Responsible citizens of the internet

I’ve been thinking a lot about digital citizenship lately. My job with the Academy for Teaching and Learning at Baylor (ATL) has made me more aware that I’m living in a digital world and must consider what it means to be a responsible digital citizen.

It’s funny that we rarely think of that, given the large amounts of time most of us spend online. We Facebook, email, Skype, research, get the news, chat, watch media, listen to media, etc. Think about how much of your communication would break down without the internet. However, we rarely (if ever) think about how to take care of this community or how to give back to it. How many times have you used Wikipedia, the NYTimes (which WAS free), Pandora, Hulu, Facebook, or a myriad of other free online services? And how many times have you given back? Exactly. Often, the answer is zero. Nada. Nothing.

I will admit that I’m one of these people. I think about community service and sponsoring NPR for all of the NPR I listen to, but I never think about giving back to the online community I so frequently live in. Blogging is my feeble attempt to give back to my community. But let’s be serious, that’s probably helping me more than you (oh the vague, mysterious you out there). So I’ve been brainstorming on how to give back to my community.

Lucky for me, a recent article was written on the Association for Psychological Science’s webpage by a leading social psychologist (my field), Mahzarin Banaji. In it, Banaji discusses how Wikipedia is becoming one of the largest sources of information. How many professors out there lament that their students are constantly looking up information on (and gasp, sometimes citing) Wikipedia? Me. I’m that professor. But Banaji brings up a good point. We as educated citizens of the internet can actually make Wikipedia a priceless resource. And let’s face it, our students are not going to stop using it, so we should probably just make it better, right? If professionals in each of their fields undertake large projects like that proposed by Banaji to overhaul Wikipedia with accurate, up to date, and solid information, students could start getting valuable information from Wikipedia. And why not?

The problem, of course, becomes the time needed to undertake such a project. Why should I care? Well, for the same reason I volunteer. Because it’s my world (online or not), and if I want good things from it, I’ve got to give good things back. Now, this is an idealistic approach to getting it done. Lucky for us, Banaji gives a more practical approach. She suggests giving it to students as class assignments. What a brilliant idea! Have students read, write, and edit Wikipedia articles for school projects. I’m seriously thinking of implementing this in my classrooms this Fall. Thoughts?

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About Megan Johnson Shen

I am a social psychologist graduating with my Ph.D. from Baylor University this May and moving to NYC this summer to start a new job as a postdoctoral researcher at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. I love the brain, human behavior, and anything to do with understanding them better. I love research and a good dinner party. Fine wine and cheese - I'm there. Interesting experimental data? I'll probably show for that too. View all posts by Megan Johnson Shen

One response to “Responsible citizens of the internet

  • boston

    here is one “mysterious you” 🙂
    I’ve sighted wikipedia many a-times in “scholarly” papers…oops…
    but I like your idea of assigning students to write their own articles or fact check existing ones.

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