Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, November 03, 2006

Wikiversity

The Wikipedia is famous because anyone can sign up to write and edit articles in the online encyclopedia. Enthusiasts argue that the multitude of authors will ensure accuracy by correcting each other's mistakes and that all work is done transparently. Critics point out that articles can change by the minute and that common knowledge is sometimes common misconception. I think Wikipedia is a great way to teach students the necessity of verifying sources.

The software that underlies Wikipedia facilitates many projects. The CIA, FBI, and other intelligence agencies are using "wiki" software to create a system that allows all concerned actors to contribute to summaries of intelligence data. Corporations use the system to promote cooperation and sharing of perspectives. It has educational uses too.

For instance, ask your students to look at the Wikipedia article about their school. Ask them to critique it. Then ask them to look at the history of the article. What revisions have been made over time? What axes have contributors had to grind? And how have other contributors responded? (If there isn't an article about your school, look at an article about a nearby school. In a few days, an article about your school will probably appear.)

Well, here's an opportunity to use a "wiki" as part of an introduction to studying comparative politics. It's brand new and a blank page. It's at the Political Science School at the Wikiversity.

The Department of Comparative Politics was a blank page when I looked at it this morning.

This is a chance to set your students to work filling in the blank.

So what should go into the Department of Comparative Politics?

What is comparative politics? How is comparative politics done? What does comparative politics try to explain? What are the differences between good and better comparative politics? What are the areas of agreement and disagreement among comparative political scientists? What is scientific about comparative political science? What are the big ideas that comparative political scientists are concerned with?

Maybe there should be a special section about the Advanced Placement Comparative Government and Politics course.

Now's the time to begin.

(Thanks to Dr. Patrick O'Neil at Puget Sound University for pointing out the Wikiversity.)

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