Some Yale students are correcting errors on Wikipedia this fall—errors of sexism.
The free online encylopedia is created and edited by volunteers all over the world—87 percent of whom are men, according to Wikipedia itself. That imbalance leads to frequent complaints of sex bias. Last April, for instance, an author discovered that her name, and those of hundreds of other writers, had been deleted from the "American Novelists" category and moved to a new subcategory, "American Women Novelists."
In response, students in the undergraduate course Gender & Sexuality in Media & Popular Culture are participating in a national project called "Storming Wikipedia": they'll research, write, and submit Wikipedia entries about women's contributions to technology.
"Wikipedia has been egregiously sexist in the articles that go up and what’s not covered,” says Laura Wexler, professor of American Studies and of Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, who coteaches the course on media and pop culture with WGSS department chair Inderpal Grewal. Her students will collaborate with those at 14 other colleges and universities across the country.
The project is part of a larger experiment in collaborative education. Devised by FemTechNet—a group of feminist academics working in technology, of which Wexler is a member—the experiment is called a DOCC: a distributed online collaborative course. Its creators see it as a feminist alternative to MOOCs, or massive open online courses, a worldwide trend into which Yale is cautiously wading.
"A MOOC (massive open online course) is typically organized and branded by a single (elite) institution," FemTechNet's website says. By contrast, "a DOCC recognizes and is built on the understanding that expertise is distributed throughout a network."
In Wexler's case, that means incorporating new, collaborative elements into her existing course: the joint Storming Wikipedia project as well as shared "video dialogues," real-time interaction with DOCC students at other schools, and an increased emphasis on learning from each other.
“I’m not a digital native, but our students are," Wexler notes in a phone interview. "There’s a real need to have open questions and learn things from them.”
She cites "the old principle when I began teaching: everyone in the room gets to speak. Because you will be surprised at what they have to say." That’s not only a feminist principle, Wexler notes; it's also "what the internet offers. And that’s good and bad.”