May 31, 2011

In the Washington Post (5/29):

“A Virginia Tech graduate student hit save on her overview of the state workers’ compensation commission one spring day, but before her professor could take a look at it, someone else began deleting entire sections, calling them trivial and promotional.

 It wasn’t a teaching assistant on a power trip — it was a Wikipedia editor known only as “Mean as custard.”

 “I had worked on it for almost an entire day,” said Amy Pearson, a public administration master’s student. “It was kind of shocking.”

 This school year, dozens of professors from across the country gave students an unexpected assignment: Write Wikipedia entries about public policy issues.”

What lazy academic subjects students to the arbitrary authority of a nameless Wikipedia editors?

The article continues:

“Still, Wikipedia and academia make an odd pair. The “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” has long had an uneasy relationship with professors who dedicate their lives to filling scholarly journals and libraries. In their eyes, Wikipedia is an unreliable cheat sheet.

“I start every semester with the typical speech: ‘If you are turning in a paper and cite Wikipedia, then we have a problem. We need to talk,’ ” said Matt Dull, who is Pearson’s professor at Virginia Tech. But this time, he gave that speech and followed it with the Wiki assignment.”

It’s true. This spring eight students in my graduate policy analysis and evaluation course (PAPA 6224) – writing under the handles SemperSpartan; Kgarcia321; Markmere; Mirusmonssanus; asvt12; tannervm; AmyVT2013; wilbc59  – contributed to the Wikimedia Foundation’s Public Policy Initiative, a partnership with classes at a number of universities around improving the quality and comprehensiveness of policy-related information on Wikipedia.

I proposed students might help improve the quality and comprehensiveness of information about political appointees. Beyond that, I left  them a lot of discretion. Amy Pearson’s careful work improved the page describing the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission. And – in the spirit of the Appointee Project that colleagues Sang Choi, Patrick Roberts and I continue work on –  MPA students Jim Brandell and Mark Mereand created  a page on the Vacancies Reform Act of 1998. Thanks also to our Wikipedia “Campus Ambassador” Adam Lewis, who was himself profiled in this 2009 Washington Post article.


One comment

  1. […] article and the photo (which makes me look studious). Previous posts about the appointees project here and here . Here’s an article with an overview of the dataset we’ve […]

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