Learning pattern: doing a close reading

I created a Wikimedia “Learning pattern” on doing close readings with academic experts. I’ll reshare it here:

Engaging non-Wikipedian academic experts to identify content gaps

What problem does this solve?

Academic subject-matter experts often don’t know where to begin on Wikipedia, nor have the time to learn. The process of learning the rules, procedures, etc, can be daunting. At the same time, academics are often very interested in contributing to the project and sharing what they know in order to improve the encyclopedia. Experts have valuable knowledge, how to better engage them in a way that doesn’t waste everyone’s time?

What is the solution?

Rather than having academic experts participate in edit-a-thons, this Learning Pattern describes ways to organize a close reading activity that foregrounds their expertise and elicits new ways to edit the online encyclopedia.

The close reading: experts do close reading of one Wikipedia page — and concentrate their energy and time on this close reading. Instructions for the close reading can include the following guidelines:

1. Choose a Wikipedia article. What’s most important is that you choose an article (or topic without an article) that is most relevant to your subject matter expertise.

2. Analyze anything and everything about the piece. Take stock of what’s presented, and what is missing, in terms of: – Article organization – sections and subsections – Article focus – Use of language – Hyperlinks – References – Info boxes – Categories – Something else?

3. List 4-6 references (secondary sources, including academic articles, books, newspaper articles, collections) with brief bibliographic annotations as suggestions for improving the page.

4. If you like, explain why addressing these gaps matters.

5. Other comments or concerns about this page or your field?

How should the experts present their reading? The close reading can be in a presentation format the experts and organizers most prefer. Suggestions based on the outcomes of a distributed editing pilot project currently underway are described in the “When to use” sections of this Learning Pattern.

Things to consider

– Scaffold the close reading as being a particular kind of intervention. Be clear what problems will and won’t be solved by this intervention. For instance, a close reading won’t solve the problem of bringing reliable internet access to places that do not have Wikipedia, though infrastructure is clearly an issue in providing everyone with access to the project. But it will solve content gaps.

– Invite experts to participate on their terms. Academics are busy people with many commitments. They are also trained to have autonomy in their forms of intellectual critique and engagement. If a close reading format doesn’t work for them, then consider asking someone else or adjusting expectations about what the close reading will and won’t be like. As described in the “When to Use” section below, this close reading activity could be done as a part of a presentation or panel. Or a close reading could be integrated to a contest or public speaking event, organized in conjunction with a GLAM institution — and with prizes given out.

– Be clear about what’s expected and what’s not. Experts might be overwhelmed with the idea of critiquing the encyclopedia, often because they’ve devoted their working life to researching a particular subject, there are many ways that they can intervene. Keep them focused by training their attention to one page or topic. Moreover, respect the ways that they read and critique the page.

– Be sure to get permission to re-post critical readings to public talk pages and permission to (or not to) include the expert’s name and affiliation.

When to use

Based on the work so far in a pilot feminist distributed editing project, the following situations are recommended as opportunities to invite subject matter experts to do close readings of Wikipedia pages:

– Prior to an edit-a-thon or GLAM activity. Invite an expert to give a short presentation at the beginning of the event. The presentation can describe the outcomes of the close reading, and discuss how this reading is meaningful for the field/focus of the event, and what is at stake in making changes to the piece. The public presentation format will engage the expert, set the tone for the event, and also give participants in the editing event keen to learn to edit Wikipedia a concrete place to begin editing. This format could be expanded into a panel of presentations/close readings.

– In a private group event or breakout session. Stage a lunch event or breakout session at a conference to doing critiques of Wikipedia. Record/collect the critiques for other editors. The experts can share their off-the-cuff reading either in a document, with references that may be updated later, or recorded and

  • a) transcribed/summarized by a WikiProject or another editor
  • b) transcribed/summarized by an undergraduate class doing Wikipedia editing and looking for places to intervene

Post the summary/transcription on the talk page of the article or share in another repository for future editors to take on.

– Organize a private, recorded “interview.” Pair a Wikipedian with an academic expert for a thirty minute “interview.” Invite the expert to do a thirty minute off-the-cuff close reading of a page, weaving in pointed questions by the Wikipedian as the interview unfolds. Video not the expert’s face, but their finger pointing to the page. For instance, have the Wikipedian ask the expert what references they see missing based, if there are details, theories, debates, or points of view are missing or semantically prioritized. Record the interview and invite the Wikipedian transcribe and summarize the main points in order to

  • a) share with other Wikipedians or related Wiki-Projects
  • b) share with an undergraduate class doing Wikipedia editing and looking for places to intervene
  • c) or post the video unedited on the talk page of the article (with permission)

– In collaboration with a course instructor and WikiED. Assign undergraduates the task of Wikipedia editing. Have them identify one age to edit, and then interviewing an academic expert as a part of the assignment. The where they identify a page they wish to edit, interview an academic expert who does a critical close reading of the page (And have this audio or video recorded) and give the undergraduate a few suggested readings for attending to these issues. Then the undergraduate can bring the process full circle and make the edits.

Exampleː See an example of a successful “interview”-style close reading that came out of the Gap finding pilot project. The summarized “interview” is the entry describing gaps on “fandom.” This entry has been taken up by students and outcomes of their work will be documented.


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