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Dr. Stephennie Mulder @stephenniem
, 29 tweets, 14 min read Read on Twitter
This semester in my Arts of Islam survey, I decided to scrap the research paper and have students collaborate to re-write @Wikipedia articles. It ended up better than I could have imagined & transformed how I think about teaching #StudentsOfIslamicArt #IslamicArt #MedievalTwitter
I was hesitant about shaking up a popular class that had worked well for years, but one statistic finally convinced me: 90% of Wikipedia articles are written by men - and largely by men from Euro-American contexts.…
The oft-maligned #Wikipedia is the now the world's most frequently-consulted source of information & fifth-most visited website. Because anyone can be an editor, it's on us to make it the best resource it can be. If you think Wikipedia is bad, look in the mirror. Wikipedia is us.
So this assignment quickly took on a much deeper significance than a research paper. It required them to develop many of the same research and writing skills as a research paper, but it also came to have a strong #civics and #SocialJustice component, and the students responded.
To emphasize the collaborative, real-world applicability of the assignment, I set it up as a partnership with a museum and another Islamic art class via my brilliant colleagues @lk_michelsen @hi_shangrila and @AlexDikaSegg @Rutgers_Newark
The assignment asks them to imagine they're hired as consultants for a major museum to improve the public's knowledge on Islamic Art, in advance of an exhibition. Their task? To assess an article for the quality of its sources and content and then research, write, and improve it.
I have almost 50 students enrolled in the class, so I made the assignment collaborative and divided the class into 15 groups of 3-4 students. I then preselected #IslamicArt articles I knew were important but underdeveloped on #Wikipedia. They had 3 weeks to research & 3 to write.
The assignment was set up on @WikiEducation's terrific website. Students had to complete a training module/week. Through this and discussion in class they learned how to determine quality of sources, the value of peer review, and improved research methods.
In addition to the online training modules, @WikiEducation mailed me hard-copy pamphlets to give the students: one general one on Editing Wikipedia and another new one on editing Art History topics. These were super helpful.…
I also drew on @artandfeminism's amazing quick guides which are brilliant for edit-a-thons.
But on top of these crucial online resources, I wanted to highlight continuing value of analog sources so students could gain experiential knowledge of benefits of both types of sources. I pulled in our brilliant #librarians Becca Pad and Gina Bastone from @UTFAL and @utlibraries
Becca and I created a research guide for the assignment that pointed students to both digital and hard-copy sources within @UTFAL and @utlibraries. I also spent a day in the library with students, walking them through basic research methods. I thought this might be too basic...
...but the day walking them through the physical library was inspired by a comment made by one of our brightest Honors Art History undergraduates in a meeting of the UT Provost's Libraries Task force (on which I currently serve):
"Many faculty and librarians don't realize that it's not that undergraduates don't *want* to use the libraries, it's that we are SCARED of the libraries." She explained that many students no longer receive the basic training needed to know how to use the libraries. So they don't.
@UTLibraries is one of the United States' great research collections, but the vast majority of undergraduates test out of basic Intro to Rhetoric and Writing-type classes that used to train them in basic research methods. So the libraries just look intimidating and baffling.
Just getting them physically in the library was revelatory. They were astonished at the range and quality of sources that did not turn up on a Google search. It really lit a fire under them, sparked their curiosity and made them want to dive in. This was revelatory for me too!
We talked about what a privilege it is to have access to depth and reliable quality of knowledge in a top research library. We talked about how access to knowledge controls the way we see the world and our place in it. Again and again, students spoke about feeling empowered.
Yesterday we met for an upload party. I wasn't sure how it would go, but it turned out to be one of my favorite days as a teacher EVER. I am so proud of my students and of their hard work. I am amazed at how seriously they took the assignment and what a terrific job they did.
There were challenges: the sometimes-difficult collaborative aspect of a group assignment, the fact that some topics had few sources, the challenge of learning to write in a neutral, unbiased style. But they had something real on the line: an article out there in the world.
And in the end, these smart students have now contributed 15 better-sourced, better-written articles to the most frequently-consulted body of knowledge in the world. And they've learned key research and writing skills that will be applicable in a range of fields.
And of course, they've deepened their knowledge of #IslamicArt. Just listen to my student Gabrielle Walker speaking confidently about the complex history and historiography of Raqqa Ware, a type of medieval Islamic fineware pottery. @HIAA_art…
Here's Eleanor Garstein and Dea Sula revamping the Pyxis of Zamora:
Zain Tejani and Tarik Islam improving the article on Islamic Garden - later finding their edits reverted by another editor - a valuable lesson about how to work within Wikipedia's editor community (they're still in negotiations on the Talk page!)
There is room for improving even important and significant topics on Wikipedia - @SukainaAziz, @TheYasmeenAmro, and Carla Bay made major improvements to the article on Muqarnas, perhaps the most distinctive form of Islamic architectural ornament:
In short, this assignment did all a traditional research paper does: deepening knowledge, research, and writing skills - but it also left them feeling empowered to be active contributors: shaping global knowledge and redressing imbalances that shape the way we see the world.
So if you've ever wanted to have students do a Wikipedia article writing project, I would encourage you to jump in and follow Wikipedia's motto: #BeBold. Your students will learn, and you will all feel like you made the world just a tiny bit better place to be.
And super grateful to the fabulous @LaurenMacknight, our hardworking and incredibly on-it communications director @UT_AAH, for enthusiastically promoting our project on multiple platforms! You're incredible. :-)
In case you couldn’t access the Instagram video linked above:
And here's a link to all the articles we edited (for the @UT_AAH group, it will be 15 total, some are still being added):…
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