A trip to the Windy City

Did you know that for some people in Chicago, the term “Windy City” doesn’t apply to the miles per hour of the weather but to the constant changing of political winds within the region? Until my trip there last weekend, neither did I, and in the last month over 12,000 people have also learned about this nickname by reading Wikipedia’s article about the topic.

Heading to the American Studies Association conference last week, I had no idea of the diverse conversations I would get myself into. From discussing rap, hiphop and performance, to US history, film, photography, comics, or jazz, to Asian-American cinematography and visual culture, my booth at times felt as if it were floating on the winds of the Windy City, heading into directions exciting and unknown. But in all my conversations there was a constant theme of empowerment – instructors excited to help students understand their fields and the relevance of their work all while connecting it to historical themes and narratives. I loved getting a chance to ground that excitement into action – having students write and update Wikipedia allows them to become contributions, not just consumers.

This assignment provides a setting to discuss the real world implications of class topics and teaches students that their voices matter. For example, I talked with one instructor interested in the history of comics, a space that is usually seen as male dominated, both from the creator stand point and in terms of the characters. She expressed a desire for her students to understand the feminist themes that run throughout comics and also an aspiration to help change the common narrative into one more inclusive of female representation and stories. Luckily, we are currently supporting a course working to update the biographies of American women in comics – a project new courses can expand upon using our “editing Wikipedia articles on biographies” guide. Those students are only in the middle of their assignments and their work has already been viewed over 7,000 times on Wikipedia! Many instructors had also heard about our recent partnership announcement and were excited to get involved.

While in Chicago, I also had the opportunity to meet with instructors at the University of Illinois at Chicago and present to them about our tools and support here at Wiki Education. While there, we had a few great discussions about the benefits and the risks of the Wikipedia assignment. The benefits: the project provides an authentic writing experience for students, allows instructors to undergo public outreach in their field, and provides students with 21st century literacy skills, among other things. But some of the drawbacks we discussed include concerns about student privacy and the difficulty for instructors to evaluate such a dynamic project. Luckily, while our Dashboard stores student first and last names for instructors, student Wikipedia usernames can be as anonymous as they want, helping to ensure student privacy. And Wiki Education just released a new assessment rubric for grading a Wikipedia contribution. We are always working to update our resources in response to instructor concerns.

During my trip it rained, it snowed, and it was pretty windy (and cold!), but that didn’t stop great conversations from flowing. Thanks to everyone who joined me. If you have any questions about how your students could work on an assignment like this, please contact us at contact@wikiedu.org.


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