Education/Newsletter/September 2016/Brazilian Wikimedians interview editor of academic journal ''Wiki Studies''

By João Alexandre Peschanski and Célio Costa Filho (UG BR)

Robert E. Cummings, editor of Wiki Studies

Snippet: Members of the User Group Wikimedia in Brazil interviewed Robert E. Cummings, editor of Wiki Studies, a new journal on the intersection of Wikipedia and higher education.

Wikipedia and its sister projects have been increasingly a topic of scientific research. Academic repositories, such as Google Scholar, list hundreds of thousands entries on which Wikipedia features in the title of papers, books and other sorts of research outputs. This increasing interest in investigating Wikimedia projects is especially noticeable in education, for instance with an increasing number of case studies on educational uses of Wikipedia, listed here (in Portuguese).

In this context, Robert E. Cummings, professor of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi and board member at the Wiki Education Foundation, and collaborators are preparing to launch Wiki Studies, probably the first peer-reviewed journal to focus specifically on "the intersection of Wikipedia and higher education,” as its official motto puts it.

In this interview that members of the User Group Wikimedia in Brazil have done via email in the last half of July, Cummings talks on the relevance and goal of the new journal as well as on general topics related to investigating Wikimedia projects. The board of Wiki Studies is still forming, and the journal is currently calling for submissions for its first issue, expected to be released in March 2017.

This interview with Cummings — who is the author of Lazy Virtues: Teaching Writing in the Age of Wikipedia (2009) — is part of a series of interviews with inspiring individuals who are actively committed to the idea that “Wikipedia belongs in education”. The first interviewee of this series was Juliana Bastos Marques, from the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro, who has been part of the pioneer group of the Brazilian Wikipedia Education Program. A transcript of our interview with Cummings follows.

UG BR - Wiki Studies is officially described as "an open-access, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal devoted to research and scholarship on the social production of knowledge in the digital age." Why do you feel it is relevant to create such a journal in our present context?
Cummings - I feel that it is relevant to create this journal, at this time, due to the increasing intersection between higher education and Wikipedia. Higher education's focus on the creation and dissemination of peer-reviewed knowledge has traditionally led it away from embracing the public knowledge production within Wikipedia. And, Wikipedia's issues with accuracy and reliability, as well as its engagement with non-expert review have meant that its methods are often antithetical to the values of the expert review process cherished within higher education. However, higher education has "backed in" to engaging Wikipedia through classroom use. As more and more teachers are discovering, Wikipedia presents an unparalleled opportunity to give a global audience to their students' work. And as they engage Wikipedia as a teaching tool, they and their professional organizations are also reaching a new understanding of the value of Wikipedia as the world's premier source of public knowledge, and how that public knowledge resource integrates with the mission of creating peer-reviewed knowledge. Therefore a new area of research is opening up to higher education, involving pedagogy and epistemology. The focus of this area is broad and relatively untapped, and rather than locating the new research within a variety of disciplinary journals, I felt it important to provide the topic with a centralized location.

UG BR - Studies on Wikipedia have occurred and been published in many journals. How do you expect the wiki research agenda will be changed with Wiki Studies?
Cummings - I believe that the wiki research agenda will be altered by the publication of works within Wiki Studies in at least two ways. The first is that we will give a platform for the investigation and discussion of wiki pedagogy. While there have been many such articles published to date, they are scattered, and creating this platform for common hosting will invite readers to make new observations and reach new conclusions because these works on pedagogy will be more likely to be observed side-by-side. Further, many faculty teaching with Wikipedia in higher education find that the publication venues of their fields encourage articles about pure research over pedagogy, if they accept articles about pedagogy at all. For these faculty we hope to provide an important alternative.

UG BR - The official description of the journal mentions "social production of knowledge." Could you explain this idea? How does it relate to what you have called CBPP in Lazy Virtues?
Cummings - Commons-Based Peer Production is a phenomenon defined explored more fully by Yochai Benkler in his publications, most notably "Coase's Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm," "Commons-Based Peer Production and Virtue," The Wealth of Networks, and most recently "Peer-production, the Commons, and the Nature of the Firm." Though I may use the phrase "social production of knowledge," I intend the essentially same concept as commons based peer production, or an environment where the costs and inhibitors to sharing knowledge are diminished. And as those barriers are diminished, not only is the volume of knowledge production increased, but so too are the type, ranges, and genres of knowledge expanded. It has been said by some in the open culture community that knowledge is essentially a non-rivalrous good (I am thinking of David Wiley, but I know he has quoted others). I would also add that one way of thinking about Wikipedia has been the analogy of being asked by a stranger in your neighborhood for directions: for all but the very few misanthropes among us, providing that knowledge is irresistible. Yet we receive no compensation for it other than the satisfaction of being able to share knowledge which contributes to a public good. We receive no monetary compensation (pay), nor do we receive public recognition which we can later trade on (fame). So the social production of knowledge is a relatively new phenomenon, as no economist would have been able to predict that these sorts of rewards would motivate a collective and substantial change in behaviors. But indeed, these motivations have created the largest repository of knowledge in the world. I find that fascinating.

UG BR - Critics of Wikipedia have relevant names such as Noam Chomsky, Umberto Eco and others. Do you expect these critics to have space or inform in some way the agenda of Wiki Studies?
Cummings - Wikipedia has numerous critics, indeed, and I fully expect that the best writing in Wiki Studies will engage their ideas. No one who works with Wikipedia can be unaware of its numerous shortcomings. Without engaging each of their criticisms here, however, I can say that few critics would disagree with the notion that further engagement with higher education would do anything but ameliorate their reservations.

UG BR - Wikipedia has gradually earned its place as an object of academic studies. How do you evaluate the expansion of studies on Wikipedia over the last years?
Cummings - I see the expansion of academic studies about Wikipedia as a fascinating development. Or, rather, series of developments, as each academic discipline tends to see their epistemological concerns within Wikipedia. The path of thinking in most fields of inquiry has worked out in three phases: (1) Wikipedia is a (flawed) source; (2) Wikipedia is a (flawed) source, but we might consider contributing to it through our classrooms; (3) Wikipedia is (a/the preeminent) source of (flawed) public knowledge, and we ought to invest in it as a counterpart to our investment in peer-reviewed knowledge. Many fields have reached the third stage and now offer incentives for participation in Wikipedia, but many fields also remain in the first stage.

UG BR - What is the relation between Wiki Studies and Wikipedia communities, the Wikimedia Foundation, and the Wiki Education Foundation?
Cummings - There is no defined, formal relationship between WMF, Wikipedia communities and Wiki Studies, though a healthy connection between them will be essential to our success. The Wiki Ed Foundation is a sponsor of Wiki Studies (as is the University of Mississippi). Just what sponsorship entails at this time, beyond a shared understanding on the ensuring importance of this work, is undefined. We are hoping to have the details inked by the end of the year.

UG BR - Wiki Studies has adopted a Creative Commons license CC-BY. Wikipedia and other similar projects generally adopt a CC-BY-SA license. Is there a particular reason you would not choose CC-BY-SA?
Cummings - Generally, the less prescriptive the license, the more benefit to the public. Although some in the open community have argued that Wikipedia should drop the SA portion of the license, I really do not have a strong opinion. But for our project, I also assumed that the rules of academic citation would provide a natural framework for attribution, and that we would best promote the principles of an open access scholarship with CC-BY license.

Read the interview in Portuguese here.

Read more about the Wikipedia Education Program in Brazil here.