Stuck between a paywall and equality

When I graduated with my PhD in 2016, I received offers to publish in various journals and I even have a book I’m writing. I am not completely committed to any of it.

What?!

I know.

Believe me, in this world of academic “publish or perish” I am not ungrateful and recognize my privilege in this. Anyone would jump at this, unless they think like me. I don’t create knowledge to sell journals, magazines, or subscriptions for some publishing house. I create for my fellow humans.

I am not a religious person, so this is not in a religious sense, but I have been privileged with circumstances, biological and societal, that led to experiences that nurtured my critical thinking and intelligence. I don’t wish to capitalize on that. None of this is what I truly earned so it wouldn’t be right for me to make knowledge that is not for everyone to receive.

I am committed to publishing my full dissertation and any writings of mine on my website, or in ways where they are openly accessible to others. Granted, this might be a delayed release so I can publish additional material off of my findings, but ultimately I don’t want my creations to be behind paywalls. My work is so personal to me. This is my art. This is my activism.

I did publish one article in a CASE magazine, but was insistent on this part of the contract:

“CASE agrees to identify Author/Assignor as the author of Work, and also to grant Assignor in perpetuity a non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce by any means Work or parts of it solely for Assignor’s own personal use or as workshop handouts if the following copyright notice is placed on Work by Assignor: Copyright © 2015 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.”

It wasn’t as perfect of a distribution option as I’d preferred, but better than many publishers include.

So, how do you all do it? How do you publish and still stand for free knowledge?

Education is a human right denied to many. That statement of mine was an unpopular one with faculty members at my private, Jesuit graduate school. I was rather surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.

Free knowledge is a radical act. It is political. It is absolutely political to believe in free knowledge.
-Katherine Maher (Source Code Berlin)

This is why I spend much of my time editing Wikipedia. Education equality is my passion, my activism.

No laughing matter: my experience as a Wikipedia visiting scholar at ACPA

WikiEdu.org screenshot of Jackie Koerner: Wikipedia Visiting Scholar at SFSU

Wednesday night I got home from a higher education convention I attend each year. ACPA is an international organization for higher education personnel. Beyond an annual convention each March, ACPA provides professional development opportunities and various publications.

Last year, I attended the ACPA convention as a PhD candidate and graduate assistant at Saint Louis University. I graduated with my PhD in August 2016.

This year, I attended convention as an independent researcher and visiting scholar with San Francisco State University’s Longmore Institute on Disability. On the daily, I do independent research, submit my articles to publications, and I edit Wikipedia. In editing Wikipedia, I use sources available to me through SFSU to improve content on Wikipedia. I focus on disability topics, whether it’s culture, history, or adjusting bias in existing content.

For the 2017 ACPA convention I was a program review coordinator on the organizing committee. I also presented an educational session about attitudinal bias in disability and career. I also gave a PechaKucha talk about mental health and graduate programs. I was stoked!

That was, until I had a crowd of hundreds of people laughing at me.

It all started Saturday morning at a council meeting for the leadership of the state chapters. I talked about the work I was doing with San Francisco State University’s Longmore Institute on Disability and Wikipedia. At first, I was a little skeptical of talking about what I was doing in my group of professional peers, considering the mixed bag of responses I have received when talking about Wikipedia in the Midwest. The thirty plus people in the room thought this was pretty cool. I was super excited by their responses! I thought, “Yes! They get it!”

Then on Tuesday, I was presenting in a session with two of my colleagues (and friends) about attitudinal bias about disabilities in career. I mentioned media representation of self-hate of people with disabilities as an overwhelming theme, especially in movies. I mentioned Million Dollar Baby as an example, and noted although I had not seen it, I had read about its problematic plot on Wikipedia. A man in a suit seated at the front table loudly yelled, “HA!” I started at his outburst, then I laid out the logic for him. I told him numerous scholars are on Wikipedia, and commented on how funny it was he was attending a session about attitudinal bias and scoffing at Wikipedia. He turned red and continued mumbling under his breath lamenting the “problems” of Wikipedia. In interest of time, I continued with my presentation intending to catch up with him after the session. He left before I could greet him and hand him my card. The guy, however, was lucky enough to sit behind me in a later session, where I was able to continue my clarification about Wikipedia. His only concession was that maybe it “has gotten better” and a shoulder shrug.

