Friday, February 02, 2007

wiki wars

I am using wikis in my class for the first time this semester. It has been interesting so far, to say the least. I haven't been using them for anything "fancy." We haven't even gotten to the point of creating links, headings, subheadings, and sections -- elements that seem common to the "genre." I've experimented with a couple of different approaches / assignments.

So far I have a couple of different purposes for our class wikis: 1) I want to use the wikis to help create guidelines for blogging that the students contribute to more and more as they read more blogs and better understand the genre and become bloggers in their own right. 2) I want to create a constantly changing and evolving definition of culture (as the class is Writing about Society in Culture). Every time we read a theoretical essay on culture or an online definition of it or any text that addresses how a person or field tends to define culture, we revise our class definition.

The first time I had them working in groups (after writing individually their thoughts on a reading regarding culture). Each group would then work on a revision of the defining culture wiki. But a couple of groups started to get into a bit of a struggle over the defintion -- editing much of the other group's work. This, by nature, is how a wiki works and we discussed this in class. But, I fear that they are learning that collaboration is a struggle for power in some way; that the idea of a democratic, collaborative space in which to share knowledge is more about getting in the last word.

I'm thinking that I should have them start using the discussion space to better negotiate the edits being made. We talk about wikipedia and how these kinds of changes and edits happen on this larger scale. And, what I have been doing, is coming together as a class to go over the (for the moment) "final" version and ask students for additional ideas, changes, etc., which we then negotiate as a class. But if anyone has better ideas for negotiating these wiki wars that appear to be breaking out, please feel free to share....

17 comments:

kmiddleton said...

wow. No ideas, but I'm totally fascinated. I've used wikis in a different way--more as a class archive of projects where groups take on responsibility for different sections (pages) at different times. Here, they wrangle and rewrite their sections, but hardly ever approach each other's. Your post makes me think about the ways I've been isolating my students from the experience of negotiation with other groups...

The quandary, for me, between the way you're using wikis and the way I've been thinking of them, is how each addresses a particular function of wikis. You've totally landed on the contestatory nature of knowledge that a wiki makes concrete. And the power struggles they're going through are played out on Wikipedia, for sure (my favorite example, of course, is the "abortion" entry). The question, then, is what kinds of knowledge production end the power struggles? What makes something stay up on the wiki? Does new or seemingly "authoritative" information remain? Style? Access to rich external content?

this is a ridiculously long non-answer to your question.

VTmtngrrl said...

I'm kind of fascinated myself, though it feels a bit nervewracking while it is happening. I think the questions you ask are million dollar ones -- at least the first one about knowledge production that ends power struggles. Have we ever seen this happen? It seems to me that generally it "ends" when the person with the "most authority" (capital, education, and so on) says this is the way that it is -- well, this is what happens in the non-wiki world. Of course wikis are supposed to subvert that process in some way, change it. The pressing question then seems to me -- do they? And then your questions -- if and when they do change the traditional production and exchange of knowledge, what makes something stay? But then again, wikis are not static; they are constantly changing here. So I seem to end up going in circles.

Ultimately I try to tell myself that the negotiations are valuable, and we certainly talk about the ways in which this gets played out on wikipedia. A lot of the class also focuses on the negotiation that is a part of how culture gets defined. The arbitrary nature of signs and signs systems, etc., so somehow wrangling over these wikis seems appropriate to that as well.

When we get to their group projects in a couple of weeks, I'll have to set them up to work on the wiki within their groups -- that way they'll experience that use of a wiki as well. They'll get the spectrum.

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