Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Art History Wikis and Other Dabbling in Web 2.0

Art Historians are only now beginning to experiment with the potential for Web 2.0 to change our teaching, as indicated by a glut of technology-related topics to be presented at the 2009 meetings of the College Art Association.

I have long been interested in how the Internet shapes knowledge. And one of the topics that I am interested in is the Wikipedia and various other projects by the Wikimedia Foundation. Most of my own contributions have amounted to tinkering rather than full-blown composition, but I can happily say that I improved entries on a handful of art-related topics. (See, for example, the wikipedia entry for the Discipline of Art History as well as entries on Oscar Howe, John Steuart Curry, Currier and Ives, Robert Stacy-Judd, Andre Breton, Giorgio Vasari, Duncan Grant, and Jean-Frederic Waldeck .)

Although I have mixed feelings about the reliability of wikis for classroom use, I nonetheless recognize that the entries can be valuable--particularly at early stages of research--and that students will use them even if they are forbidden. My solution to encourage my students to be rigorous with information has been to require them to find a large number of sources (perhaps 20) with half of them coming from the Internet and half being peer-reviewed and paper-based. They then compare their content in an annotated bibliography as a step toward writing their final papers.

A lesser-known project of Wikimedia is Wikibooks--aiming to create wiki-based textbooks for the major disciplines. There is an Art History Textbook in progress, but it has stagnated for several years. I am curious whether the book will be rejuvenated by the discussions scheduled to take place at the CAA, as well as whether the project should be rejuvenated. While textbooks are indeed overpriced and often mediocre, can a wiki do better? How can we ensure what a student sees in preparation for an exam if we use a wiki textbook? Because of such questions my instinct is that I would not teach from a wiki, but I nonetheless see the potential for internet-based resources. One interesting Internet-based resource designed to be used as a multimedia textbook supplement comes from the art history faculty at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Called smARThistory, it is filled with video and audio on topics from ancient antiquity to the present. I suspect that many instructors will eventually opt-out of textbooks in favor of content that they develop themselves to post on course-management servers (for example Blackboard and Moodle), items from sites such as smARThistory, and resources they glean from institutional repositories.


Karla said...

There's also the potential in having students create their own course-related wikis in Blackboard. I may try this in the spring semester. It's not appropriate to every course, though.

Travis Nygard said...

For an article about what Web 2.0 actually is, see Here.