That night, I prepared myself to go on stage to deliver a talk to a crowd of hundreds of people about mental health and graduate education. The evening’s M.C. mentioned I edit Wikipedia in my introduction. The crowd laughed. It was like they were watching slapstick or some incredibly funny cat video.

It hurt. It really hurt. After I got off stage, I posted this thread on Twitter:

No one responded, but some other Wikipedians retweeted my posts.

Evidently we still have some work to do educating educators about education. Sadly, those educators in the room did not know that very likely they had people at their educational institutions using Wikipedia in their courses. When I say use, I mean assigning editing Wikipedia as the course assignments, watching emerging events unfold as civic learning, and learning to engage in the scholarly community by learning to debate and support their arguments (and more…). Oh, and it’s been shown educators teaching with Wikipedia have students who achieve the course learning goals. (See “Read more…” below)

So, I want to hear it: what are your thoughts about Wikipedia? Why do you feel this way? I want to hear from academics, educators, scholars, and from other Wikipedians!

Read more…

Wikipedia community suggested practices about students editing as assignments

Editing Wikipedia is becoming a class assignment

Teach with Wikipedia

How to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool

Case Studies: How professors are teaching with Wikipedia

Wikis and Wikipedia as a teaching tool: Five years later

I’m an academic and I use Wikipedia

Ok, friends, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. It’s time to move on. Everybody does it. I’ve seen colleagues do much worse. We all secretly do it, but are sure our colleagues will judge us for it.

I am an academic and I read and contribute to Wikipedia.

No one has unfriended me. I don’t have to wear a scarlet W around campus. I have kept my honors. Heck, I even am a visiting scholar because I contribute to Wikipedia.

Why am I saying this?

Because tonight I read a study about a study completed at two public Spanish universities (Aibar, E., Lladós-Masllorens, J., Meseguer-Artola, A., Minguillón, J., & Lerga, M. (2014). Wikipedia at university: what faculty think and do about it. The Electronic Library. 33(4). 668-683. doi: 10.1108/EL-12-2-2013-0217) – both relatively new and one of them was online only. The faculty used Wikipedia but only for subjects that were not in their primary field. Academics in STEM fields were more comfortable using Wikipedia for their scholarship and teaching. “So-called soft-science academics” were more skeptical.

Oh, my fellow social scientists, own up to it. You use Wikipedia. If you don’t, you should. What does this say about your bias? Go on. Go reflect on your actions and if your actions of judging Wikipedia/cloaking your true feelings are 1. valid and 2. really working toward the Truth we seek on the daily.

Did you know your students could learn in a collaborative environment where you don’t have to force inorganic collaboration? Pedagogical application is receiving mixed reviews in the literature. Why? Because many of those respondents are simply theorizing on how teaching with Wikipedia would be based on their assumptions about what Wikipedia is.

Wikipedia is “a new and powerful channel for the public communication of science.” Isn’t that what we want? Someone to read our work and to further scholarship? What are you waiting for? Give contributing to Wikipedia a chance, and what do you know, you might even let your hair down and teach with it next semester!

I’ll even volunteer to get you started.

I’m a visiting scholar!

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I am very excited to announce I was selected to be a visiting scholar with San Francisco State University. The goal of my position is to use the library resources available to me through SFSU to improve content on Wikipedia regarding disability. This includes art, culture, history, and so much more. The directors at the Longmore Institute already created a list of potential topics for me to examine.

Here’s the information about the role:

Historian and activist Paul K. Longmore founded the Institute on Disability at SFSU in 1996. When he passed away in 2010, the university created an endowment for the Institute and renamed it in his honor. It undertakes projects that work to challenge prevailing notions and stereotypes of disability by showcasing disabled people’s strength, ingenuity, and originality. Its public education and cultural events connect the Bay Area’s vibrant disability communities and the general public with faculty and students at SF State to fight disability stigma with disability culture.

