“Did you know… that the Canadian government invests millions of dollars in First Nations communities to close the digital divide in Canada?”
On February 8, 2017, this blurb appeared on Wikipedia’s main page in the Did You Know? section, which features interesting facts from newly developed articles. In this case, the article was created and fleshed out by Andrew Hatelt, a student in a Wiki Education-supported course.
The DYK shoutout isn’t the only recognition Andrew received for his excellent work. In fact, Andrew received a fourth-year writing prize for the article at York University, where he attends.
In Fall 2016, as part of Jonathan Obar’s course at York University, Resistance and Subversion on the Internet, Andrew created a new Wikipedia article about the Digital divide in Canada. Throughout the course, students discussed “the open internet as a site of resistance, with Wikipedia presented as an exemplar of this resistance to institutional power structures.”
A digital divide refers to the inequality of access to internet or digital resources for citizens. This lack of access may be due to economic reasons (the high price of Wi-Fi, for example), geographical reasons (connectivity limitations in rural areas), educational reasons (lack of digital literacy), and even social reasons (differences in digital practices due to age, gender, language, or culture). Andrew’s contributions to this new article highlight efforts to close the digital divide in Canada by government and other entities, and the societal implications of those efforts.
Andrew was initially surprised at the mention of a semester-long Wikipedia project, as the merits of Wikipedia were often condemned by his high school teachers. In an interview about York University’s recognition of Andrew’s work, Professor Obar had some great things to say about the merits of a Wikipedia assignment.
“When students contribute content to Wikipedia, they not only benefit from the active learning outcomes achieved through the power of online social networks—their work lives on beyond the scope of the class, helping others to learn about, debate, and change the way we understand the world,” he said.
The LA&PS 2017 Writing Prize that Andrew received is a “faculty-wide competition open to all students from the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University,” said Jon Sufrin, coordinator of the competition. Submissions are diverse, ranging from “reports, reflective writing, grammar assignments, feature-length journalism, and academic essays.” Professor Obar nominated Andrew’s work for the fourth-year category.
The prize is highly competitive, with about 25,000 students eligible across 21 different departments and schools.
“To be nominated for, let alone win, the competition is a significant achievement,” said Sufrin. “Overall, I’d say the fourth-year level of the LA&PS Writing Prize is usually the toughest to win. The papers are expected to be well-researched, well-composed and deep pieces of writing that showcase the best the Faculty has to offer.”
“I think it is fantastic that the work I did with Wikipedia was even considered for the award, and was completely blown away after finding out that it had won,” said Andrew.
Not only was the recognition satisfying, but the assignment itself was an enriching experience for Andrew.
“I learned and gained more from working with Wikipedia than I have from almost any other assignment I have completed,” he said. “Learning how to interact with Wikipedia’s collaborative social network, adapting to a work environment that isn’t a traditional word processor, and practicing a style of writing which isn’t common among university assignments. These are all things that I would not have experienced if I had been working on something more traditional, yet I believe having less traditional experiences like these is also an important part of growing academically.”
Sufrin also spoke of the value of a Wikipedia article as an academic assignment.
“It’s pretty clear that digital writing is going to be in demand in the future, and this kind of writing takes a specific set of skills to do well,” he said. “You have to be able to sort through all the available sources, have skills at hyperlinking, and understand how to make use of the web as a dynamic medium. Digital writing isn’t just screen prose, it’s interactive prose. All of these skills are in addition to actually being able to write something. And if you get your submission recognized by the online community of Wikipedia editors, as Andrew has, it means you’ve really done a great job.”
Through his editing efforts, Andrew has taken part in an act of digital citizenship, and he hopes to remain involved in improving the great resource that is Wikipedia.
“As time goes on and as new developments arise regarding the digital divide in Canada, I am sure that I will come across more information which would be a great fit for the Wikipedia article,” Andrew said. “In these cases I look forward to going back and working with my article again, and also hope to see others contribute to it as they discover suitable information.”
Contributing to Wikipedia has a tremendous impact—not only to a student, but also in the greater context of public literacy.
“By contributing this content, Andrew has contributed to a valuable resource that Canadians and others can use to understand one of the biggest twenty-first century challenges that we face in Canada, how to ensure that all individuals in Canada have equal access to the internet,” said Professor Obar. “I think in giving this award, York University is not only acknowledging the quality of Andrew’s research and writing, but his efforts to improve the world outside the university walls.”
Interested in teaching with Wikipedia? Find out more at teach.wikiedu.org.