This past weekend I attended WikiConference North America in Boston, Massachusetts. (Yes! A Wiki Conference!) The conference mostly took place at the MIT Stata Center. Attendees seemed to be an eclectic mix of longtime Wikipedians (volunteers), folks who work for Wikipedia, academics, librarians, and other GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) partners.
Perhaps the first thing to know is that the WikiConference is about more than just Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Foundation hosts many projects, only one of which is Wikipedia. To me, it seemed the project generating the most buzz and excitement was Wikidata (this link opens a video), which is a repository for data that can be queried by a user to answer questions. There was also a lot of energy around Wiki + GLAM partnerships, and how GLAMs are contributing their content to projects like Wikidata to make them more accessible and usable.
The plenary keynote was reflecting on Wikipedia @ 20 (pause on the fact that Wikipedia is 20 years old!) As one panelist pointed out, most of our incoming college students have not lived in a world without Wikipedia (wow!). Another panelist noted Wikipedia’s evolution through the years from more of “wiki” to more of an “encyclopedia” – the example given was that there’s no longer a dedicated Wikipedia page for every Pokemon character. Someone asked what they wished had been done differently, and it was gratifying to hear one of the panelists say they wish they had addressed the hostile editing environment much earlier.
What surprised me most about this conference (though it probably shouldn’t have) is how much overlap there was with some of the current “big issues” in information literacy. There was heavy discussion in almost all the sessions I attended around misinformation and fake news. One intriguing thread I’m following is this keynote by Dana Boyd (below) from 2018 which made the argument that, “many of the forms of critical thinking that we’ve introduced into American education are backfiring right now.” It’s really, really good and I’m still sitting with it days later – essentially the argument that we’ve taught our students to be critical too well, and where to go with that. To be honest, I’ve been somewhat avoiding fake news in my own classes because of this very issue. But this conference is giving me the kick in the pants I needed to think more about this issue and work on it over the summer.
I was planning to just attend this conference as an attendee, but I did get roped into presenting. One of my contacts at WikiEdu (Wikipedia’s educational branch, which provides support for all the college-level Wikipedia courses) asked me to be on a panel of university professors who are using Wikipedia to teach information literacy (I actually think you stream it here Room 123 – Day 1 – Session 3). It was great to finally meet some of the contacts I’ve made at WikiEdu in person and to meet other instructors using the platform.
There were other #critlib-minded folks around WikiCon as well, which was great to see. The best session I attended was titled, “A Colonizer’s Account: Use and Misuse of Historical Sources.” This is something that has come up in my own class – the writing of articles about underrepresented groups from the perspective of the white/European men who wrote about them. The general idea was that Wikipedia authors can unintentionally replicate viewpoints presented in primary sources, and that if we do not center non-European perspectives, we will write bad history. It was SO GOOD y’all. Unfortunately, the presenter did get some low-key pushback in the Q&A. I did as well (on Twitter) during my own session, which was also very much about critical information literacy concepts. Though, to give credit, most of the audience was totally on board. But, I’m happy to chat more about this if you are curious!
But now! More photos!