Already I have so much to add! I am using my old pal, Scrivener, to collect the information before I make edits. I love Scrivener’s functions, which allow me to search my literature research notes, which will ultimately allow me to improve numerous articles with each source I find.

Oh! Did you know you can edit Wikipedia too? It not only helps build and improve the free, quality knowledge available on the Internet, it’s a great free time activity too – addictive, and habit-forming, but [generally] not harmful to your health. 🙂 Feel free to see what I’m up to on Wikipedia.

Locked out by paywalls

As a lifelong university student, I have never been without scholarly articles and quality information. I remember starting college when the World Wide Web was still young and reading articles online for the first time. Forget homework! I had my nose in some research article or op-ed piece about the desperate state of something. I love learning.

But so do many other people. They just don’t have equal access to information as I do…or did. Now I’m locked out. My guilty pleasure of swiftly replacing citations on Wikipedia with more valid sources is now more challenging.

What is the difference between a valid source and what I can find just by googling it? Well, published articles in journals have hefty weight. Most are peer reviewed and some are juried, so the content cannot be too ‘creative’ or far from the ‘truth’. On the other hand, people can say anything on the Internet. I can say I’m a dog, and you’d have to believe me. I could also say I have purple spots and ride a pineapple. Or take some of the election 2016 content. You get the point.

Being that anyone on the Internet can say anything, providing free, quality knowledge to people can be a challenge. This hits me right at my core beliefs: education and equity.

We are insanely privileged. We all may fuss about our clothes, our houses, or our cars, but we have access to quality knowledge. We have books in our homes. We have libraries. We have Internet access. Education is a human right, but only accessible to the privileged.

I am trying to change that. I hope you do too. Instead of just reading Wikipedia from now on, make an edit each time you read. Together we are greater than the sum of our parts. We can provide a free, quality education through Wikipedia.

If you can’t edit, keep me editing! Consider donating to help me purchase remote access to my alma maters’s databases so I can keep updating those citations. I greatly appreciate it!

Wikipedia is Therapy

Ruf des Phönix Erster Sog, Bild von Magdalena Maya Ben 2007
Ruf des Phönix Erster Sog, Bild von Magdalena Maya Ben 2007Licensed under Creative Commons

Connections between people over the Internet offer a large possibility for anonymity. On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Or more likely, no one knows about your gender, race, religion, or disability. For people with disabilities, the Internet is full of havens where they can live without stigma. Wikipedia may just be one of those havens.

I was toying around with the idea of investigating the lived experiences of people with disabilities who contribute to Wikipedia. Now I am even more intrigued after reading the article titled Wikipedia is not Therapy by Andrew McMillen.

I clicked on some of the links in the article, starting with the English Wikipedia essay Wikipedia is not therapy (WP:NOTTHERAPY). Essays on English Wikipedia are written by Wikipedia editors. The information written is usually opinion-based or advice pertaining to Wikipedia. The essays do not require approval, or widespread agreement; this one, however, is used frequently.

This WP:NOTTHERAPY is sometimes referenced in edit disputes or other community discourse about inappropriate behavior. It is to insinuate the receiving party has a mental disability and tell them that Wikipedia is not a place for their inappropriate behavior. It is used to diminish their value and discredit any further discussion of their merits.

Similar to the casual way in which society uses “crazy” and “nuts,” this suggests inappropriate behavior and disability have a causal link in the minds of some in the community.

Let me pause and explain. There are two views of disability: the medial model and the social model.

The medical model frames the disability as a deficiency of the person, which must be cured, and places the emphasis on the perceived disease or deficiency. The medical model offers complications for people with disabilities as it frames them as “abnormal,” “subnormal,” or “special.” The focus on curing or managing their disabilities in order to be more “normal” further communicates to society that a disability is something to be removed and even ashamed of.

The social model of disability views disability as part of the natural environment. The social model focuses on how society is developed around people without disabilities or the “able-bodied.” This model came out of the recognition that society’s practices of discrimination, exclusion of people with disabilities, and inclusion of those without disabilities is a form of oppression. Society has told people who have disabilities “how to be disabled.”

The WP:NOTTHERAPY message, on the whole, is not offensive. Yet it contains language that embodies society’s stigmatized view of disability. The longevity and usefulness of WP:NOTTHERAPY, suggest a great number of people in the community subscribe to the medical model of disability.

