Under the old, "broadcast" model of journalism and academia, undergraduate students were generally limited to consuming the scholarship of others while their own research and writing was largely confined to practice exercises. Now Congresspedia is engaging students in the new, participatory model of media and society by publishing their writing on the wiki rather than having it collect dust in a file drawer somewhere. As part of this project (our Student Editor Program), I met last week with the students of Prof. Phil Tajitsu Nash's Asian Pacific Americans and American Public Policy class at the University of Maryland. Prof. Nash's students are engaged in a fascinating research project on the movement for redress for Japanese Latin Americans who were put in internment camps during World War II. Despite enduring similar conditions to US-based Japanese Americans, they were exempted from the redress bill President Reagan signed in the 1980s.
The class is going to be researching that bill, the politics that surrounded it, the internment of Japanese Americans and the policy and politics of new calls for extending the redress to Japanese Latin Americans. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) has filed a bill to establish a fact-finding commission to study the issue, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Latin Americans of Japanese Descent Act. The results of the students' research will be recorded in several articles that will become a permanent part of the Congresspedia wiki when they are finished. You can follow along with their efforts on their class project page. If you are a student or professor interested in participating in Congresspedia, take a look at the project page for the Student Editor Program.
Despite also being related to college students and wikis, this program is the exact opposite of what is going on at Middlebury College and other schools. As the New York Times reported last week, the history department there has banned the use of Wikipedia as a source in papers, with the reasoning that it "may appear in the future to escape the consequences of errors.” I couldn't agree more — uncritically repeating information from unclear sources (in this case, thousands of often anonymous authors) is bad form in any work of scholarship or reporting. Jimbo Wales, the founder of Wikipedia (and member of the Sunlight Foundation's advisory board) also agreed, saying, “I don’t consider it as a negative thing at all... Basically, they are recommending exactly what we suggested — students shouldn’t be citing encyclopedias. I would hope they wouldn’t be citing Encyclopaedia Britannica, either."
Rather than repeating what they read online, the students in the Student Editor Program are using numerous sources to produce articles for an encyclopedia, which encourages media literacy, critical thinking and participation in the public discourse. We hope to teach students to shed their old role as passive consumers of information to become actors in society. And, for professors, students or journalists who want to know how they can trust the information on SourceWatch, Wikipedia or any other wiki, my answer is: "You don't have to. Just click through the footnote links." Any encyclopedia is only as good as its sources, which is exactly why we have a strong policy on referencing. Congresspedia and Wikipedia are fantastic resources, but don't get it twisted – critically engaging in information is what we're all about.