digital rhetoric

Karios PraxisWiki and the dilemma of collaborative scholarship

Starting with the recently published issue, I am officially co-editing the Praxis section of Kairos with Envera Dukaj. One of the things we need to think about is the PraxisWiki. In some respects the dilemma of the PraxisWiki is a familiar one in discussions of Web 2.0 scholarship.

As I’ve written about here in the past, one of the necessary components of scholarly work is that it has to be exchangeable for some kind of academic currency. Put bluntly, I need to be able to put it on my vita and use it to get a job or tenure or a raise or promotion or something. I at least need to get some reputation boost from it. This may seem rather mercenary, but that’s the way it goes.

So when you look at contributions to PraxisWiki, one of the first things an academic wants to know is what does it count for? Traditional research uses review as a pre-filter. Collaboration occurs prior to publication and is largely invisible, even though everyone knows that an author receives feedback from editors and reviewers and so on. With a conventional wiki, review and collaboration occurs after publication, or more accurately publication is an iterative process. Also collaboration is more intensive and visible.

All this we already know, right? And the question that follows we also likely know: how does one construct a wiki in such a way as to make it "scholarly work"?

What Praxis has done is made PraxisWiki really not a wiki. That is, only editors can alter pages and the pages published within are authored in the way conventional articles are. The only real difference is that the wiki articles are shorter and less formal. However, I’m not really sure if that will work. It doesn’t take advantage of what a wiki can do, and since the articles are short and informal they have relatively little value in the realm of scholarship. I’m actually not sure how you would value them.

One possible model is the Citizendum. In that model we vet contributors, then we give those contributors the ability to make changes as they see fit. We then have editors to can review and approve articles. We could go in this direction, but then I think that opens several questions, such as

  • Who would want to be a contributor?
  • Who would we want as our contributors?
  • What sort of content might we produce?
  • Who would be interested in that information?
  • Why are they interested? What purpose do they want this resource to serve?

Of course I’m not sure you could say that model has been all that successful for Citizendum, and either way, I’m not sure it would work for us.

I use the Praxis situation as an example because I’m involved in it. And I’m sure we’ll work out something. However, there is clearly a larger question here that continues about how to understand the nature of scholarly work in these networked environments. Part of that is seeing how the question of the scholarly value (in the crudest sense of "how does this count on my vita?") is tied to how we come to use these sites. Perhaps instead of thinking of a wiki entry as somewhat related to a book review or encycopedia entry, we might connect it to a conference presentation of some sort. The participants submit proposals, then offer presentations. These presentations are followed by dialog, including reader participation.

Of course we’ve seen things like this, like an online conference in a way but also like the way any group blog or wiki might work. But thinking of this kind of work as similar to a conference might be the way to go.

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