This reflection on teaching with Wikipedia in the classroom as a feminist praxis is co-written by Dr. Ariella Rotramel and Wiki Education’s Cassidy Villeneuve. Dr. Rotramel is the Vandana Shiva Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Connecticut College. She has reflected on her experience in our Classroom Program before, found here.
Feminist pedagogy continues to ask that we take up the call to challenge students “to be an active participant, not a passive consumer” in their education (hooks 1994, 14). As Adrienne Rich argued in her foundational essay “Claiming an Education,” it is critical that students engage in a “struggle for real education” (Rich 1980, 235). Working with Wikipedia in the classroom offers an opportunity for students to make their education their own.
When students create or add to Wikipedia articles, they make and share content that is popular and freely accessible. Instead of accepting the common idea that Wikipedia is to be avoided in educational contexts, students learn to evaluate resources for accuracy and missing content. This shift requires that they think about their own usage of online content and learn about the ways Wikipedia works and does not work as a platform for feminist knowledge sharing.
As students delve into topics of their choice for the project, they learn how to convince other Wikipedia editors that their topics are noteworthy. They also encounter Wikipedians who are excited about their work and provide support. Students of differing gender identities, races, and sexualities thus hold positions of power in mechanisms of knowledge dissemination that have historically excluded them. They learn how to work through problems rather than shutting down. As students become knowledge creators, they gain a sense of the dynamics that feminist scholars, writers, and artists face as they choose to put their work into the world; they learn to accept imperfection or criticism along with the recognition that sharing their work is worth the risk. The opportunity to be subject-matter experts, putting forth knowledge on a forum to which millions have access, is a strong motivator. Students recognize the tangible impact of their work and feel a responsibility to ensure its quality for a worldwide audience.
In Rotramel’s feminist theory classes, working with Wikipedia is a means of doing feminist praxis (the dynamic relationship between theory and practice). When students evaluate Wikipedia for where it can be improved, they must first understand how gaps in knowledge occur. How is knowledge traditionally produced? What perspectives are privileged in the process? Whose histories are told, and by whom? Those whose histories have been historically marginalized in academia face the same underrepresentation on the world’s most popular online encyclopedia. Rather than just talking about feminist theories about knowledge, students think through the assumptions of Wikipedia – particularly the site’s principles that editors must write with a neutral point of view and authority. Moreover, Wikipedia’s coverage of topics relies heavily on the interests of its volunteer base, 80% of whom identify as men and are subject of a disproportionate amount of its content (Mako Hill, 2013; Reagle, 2011). Many articles about notable women, people of color, and queer folks are under-developed or simply do not exist.
With the knowledge of these challenges, students create new articles or add to existing material to address content gaps they have identified. For example, Rotramel’s course evaluated the article for the anthology This Bridge Called My Back. The article did not detail the anthology’s contributors, a glaring erasure of many contributors of color. By editing the article in class, we addressed this problem. Students created entries that highlight the work of women of color and women with disabilities, as well as added content that addresses racial and class privilege in existing entries. When students learn to edit Wikipedia in the classroom, they not only understand how to evaluate the site for gaps in knowledge, they take an active role in righting those wrongs. If you are interested in teaching with Wikipedia, visit teach.wikiedu.org for access to free resources to help you do it.
- hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994.
- Reagle, Joseph, and Lauren Rhue. “Gender Bias in Wikipedia and Britannica.” International Journal of Communication 5.0 (2011): 21.
- Rich, Adrienne. “Claiming an Education.” On Lies, Secrets, and Silence. New York: Virago, 1980. 231–235.
- Mako Hill, Benjamin, and Aaron Shaw. “The Wikipedia Gender Gap Revisited: Characterizing Survey Response Bias with Propensity Score Estimation.” PLOS ONE. June 26, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0065782
To read more about Dr. Rotramel’s Fall 2017 course in which she taught with Wikipedia, see our feature here.