Here are a few examples of language in WP:NOTTHERAPY:

These problems may be caused by personal immaturity, an inability to properly apply Wikipedia’s policies, poor social skills, or other reasons.

This sentence, connected with the title, implies that people who cause problems need therapy.

The phrase “Wikipedia is not therapy” should not be taken to imply that editors with mental disorders are incapable of making constructive contributions to Wikipedia…

Why then did the editors who wrote this essay choose this title? There has been discussion on the talk page about the essay title. The self-proclaimed inventor of the concept said, “In its ‘voting is not therapy’ incarnation, it was useful as a sneer, and it was meant as a sneer.” This suggests is it acceptable to use assumptions about one’s state of mental health as a sneer. Just like using the word “retarded” does not make it okay because you didn’t mean “retarded” but just “stupid.”

In short, Wikipedia offers users the chance to practice being sensible, sane, and productive, but one’s psychological state is not an acceptable excuse for disrupting the encyclopedia.

Why does mental health need to be in this conversation? If you can’t make sensible and productive contributions, don’t edit right now. I just said the same thing without being insulting. Punch up, not down.

After reading WP:NOTTHERAPY, in the See also section is an essay titled Wikipedia is not a convalescent center. Included is the text:

Wikipedia is not a convalescent center for people with poor communication skills…It should also be noted that lack of communication skills may be indicative of a deficit in actual functioning, such as a disorder.

This could also be indicative of people who are newbies, young, or non-native English speakers.

Further on in “Wikipedia is not a convalescent center,” there is reference to trolling and “behaviors that are disruptive both for the encyclopedic work and the project’s social community.” Essay titles and content like this damage both the encyclopedic work and the project’s social community.

The title could be: Wikipedia is not a tabloid. Or Wikipedia is not a toilet.

But it isn’t.

The language chosen in both essays is a jab at people with disabilities. People with disabilities are valued contributors to Wikipedia and there are people without disabilities who are destructive to Wikipedia. Having a disability should not be used to diminish contributors, nor should ‘disability’ and similar language be used as insults.

Going back to McMillen’s article…

McMillen’s article makes some great points. People on Wikipedia are valued contributors. Some people may have disabilities, but that does not diminish their value.

…it can reveal some of the worst aspects of human behavior, including abuse, harassment, and threats of physical violence.

Exposing yourself on the Internet can be challenging. Just like any relationship, you’re opening yourself up to all experiences. This could include appreciation for contributions, constructive criticism, or the bile of heinous behavior.

…mental health carries a powerful stigma, and that the more open we are about it, the less it weighs all of us down.

By suggesting people who are destructive or people with whom you are feuding have a mental disability, this only serves to perpetuate the stigmatized perspective of disability held by society. The more open we are about mental disabilities and receiving help for these disabilities, the more acceptable it will become in society, meaning more people will get the therapy they need to live personally fulfilling lives – and others will be more supportive when learning someone has a disability. No empathetic person wants to see their fellow human distressed, so why would anyone want to perpetuate the stigma which only serves to oppress people with disabilities?

I found in my reading for my dissertation people do not always disclose their disabilities. The failure to disclose could indicate people with disabilities do not want to be judged, invoke stigma about disability, or be treated differently than the people without disabilities. People with disabilities would rather risk struggling academically rather than face the stigma, stereotyping, and status loss society places on people with disabilities.

When you get a bunch of passionate people together, emotions can run high and interactions can become less than cordial. This is the time when WP:NOTTHERAPY is used. Unintentionally, this mentality might be serving to only further alienate current and potential contributors.

While McMillen’s article does have the intent to bring more attention to the potentially distressing effects of being an active contributor, I do disagree with one point:

Depending on the reader, its tone might be perceived as just snarky or dismissive enough to rub a distressed editor the wrong way.

I am not distressed or someone with a disability, yet I perceive the WP:NOTTHERAPY as “snarky and dismissive.” It is inappropriate. Maybe this has to do with my overall empathy. Or my hope to not exclude a valuable population of contributors. Or maybe others agree with me and it’s time to take that essay down and decommission its function in disputes.

