In the summer 2013, I gave my first class on Wikipedia. It mainly dealt with Wikipedia as a tool for literary scholars. The students compared articles in the field of literary history in such different Wikipedias as the Italian, the French, the Spanish, the Turkish, the English and the German speaking one. During that term, the focus of interest emerged relatively quickly: it revolved around questions of quotability and authority.
A few weeks ago, I started my second class on Wikipedia. This time, it is at the Stuttgart University, where I am teaching Digital Humanities this term. The students are B.A. and M.A. students in English Studies and they will post in English on this blog – the first contributions are to be expected at the beginning of December. The focus this time is on a comparison between the English-speaking and the German-speaking Wikipedia. In a first step, the students will analyse articles in order to see if the editorial rules are the same in both languages (in what do they vary? where are the expectations higher or lower? what is the meaning of such expectations for scholarly standards?). They will then write articles of their own and, in a second series of blogposts, reflect on their experience as Wikipedia contributors.
Obviously, the students are not the same, which explains why the class is evolving differently this time (Not the least of which being that there are about 4 times more students in the new class than there were in the first one). But the context has changed, too. In Germany, you don’t look at Wikipedia the same way since the so-called “Seeschlachtplag” was unveiled last spring. The question is not so much any more whether to quote or not to quote Wikipedia – the question is rather that of the value of knowledge in general in the society of web 2.0.
In yesterday’s session, I had the pleasure to host a presentation by Wikipedian Manuel Schneider. He presented the different Wikipedia Sister Projects, the history of Wikipedia, its general rules, the deletion process (which we talked about a lot in the first class I gave, but never really experienced in any brutal way in the German, French, English or Italian Wikipedia, only in the Turkish one), the different roles and control instances that exist, and finally different projects connected to Wikipedia. He gave good advice (especially for me from a didactical point of view) regarding the first steps in editing. He did not have time to elaborate on one project particularly dear to his heart, involving video on Wikipedia. Maybe there will be further occasions to discuss this later on this term.
With all of that, the students now have an excellent basis in terms of context and understanding the mechanisms in order to move on to their actual topic: how does Wikipedia contribute to constructing and disseminating knowledge in the Humanities?