Is There a Wiki in This Class? Wikibooks and the Future of Higher Education – Matt Barton

This article draws a sharp contrast between the elitism of academia and the freedom offered to individual voices on the World Wide Web. In addition, Barton shows how wikis help the “citizen band” replace the top-down corporate forces with the “independence and autonomy of communities of people.” As he argues, in academia, “an individual’s prestige may partially be determined by how well he is able to suppress other voices.” (177) By contrast, wikis aren’t dependent upon individual prestige. Wikis embrace other voices, instead of arguing to the point of squelching others’ arguments.

The very concerns that draw academic criticism of wikis is show to be the asset that makes Wikipedia and other such wikis such a success. Vulnerability is their asset. As a comparison, consider Ghandi’s passive resistance against the British Empire. This was the vulnerability of the Indian people being used effectively against a superior military force, the British. By contrast, controlling the vulnerability of the World Wide Web and wikis would result in a confrontational battle against superior forces, such as was seen in the 1982 Falkland War (Argentina’s claim of the Falkland Islands versus Great Britain). Controlling and confrontation doesn’t work against a larger, superior force.

The success of wikis is in the neutrality, driven by formal or informal policies on wikis. This neutrality creates a tolerance and diversity that contributes to a richer, more collaborative environment. A successful wiki overcomes the vulnerabilities through the “force of pride felt by a wiki community.” (185) It is the anonymous citizenry of the wiki, overriding any assaults brought about by exterior forces. That same anonymity and wiki pride create an atmosphere that provides no rewards for those who would seek to deface the wiki. Absent rewards, there are no reasons to actively seek to confront or cause harm to the wiki. It is almost metaphysical. It reminds us of the greater good and ideals man often seeks in an imperfect world.

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