The price of participating in Wikipedia

Almost exactly a year ago, I was engaged in a conversation with my online network about why there wasn’t a good article in Wikipedia on MOOCs. I was particularly disappointed that those who not only offered them but did so with a good background in educational theory were not contributing to the article. I wrote a blog post about the response, which essentially encouraged me to get into Wikipedia and start writing. Others joined. I did what I could in the time I had, and haven’t looked much at it since.

Then today I again went to the article, because I was looking for something on MOOCs to add to the syllabus for the POT Certificate Class for 2012-13, the SMOOC (Small to Medium Open Online Class) that I facilitate, for free. I was horrified to find this:

I am being accused, along with Stephen Downes and George Siemens, whose MOOCs are extensively referenced in the article, of self-promotion and of creating the term MOOC for our own purposes and to link to our own content.

The SMOOC I teach isn’t even in the article. I was focused on the history and cleaning up some of the language. None of my own work, which frankly isn’t widely known anyway, is linked or mentioned in any way.

In the Talk tab, a couple of people point out that the list of MOOCs in the article is outdated, and needs to include the Stanford AI and Coursera MOOCs. Very true! Why did these commenters point that out but not add them to the article? One can criticize or comment, but the number of people helping is rather small if you look at the list of contributors (where I am still, strangely, the one who made the most changes).

I have been an active participant online for years, and ironically it is the current crop of corporate-based MOOCs and the massive expansion of for-profit online “colleges” that has caused me to participate less. But to be accused of self-promotion is ridiculous. I make no money with the SMOOC I facilitate, I work at a public community college in California, and I have no business or commercial aspirations at all. I’m Little Miss Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.

In fact, I see myself as a public servant, and it is an extension of this feeling of responsibility that encourages me to participate in online venues. I thought I was being helpful by editing the Wikipedia article, and I assumed others would come along and do some too.

This is very discouraging. It shouldn’t hurt, I guess, but it does. As a supporter of open education, open community, sharing and public participation, it’s more than disheartening. I am accustomed to the idea that working openly subjects ones work to public criticism. But here a moderate effort at providing some information has been interpreted as self-promotion. It does make me think twice about the extent to which I should spend time contributing to what I thought was a larger sphere of knowledge. I might be thinking more than twice from now on.


10 thoughts on “The price of participating in Wikipedia

  1. That really torques me. Makes me want to throw rotten eggs or something. I do a lot of public service stuff too and catch similar attitudes on a local level. If I have something to sell, someone please tell me what it is and where it’s hiding.

    I prescribe chocolate and revenge…


  2. Just went to page to look for a place to post a complaint … talk about a run around and no information on how to contact someone to complain.


  3. Lisa
    I do hope you find a way to keep contributing. You are so generous to share with all. And yes shame on the people who only share with strings attached (most usually to someone else’s purse). Certainly we all need money to live on but knowledge share is knowledge grown.


  4. I think those who wrote those comments have their intentions. I would however think that you, George and Stephen have contributed to the development of the article on wikipedia. If someone thinks it is a promotion, then please points out where the promotion lies, and amends the article, if that would make the article more reflective of the state of the art of MOOCs. Lisa M Lane I understand that such accusations could hurt, but there are lots of us who would support you, George and Stephen in this remarkable achievement. John Mak


  5. Lisa, this is terrible. The new MOOCs have been taken over by the business world and yes, universities are in business. Where is education heading? BTW, Wikipedia needs to make money, too, or at least Jimi Wales does.


  6. The day does come when criticism has no significance. It begins after 50 and fully flowers when one signs retirement paperwork. You should put this post in a time capsule to be read when you turn 80. You’ll have so much love and compassion for who you are today.


  7. Lisa, Good to See Dave has sorted the annoying advert comment out. I’ve learnt a new enjoyable acronym as well šŸ™‚
    I endorse John’s comment and likewise i support you against these ignorant, lazy comments


  8. So sad to find comments like this about people who give so much of their time to help others to learn. I’m so glad that Dave managed to remove the comment.
    What does FTFY stand for, Dave??


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