In my “Building Online Community” class, I introduced my class participants to different web 2.0 tools that effectively promote collaboration and interaction, two essential facets of community building.  One of these tools is a wiki.  What is a wiki?  It’s a fairly simple concept.  A wiki is a website that is editable by a group of people.  The settings on the wiki define who this group is: the group could include a pre-defined number of users or it could be open to the entire world.

How to effectively use wikis for learning activities is a much more complicated question.  I share examples from my own classes of how I’ve used wikis and provide links to a couple of recently published books about leveraging wikis for learning.  But by the end of this topic, there are always many professors left scratching their head.  Wikis, due to their open-ended nature, can be extremely challenging to integrate effectively.

Recently, I read about a creative wiki learning project that has been initiated by Ms. Mikulay, an assistant professor and public scholar of visual culture at Indiana-Purdue, and Richard S. McCoy, an associate conservator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  The project was recently showcased in an article in the “Technology” section of the Chronicle of Higher Ed.  Essentially, the two have joined forces and are striving to leverage the public, editable interface of Wikipedia to showcase the many examples of public art in their local area that are otherwise forgotten.  As an art historian, I love the activism woven into this concept, as the history of public art in itself has a similar flavor to it.

I consider this an activist project because of the overall focus on sharing the project, “Wikipedia Saves Public Art,”and encouraging others around the world to do the same thing.  Students and the two scholars locate examples of public art in their local Indianapolis area, identify its GPS coordinates, and write an art historical article about the work, tying it to its local context.  They are also searching Wikipedia for existing examples of public art that fall into the project’s criteria and adding a “Wikipedia Saves Public Art” banner to the entries.

Another interesting sub-text to this project are the back door debates about the “worthiness” of particular entries that occur when another editor of a Wikipedia entry decides the public art piece doesn’t deserve recognition.  The article explains, “One page about ‘”Bucket of Rocks,”‘ on Indiana-Purdue’s campus, was temporarily removed until Mr. McCoy made a strong case for it in an online exchange with a Wikipedia page editor.”  Now think about the skills required to make that argument.  This project is teaching the art of collaboration, negotiation, knowledge of the definition of public art, and a deep understanding of the subjective nature of valuing art in general.

As I reflect on the social value of this project, I am left with thoughts about how much more democratic a wiki is for archiving our social artefacts.  In my History of Women in Art class, students examined multiple textbooks to have a fair collection of women’s achievements in art history.  The lesson they learn through critical inquiry is that women have always been active producers of art, as opposed to the muse (usually depicted nude or bare breasted) for the male heroic artist.  One of the many complex issues they also uncover is that the content in historical textbooks (who gets remembered) are often tainted with the same social biases that still surround us today.

This Wikipedia project is very intriguing to me.  I encourage anyone facilitating learning about marginalized topics to consider leveraging a similar idea.  This approach empowers students to be active contributors to the web, to effectively contribute to the dialogue about “who” and “what” gets remembered in future generations.

As I reflect on these topics, I am reminded of one of Mike Wesch’s early Digital Ethnography videos, “Web 2.0…The Machine is Us/ing Us.”

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