RLI 283 Integrating Special Collections into the Composition ClassSroom 18 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC 2013 Once they had completed these steps and had chosen a topic and corresponding article, students wrote a proposal letter to the Mahn Center staff member whose expertise related to their topic of study. The proposal letter outlined the students’ interest in the topic, the identified “gap” in the Wikipedia article, and their plans for further research. Students were also directed to ask for staff member guidance about particular materials they might find useful in their writing process. Proposals were forwarded both to the instructor and the Mahn Center staff, and were followed up by an in-person interview between staff member and student. During these interviews, students were directly exposed to further research avenues and had the opportunity to discuss their research and writing plans with an engaged guide. In this way, all staff in the Mahn Center became partners in teaching the course and impacted each student’s growth as a researcher in very direct ways. Collaborative Knowledge Building The Mahn Center staff were less prepared, however, to answer questions concerning Wikipedia policies and processes. For this, the project relied on Wikipedia “online ambassadors,” individuals who volunteered their time to help students work on particular articles in the encyclopedia. Students submitted drafts of their articles through an automated system to these ambassadors. In return, they received feedback on article structure, style, and content. Students valued this feedback precisely because the ambassadors are experienced Wikipedians and have knowledge of article conventions such as the neutral tone of voice and specific article structure conventional in Wikipedia. In engaging with these more fluent members of the Wikipedia community, students also began to realize how significant genre and social norms are when it comes to writing as well as how acculturated members of a writing community can be great resources in any writing project. Mahn Center staff also became more fluent in Wikipedia policies and practices as they attempted to help students navigate these writing situations. One particular lesson staff learned was about the concept of “notability,” which determines whether a topic is noteworthy enough to warrant the creation of an article. Gaining a better realization of how notability is assessed in the Wikipedia community better prepared the staff to help students make appropriate contributions to the encyclopedia and helped them to better understand Wikipedia as a resource and platform for exposing special collections. In the final phase of the project, students were encouraged to “go live” with their articles, that is, publish their articles or edits officially on Wikipedia. A few of the students met with some difficulties in this phase of the project if their edits or articles were not deemed suitable by other editors. Yet many students were successful in publishing their articles and edits to Wikipedia. Their articles represented a diverse array of topics, including biographical articles on Vernon Alden, former president of Ohio University and namesake of Alden Library, which houses the Mahn Center, and George Kahler, a professional baseball player who once played for the university. The fact that students wrote or edited Wikipedia articles that focused largely on Ohio University or Southeast Ohio served to further connect students to the university community and exposed historical information about these regional topics to Wikipedia readers everywhere. All of the students, regardless of publication, learned a great deal from the experience, as became evident from data collected by Vetter through process logs and student surveys.
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