 This emergency response system was established in 2010 by Philippe Beaudette…

I am glad there is a response system in place to support community members in distress. The fear of invoking stigma can prevent people with disabilities from pursuing support. WP:NOTTHERAPY only helps to further the stigma associated with mental disabilities and seeking therapy. Many people could benefit from therapy, but choose to not seek therapy. This illustrates the personal impact of societal stigmatization of disability.

Having a mental, or an “invisible,” disability does not lessen the effect of stigmatized actions and remarks on the person. Disabilities, both physical and “invisible,” can affect people in various ways. Conflating poor behavior with people with disabilities does not help “write an encyclopedia,” but stifles the much needed diversity in the community.

Wikipedia is therapy…

I argue that contributing to Wikipedia is therapy. No, no activity can replace actual therapy, but there are benefits to contributing. After a stressful day, I feel reinvigorated because I’m having an effect on the available free knowledge. I feel excited immersing myself in solving content puzzles. I laugh, saying, “How’d I get here?” after going down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of interesting content. After a day of fighting the good fight for education equality, this knowledge-nerd is rejuvenated by family, food, and Wikipedia.

I know the benefits for me, but the benefits and reasons for contributing are different for everyone. Veronica Erb wrote about Editing Wikipedia as self-care activism. Emily Temple-Wood’s positive punishment plan. Jake Orlowitz wrote about his Journey of a Wikipedian. I’d love to hear from other active contributors about their journey.

I am actually really curious to find out about the people with disabilities who are contributors on Wikipedia. If you’d like to collaborate on this investigation of the lived experiences of contributors with disabilities on Wikipedia, email me.

Make sure you do you.

If you are experiencing feelings that affect your enjoyment of daily life or negatively affect your daily activities, please do seek counseling. No other activity can replace seeing a qualified counselor. The counselor can provide you with resources and tools so you can enjoy the one life you live.

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, know the suicide is preventable and you must get immediate help. Help can be found at suicide.org.

Free Knowledge, Inquire Within

You use Wikipedia. But did you know it’s not just good for giving you fingertip access to factoids? The movement is much more than that. There are some pretty big goals.

Sometimes we take access to to quality, bias-free information for granted. Not everyone in the world has that luxury. But you can help make a change.

Get involved
Anyone can. You don’t have to be an expert or a jack-of-all-trades. You can start by cleaning up grammar on existing articles. Or take on bigger tasks.

Donate
If you haven’t watched the video above, do. It sounds so silly, but I get so excited when I think about how much information is given and received each day. What a gift! Donate today to give the gift of knowledge to everyone.

To find out more about all things wiki, come join me and others at the St. Louis Wiknic on July 10.

Contributing to the Masses

Mirroring a post by my other half, and the consistent message from the conference I’m attending, we all need to consider what we are contributing to the masses.

Today I did something really exciting.  I participated in an abstract exchange for the UCEA conference (a bunch of educational leaders and researchers, new scholars and seasoned sages).  My dissertation topic (perceptions of students with disabilities regarding their reasons for persisting in higher education) is exciting to me; however, is it exciting to other people?  My advisors and colleagues, sure. But other scholars?

Each participant in the abstract exchange had 3 minutes to address his or her abstract.  There were 10 of us, so we pushed 2 round tables together and went around the table in turn.  How was my topic received? Everyone said they enjoyed it on the feedback cards.  A few people caught me after to chat about my topic and I even received several business cards asking me to send my completed paper.  Why did this happen?  Was my topic good? Well, I suppose.  But why did I get such a reaction out of my audience? Passion.  I am very passionate about my topic and what I do.

I know there are many people out there who are passionate about what they do, inspired by something they read, or even just curious about something they have experienced.  It is so very important to contribute and to not stop contributing.  How else are we going to move forward as a society?  We are all very intelligent beings.  We each have something to contribute to the vast collective of knowledge.  It is vast, but not all knowing – so much left to uncover!

So many of us are armchair critics.  It’s easier to gripe about what others have or have not done than to do ourselves.  Go forth. Blog. Edit Wikipedia. Make a solid review on Amazon. Just contribute!