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Contributions to an online knowledge base

Contributions to an online knowledge base

Default due date: weekly

Word count: 500

Please note: This class assignment will not appear on this wiki site, but on the class Canvas site.

This is a new assignment, tried only once for part of the semester in 2020. We will have to discuss how it will work in this class, and this page will probably be updated.

This class is meant to be a community of peer learners. All of us are different and have different kinds of contributions we can make, but we are also all equals and our contributions are all equally valuable. At the same time, we are all encountering ideas and arguments that are big and abstract. They take time to learn. We could simply accept what experts tell us. Or we could work together to understand new ideas better. The question is how.

This assignment is like our class discussion and is meant to build on it and add to it. Each week, everyone in class should make different kinds of contributions to a wiki where we will organize and develop our collective learning about the anthropology of language and communication.

Our class Canvas site is set up to allow students to create and edit Pages. Pages can include anything that can be included in a web page, i.e. paragraphs, bulleted lists, tables, images, and crucially, hyperlinks to other Pages on the class Canvas site. Canvas can effectively serve as our own private Wikipedia. We just have to write and edit it.

Everyone in class will be added to a single Group on the class Canvas site. Groups in a Canvas site have their own site-within-a-site, including a Pages section for a collection of web pages. The class Group will have its own home page and pages that all members (students and Ryan) can edit. Each week, each student should do three things to expand or improve the class wiki in the Group pages. For more concrete advice on how to do collaborative writing, see this page: https://anthro.rschram.org/the_key_tasks_of_collaborative_editing.

Having tried this once, I have noticed one peril of collaborative editing. Everything ends up being a bulleted list. The collaborative document gets longer and longer, but is never pulled together as a genuinely shared text. Also, bulleted lists can also function like threaded discussions, with top-level items being a comment on the topic and subitems being comments on the comment. It’s OK to start like this, but let’s everyone try to remember to (1) add new information and new kinds of information, rather than just more information; and (2) choose when necessary to edit and synthesize other people’s writing. I will create a discussion board for the Group for people to have discussions on the class and about the wiki.

To begin with editing, follow these steps:

  • Click on Groups in Canvas global navigation (the leftmost column).
  • Click the link for the Group for students in the our class under “Subject Groups.” It will have a descriptive name such as “Wiki activity group.” This takes you to the site-within-a-site in the class Canvas site.
  • Click Pages in the lefthand nav column of links. This will show another view of the Group home page.
  • From here you can either edit this home page by clicking the Edit button in the upper righthand corner, or view a list of pages by clicking the button—wait for it…—“View All Pages.”
    • You can follow links from the list of pages to other pages, each of which will also have an upper righthand Edit button.
  • When you click an Edit button, you are presented with an editing interface, a window in which you can read and edit the contents of the page. Go nuts. All changes are tracked, and are revertible. (If you cannot revert changes yourself, just email Ryan to ask for help.)
    • Editing can be more than adding and editing text. You can also add links to other pages using the chain icon in the editor toolbar. By linking to a page that does not exist, you create it. You can then follow your link to the newly created blank page, press its Edit button, and go nuts again. Links are what make wikis what they are, so let’s link everything together.

Here is a guide for students and teachers on this procedure: https://lms.unimelb.edu.au/staff/guides/canvas/communication-and-collaboration/wikis-in-canvas.

The Unimelb guide suggests that teachers assign wiki activity as a “group assignment.” This is not a group assignment, and everyone is assigned the task of weekly editing as an individual. See below for more on this.

Wiki as a philosophy of learning

If you think about it, many things we do in class are more like gifts we give in a system of total prestations. When you offer your own ideas and respond to what other people think, you are giving the class a gift of helping them to develop their own ideas. You receive the same kind of gift when people talk about their ideas and ask you questions about your thinking. This is not just an exchange either. It’s our share and our contribution to the common knowledge of the class. Essays, by contrast, are alienated from the conditions of their own production and treated as fetishes, a lot like commodities. In this class, you will be graded on the gifts you give as well as the commodities you produce. The gifts are your effort, engagement, attention to other people, and willingness to take risks and try new things. The commodities are the products of this kind of effort.

Authoring and editing a collaborative document is not just putting stuff in. We all have to read, think about, extend, edit, and comment on what other people say so that we work to a bigger and better collective of common knowledge. So every week you should do at least two different kinds of things. Look at the page on the key tasks of collaborative writing as a guide.

Collaborative writing is academic writing, and we should treat it seriously. While what we are doing is drafting and writing notes, we should not violate the norms of scholarship. You will lose points for this.

