Dr. Jackie Koerner is a Visiting Scholar partnered with San Francisco State University’s Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability. The Visiting Scholars program connects experienced Wikipedia editors, like Jackie, with access to academic sources. The partnering university thus expands the reach of their collections, and a Wikipedian is better equipped to continue spreading knowledge. More than a year into her Visiting Scholar position, Jackie has edited Wikipedia articles on a range of topics related to disability rights and activism, including creating an article for the 504 Sit-in, which was recently featured on Comedy Central’s Drunk History. Here, she reflects on what initially drew her to the program and the importance of sharing knowledge freely.
When I ask you to think about education, what comes to mind? Probably many of you are thinking about desks, school buildings, and books. For many of us, I am sure that is historically accurate, as we received our education in a school building, learning from books while sitting at a desk. My formative education came before computers were in schools, so the only interaction with the broader world came from books and occasional educational videos. Now as an adult, I see how much this style of education omits. That kind of education works, but is it the education the world needs?
Simply, no, it’s not. I view education as so much bigger than books and buildings. I have a pretty bold philosophy about education. I believe nobody can know everything. If they did, that would mean they would have consumed all forms of media and talked to everyone – even the rural farmer way up in the hills. The sharing of knowledge is what connects us. It is what makes society better.
The traditional education model has always seemed a little limited to me – in both knowledge and inclusivity. I received an education because of my privilege. I know there are people who do not receive an education due to bias and societal oppression. Education is a privilege in our society, when it should be a human right.
When I finished my PhD in 2016, I struggled with what to do with my knowledge, skills, and my dissertation. I am passionate about open education and making educational resources equitable and inclusive. I started editing Wikipedia, using pieces I amassed for my dissertation to strengthen existing articles, and someone noticed. They suggested I apply for a Visiting Scholar position with Wiki Education. This, they said, would give me the access to resources to continue the great work I was already doing.
Not only does my Visiting Scholar role with Wiki Education provide me with access to archives and databases full of published material, but it gave me a community. As far as the support I receive from SFSU – it is incredible – the amount of content available online was so helpful. They also have an amazing collection of content about people with disabilities and disability culture. When I would start researching something and looking for details, I would find another dozen topics to write about along the way. I still have so much content to put on Wikipedia! Having the access to rare and obscure material means better opportunities for quality content for topics I’m passionate about sharing.
Wikipedia is the greatest collection of humanity I can imagine. A collaboration of people around the world invested in providing the most valuable endowment: free knowledge. If you’re passionate about something, put it on Wikipedia. It might not change the world, but it certainly will change someone’s world, and for the better.