OCAD U class set to ‘storm Wikipedia’ to fix gender imbalance

Exterior view of Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) in Toronto on September 19, 2012.

While most students returning to class this fall will be told not to turn to Wikipedia for assignments, a group of feminist scholars across North America will be told to head to the website with guns blazing.

Students at OCAD University, Canada’s oldest arts and design educational institution, will have the opportunity to take “Dialogues on Feminism and Technology,” which will take a new approach to engaging students in critical conversations about the marginalization of women in technology-related fields. It's one of 15 schools across Canada and the United States that will be offering a course with a focus on feminism and technology, each one able to create their own syllabus.

The first group assignment is called “Storming Wikipedia,” for which students will create or edit an entry about a famous woman in science or technology. According to a Wikipedia Editor Survey conducted in 2011, 91 per cent of the editors of the popular digital encyclopaedia are men, mostly residing in North America and Europe. While the geographic imbalance is not directly tackled in the class, the readings encourage students to connect feminism to other related struggles revolving around race, labour and identity.

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FemTechNet, the network of feminist scholars and educators behind this digital class initiative, explains in its news release that it seeks to improve collaboration between scholars and students beyond the physical walls of the institutions they are tied to.

The innovative approach follows the Distributed Open Collaborative Course model (DOCC), which challenges the traditional online learning system. Generally, online classes are taught in a highly hierarchical system with one expert teaching students under the massive open online course model (MOOC).

"That couldn't be more patriarchal," Anne Balsamo, a course facilitator and dean of the School of Media Studies at the New School in New York, told CBC News about MOOC. "That displays a hubris that is unthinkable from a feminist perspective."

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Beyond offering a more democratic form of learning through active participation, the course encourages students to reflect on how gender imbalances create gender gaps in the production of knowledge.

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