleague Jason Mittell got schrift in today's NYT article about Middlebury's History department ban of Wikipedia as a source for their papers. He blogs about it here and notes
If you're in the Middlebury area and want to hear more, come to the event on Monday Febrary 26 at 4:30 in Library 201: "What is the Wikipedia in Higher Education?", featuring myself and History professor Amy Morsman.
Since I am nowhere near Vermont these days allow me my two cents: Wikipedia is a great resource to begin any research on contemporary popular culture. There, I said it. When I tell students that if they want to study something like Podcasting I always say, "begin here, don't end here." Same for video games, hip-hop, etc. And there is a simple reason for this. Like an encyclopedia it is meant to be a "jumping off" point. Unlike traditional encyclopedia of all types, you get in-depth entries on Katamari Damacy, Dj Drama and Bratz. Because popular culture is so ephemeral and traditional, expert-oriented publishing moves so slowly by comparison, the Wikipedia because a repository for all kinds of fads and new cultural movements. Take, for example, the Marc Maron Show, a show that ran off and on for about two and a half years as a syndicated radio program on Air America Radio. Here's some of the detail that that now-cancelled program has in its Wikipedia entry,
Regular Features
Marc Maron's Short Order News - Maron's take on the day's news; airs at the top and bottom of the show
Dick (as in Cheney) of the Day - the most reprehensible person of the day as chosen by Maron; airs at the bottom of the show
Liberal Confessional - Maron and callers confess their less-than-progressive moments
Wheel of Anger - Rants by Earl
Weekly Remembrances with Mort Mortensen - Earl disrespects the recently dead
Movie reviews with Svetlana, the Russian prostitute - contributor Iris Bahr
. Not bad and I defy anyone to find an entry about this show in any number of encyclopedia of American popular culture.

Which brings me back to the initial banning by the History department. I can understand it to a certain extent. You may be teaching about events that have been mulled over for several hundred years and your profession has developed a set of methods and databases that are quite refined. Wikipedia looks like a poor place to start in comparison and you are sick of "collective amateur efforts" being utilized over the many collective efforts of trained professionals. But those of us who study mass media and popular culture don't have that luxury. There just isn't the tradition surrounding our field, yet. So the Wikipedia looks like an opportunity to build something new, which is what we are up to! It hardly beats a day in the archives, reading old trades or even a solid book. But man, am I glad someone has made and is working on an extensive entry on Art Bell, a broadcaster who I hope to never forget.


Jason said...

Thanks for the shout-out. I'd revise your policy to state "Begin at Wikipedia, go beyond Wikipedia, and then return to Wikipedia." For me, what's most pedagogically important about Wikipedia is not its comprehensive coverage of all things high & low, but the ability of students (and faculty) to feedback into the system - a student researching Art Bell, for instance, should start with Wikipedia's entry, do more research to write the essay, and then return to Wikipedia to revise and refine the entry. Let's make student research produce more than grades for an audience of more than one. (At least that's what I'll be arguing in my debate next week...)

Loganpoppy said...

Well said, I like the idea. Will do that next time I teach with wikis, which will be soon. Let's call it Mittell's words for the Wikiwise: "Begin, Write, Revise"!

Loganpoppy said...

Or even better -- Begin, Research, Write, Revise!

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