If you quote something, you have to cite it and add the reference to the bibliography. When you comment on someone’s ideas, be constructive in your criticisms. If you delete something, replace it with what you think is better. (All versions of the pages are stored so deleting does not permanently remove anything.) Do you own work. Don’t let other people do everything or speak for you. Don’t speak on behalf of other people or appoint yourself as the main author.

How your contributions will add up to a grade

This assignment is 10% of your final grade. Like your journal I will not be evaluating each individual contribution and ranking them on a scale. Rather, you get credit when you make a good-faith effort to expand or improve our collective writing every week from Monday of Week 2 to Friday of Week 13. If you add, edit, link, or comment on something in more than a minimal way each week, then you get full credit, or 100/100 on this assignment. (So, just like your journal, it’s pretty easy to get 100% on this assignment.)

Because this is an experimental assignment, I expect that the sum total of each person’s contributions over 12 weeks to be equivalent to writing no more than 500 words. This is just a guideline though, not a hard requirement. You can do as much as you want with this, and your collective effort will help each of you develop your thinking in your solo-authored essays for class too.

This is an exercise in collective writing, and that kinda means that it’s an exercise in anonymous writing too. I am able to see what kinds of contributions people make each week, but I will mainly be looking at the quantity of individual edits to the page. I will also be reading the history of changes in the page as well. My feedback will be mainly collective, perhaps in the form of mass messages or discussion posts to the class.

Also, as noted, we will have to check in about how well this is working and how productive it is for us throughout the semester, so the rules of the game may change.

Citing sources and using generative AI

This assignment asks you to engage in freeform writing. So you are not required to use sources or even to produce a type of writing. But, this assignment is also an opportunity to practice skills of doing scholarship, which is a way of communicating with its own rules. When you discuss someone’s ideas or draw upon information from another source, I do expect you to cite it and to provide a reference for it in the document you are editing. (I am picturing all the pages in our wiki as being like little essays, with a title, paragraphs, and then a list of references for all citations at the bottom. I leave it to you as a group to figure this out, though.) In fact, citing sources and providing references is especially valuable here: it’s part of your gift to the group. I am hoping that each of you will discover things in sources on your own and will want to share what you find as well as your ideas about them in these collaborative documents. Citing sources and providing references is sharing, and sharing is caring.

Using generative AI is—sigh—I don’t know. Given that all of this is an experiment, I can’t decide in advance whether and what kind of rule to create. As I have said elsewhere, generative AI is a tool, and you can use it to take a shortcut or to enhance your work. Do the latter. Using an artificially generated simulation of discourse is a really crappy gift. How would you feel if a teacher’s lectures were just generated by ChatGPT? I hope we will discuss this in class; it’s something every community of scholars will have to decide for themselves.

For now, though:

  • using generative AI to produce a contribution to the wiki does not count for credit for this assignment.
    • if you use an LLM to generate text that you want to include, you have to do more than just copy and paste it into the class pages.
  • generated text must also be edited as part of its use.
  • otherwise the same rules apply to using generative AI
    • document the prompts, the text that is produced, and your changes
    • attach these documents to the page you are working on as an appendix

For this assignment, you can assume that any text generated by an AI is wrong in some way. It will have biases. It will have errors. AIs don’t actually think or know. They can just mimic what semiotics and linguistic anthropology sounds like. So if you were to generate text for the wiki, you’d have to then change it in order to correct it and make it useful to other people in class.

Should we use Canvas or another alternative?

Most people probably think of Wikipedia when they hear wiki, and I’m sure you all know that people run their own Wikipedia-style wikis on their own web sites. Also, I bet most of you used Google Docs or something similar during your pandemic schooldays. So you would know that there are alternatives to using Canvas. I’m open to using another kind of wiki if that makes this assignment more productive for the class. There are pros and cons.

Wiki Pros Cons
A private section of Ryan’s AnthrocyclopaediaNot visible to the public; Easier for Ryan to track individual contributionsRequires creating an account on Ryan’s site using a student’s Gmail address; The site may crash and (although unlikely) may wipe out our work; If the site is hacked, Gmail addresses (but not your Google passwords) may be exposed (extremely unlikely); Requires use of Wikipedia style syntax ()
Google Docs Easy WYSIWYG editing interface; Easy contribution tracking Requires students to log into Google to use (anonymous editing can be allowed, but students wouldn’t get credit for it); Unclear how the “wiki” concept would be implemented in a “document”—it’s doable but requires us to experiment; Private documents are easily copied and shared
Canvas LMS Private; secure; login is Unikey based; WYSIWYG editing Editing and linking pages requires a few steps; Harder to track individual contributions; Visual display is limited and can be reader-unfriendly

Let’s talk more in class in Week 1 and over the semester about these and other possibilities.


3621/2024/contributions_to_an_online_knowledge_base.txt · Last modified: 2024/01/15 23:43 by Ryan Schram (admin)