By 2007 in Argentina, the web was becoming a valuable academic resource. Students and teachers had frequent and unlimited access, and we began to find fascinating resources we had never seen before in our scholarly studies. As a teacher of history of photography and a scholar of visual arts and art history, I began to notice a qualitative difference in this access, regarding to my experience as student: many of us studying artistic careers in peripheral cities throughout the world have based our knowledge on a few reproductions of works of art, sometimes of poor quality. And paradoxically, the access to sources of knowledge about art history also significantly deteriorated when the work we wanted to analyze is from our own legacy. Old and serious problems in heritage conservation policies and their dissemination, common throughout Latin America, remind us that the web would not necessarily be the exception.
Thus, in 2007, teaching History of Photography from Argentina and Latin America presented a number of challenges, starting with building a body of valuable data for study and analysis. Looking for material, I found some valuable resources on the web. But many were hard to find (beyond the first results of Google, and absent in Wikipedia), and so I designed a research assignment for my students, based on various information sources, from libraries to the internet. I noticed then a situation that is almost impossible now: information we found in our school library was not present on the web, including Wikipedia.
Thus arose my first Wikipedia experience with my students: to summarize the findings of photographers who worked in the nineteenth century in Argentina and Latin America, writing articles for Wikipedia.
I admit I had just begun to edit, and I knew little of the dynamics of the community. The first reactions to the “experiment” were doubts from some of the students: Anyone can edit? Who controls what we write? Why did somebody delete my contribution? Why is it necessary to cite sources correctly?
That experience contributed around 20 articles on ancient Latin American photography. They are the first search results in Google today, thanks to Wikipedia, but this was a responsibility that we had not originally planned.
Editing Wikipedia is a real practice of knowledge production, useful outside of the usual school duties. The learnings students derive from working with others is now for me of a very high educational value, with multiple aspects that change with each new experience. In all cases, Wikipedia is in “writing mode”.
Wikipedia is a resource widely used in almost all educational levels, but poorly understood in its educational potential. Teachers are the key links between free knowledge and meaningful learning, and Wikipedia is a space where to work with the community of Wikipedians. While we know that there are many potential and known problems in this collaboration, it is urgent that we work to strengthen it.
Lila Pagola, Wikimedia Argentina | National University of Villa María