Proposal:Improve interfacing with academia

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Every proposal should be tied to one of the strategic priorities below.

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  1. Achieve continued growth in readership
  2. Focus on quality content
  3. Increase Participation
  4. Stabilize and improve the infrastructure
  5. Encourage Innovation


Summary

Create structures, both technical and social, which encourages academic editing and active participation.


Proposal

  • Create a tool or tools for assessing contributions to Wikimedia projects which could be referenced on a curriculum vita, and which would be understood by people not necessarily wiki-literate.
  • Create an authentication service, in which a person's real name can be verified but which does not release it.
  • Assist new academic editors by creating a network of academic editors at the same university, including perhaps an editor specifically there to assist new users from that institution specifically.
  • Continue fostering professional behavior among editors and especially administrators, which is conducive to a productive working experience.
  • Add additional TeX and internal referencing support to Wikibooks and Wikiversity projects.

Motivation

College and University professors and researchers often lament the poor public understanding of their subject, while Wikimedia projects and Wikipedia in particular have become a key resource for much of the general public. It is natural that academic workers would be interested in contributing their knowledge to Wikipedia, and a significant number have done so. Wikimedia projects, as they grow, also demand increasingly specialized knowledge which academia can provide. Encouraging this should be a key goal of the Wikimedia foundation moving into the next few years of development.

At present Wikipedia is rarely mentioned on a curriculum vita (CV), yet a line on a CV is often the key academic "reward" for hard work. Certainly an impressive CV is a key factor in job applications, grant applications, etc. A career-minded researcher, while perhaps positively inclined towards the project, may choose to invest time in activities which further his or her career. To encourage Wikimedia work, we should make it easier for academics to include their work in their CV. The reader of a CV, however, can not be expected to understand edit count, barnstars, or FA contributions in a meaningful way, however. What is needed is a metric which reflects both the skill and the labor of the editor's contributions, in a manner which could be understood by a person unfamiliar with Wikimedia culture or terminology.

Such a metric might take different forms on different projects. An idea for Wikipedia, for instance, might be a volunteer review of submitted edits toward a particular page. The CV line could read, for instance, "Made improvements to the 'Fish' article on the English Wikipedia rated as 'significant' by the a consensus of editors (Review reference: Foo)." Specific criteria would have to be developed for each project, but the guidance to do so should come from the Wikimedia foundation.

A line on a CV needs to be verifiable, and the present system of user names makes that difficult. While it could be that users are encouraged to edit under their own names, this is neither backwards compatible nor necessarily desirable. Instead, a second goal of creating the technical capacity to verify a username is associated with a real name (and perhaps email) would be helpful. This could take the form of a blinded verification, wherein both the username and real name (and perhaps email and capcha for security purposes) are entered and the validation is made or denied. This should be an opt-in service, of course, to preserve the privacy of users who so desire.

Once an editor from an academic institution begins their work, they may find technical or social questions which limit their contributions. Creating an in-Wiki solution can cause further befuddlement, as the user navigates from help page or policy page, trying to decide what to do. Having a "go-to" person at colleges and universities who are familiar with the technical requirements and social norms of the various projects might do a great deal to keep someone adding content. A new user from an academic institution may not be interested in reading policy pages on the best sort of dispute resolution, but might well be convinced to go down the hall to talk with a colleague and ask about it.

The interactions in the halls of academia are, at least superficially civil and professional. Keeping a professional atmosphere is already a guideline, however it can be reinforced. Not tolerating disruptive behavior would do a lot to keep people editing and discussing.

Finally, it would be helpful to increase the range of tools available for editing. Having a link to create a pdf is great, however this still falls short of the technical tools used in publishing. A suite of TeX macros would be vital to contributions which are comparable to textbooks and other resources. This includes the ability to foot/endnote something, to reference equations or figures in text (which are dynamically numbered), and greater control of the pdf output would be helpful (including possibly adding an opensource TeX editing capacity, with options to use as a large number of macro packages) to Wikibooks and Wikiversity. Many workers in math and science fields write lecture notes and coursework in LaTeX, but it relies on features which are unavailable on Wikimedia software or take a great deal of reformating. Facilitating the incorporation of this sort of material should help users add more useful content.

The value of facilitating academic involvement with Wikimedia projects should be evident. Professional academics may not need a lot of convincing to help out on projects, but a vision of Wikimedia projects which fit academia's structures would be a natural step to facilitate contributions of content. Continued growth of Wikimedia projects relies on increasingly expert knowledge and academia is the natural place to go.

Key Questions

  • What form should a CV-ready metric take on each project?
  • What are other factors which keep academics from editing presently?
  • Undoubtedly academic discussions among professionals will spill onto the projects; how can those discussions be facilitated to create a better end product, without burning out those involved?
  • Are there other technical measures which would be valuable to academic editors?

Potential Costs

  • Minimal costs associated with software changes. Otherwise this could be handled with a vision statement or guide.

References

Community Discussion

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