I was thrilled to meet and talk to so many people at the American Association of School Librarians conference in Hartford who were interested in a project that I was working on with a grade 9 English class at my school.  So, as promised, here is a brief explanation of the project itself and a walk-through of the site.  My aim is to have this site open on the web at some point in the future, but current privacy settings don’t let me do that immediately.

The project takes Cory Doctorow’s novel, Little Brother, publishes it in a Wikispaces environment and has students build context for the novel by hyperlinking and writing Wikipedia style pages around word, terms or phrases of their choice.  The idea for this project came from at least two different places.  Dr. David Loertscher, a professor of mine at SJSU, talks about the concept of Book 2 Cloud where teachers break classic texts into smaller chunks in order for their students to explore meaning through the curation of images, sounds, or words.  I also watched a video discussion with Cory Doctorow where he talked about the assumption that readers today are never far away from a Google search bar.  Given the instant access to answers, he says that authors no longer need to spend time ensuring that every concept and bit of context is explained within the text of the novel.  But what happens in a book where there are many technologies that may not be common knowledge?  What happens when cultural reference are missed by the reader?

Here are the instructions that the students received:

This edition of Little Brother invites you to build context around the story by building Wikipedia-like entries to any concepts, words or passages that you think are worth knowing more about. You are asked, as you read the book, to link anything that interests you to a new page where you will build a page that explores that topic. This is an opportunity for you to learn more about each of these topics and to create a resource for others to learn more about the book as they read. This is a wiki, which means that each entry can be edited by anyone and you are encouraged to build and improve on each others’ ideas. There are discussion tabs on every page where you can discuss what is important to put into each of the entries. All we ask is that you are respectful of each other and that you carefully consider the work of those before you before you edit their work.

Please take a moment to either click on the Creative Commons link at the bottom of the page or read the Creative Commons License link that Mr. Doctorow has included in this edition. It is important to understand that you are allowing others to share and modify your work in the same spirit that Mr. Doctorow has allowed us to work with his text.

The original wiki was created for English classes at St. George’s School in Vancouver. Recognize that there are some instructions below that pertain only to those wiki contributors who are enrolled in these classes and are related to documenting there work in order to obtain course credit. Participation and contributions from folks both in and outside of these courses is not only encouraged, but highly desired!

The Process

  1. Locate an idea that interests you in the text. Click “edit” and highlight the first instance of that idea in the text of the online novel. Click on the link button and select “add link” to create the link. You will be taken to a new page. You need to add some text to this page and save the text for the page to be created. Go back to the chapter where you created the link and save that page so that others can have access to the page and add their links.
  2. Create a tag for the page that would indicate the broader topic that your page might fit into. Look at other tags to see what tags are currently being used. These tags will help us to organize the potentially hundreds of pages that we create.
  3. Edit your page to add content that explains your topic in as much detail as you can. This is a wiki and the underlying concept is that someone else will likely come along and edit your page at some point. Students in the English courses, you will want to take a screen shot of the page that you have created to document the work that you have done.
  4. Spend time exploring the pages that others have created. Add to them if you see ways that you can further improve the entries. Start or engage in discussions around each entry if you have something to add but don’t feel that editing the page is warranted.

Wiki Contribution Expectations

  • Each article is original writing. While the inclusion of quotes is acceptable, they should only be used to illustrate something that is being discussed in the article. Direct copy and pasting as a replacement for contributing your own ideas in your own words is considered plagiarism.
  • The goal of each article is to explain the concept that it hyperlinks to. Its secondary goal is to explain how that concept is used in the context of Little Brother.
  • The format of each article will follow the Wikipedia Manual of Style in that it will contain a lead section, a body and a Works Cited in list in MLA format. Any questions about other aspects of style will be referred to the Wikipedia Manual of Style.

The students seemed to enjoy the project and the concept that this edition could become a living document that would go on, like Wikipedia to continue to evolve and develop over time.  While time ran out on this project, I do see that it is essential for the students to read each others’ articles and contribute to them via corrections, extensions of content or discussions.  I can also see this approach working with other texts, provided that the works used were in the public domain or were released under a similar Creative Commons licence.  I would also suggest that one should get permission from the author regardless of the licence.  Cory’s response was very much a “Yes, of course” that almost felt like I didn’t need to ask, I think that the courtesy extended to the author is important and that they be aware of what you are proposing to do, especially if the modified work is to be openly accessible.  To all.  The walk-through is below.  If you have any comments or questions, I’m more than happy to continue this discussion!  I hope that this is of use.


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