February 14, 2013

"Viquimodernisme: Lucky crossroads": How Wikimedians and a Research Center can work together

NOTE: This is a guest blog post by Esther Solé, Contemporary Art Historian & Catalan Wikimedian

Barcelona's Modernisme is the Catalan version of European Art Nouveau:
"Casa Batlló Interiors". [[User:Amadalvarez]]- Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA. 
In one of his recent raids as a GLAMwiki ambassador, Àlex Hinojo (a.k.a Kippelboy) , knocked on the door of GRACMON, a research group in the History of Contemporary Art and Design at the University of Barcelona.

Traditionally, Wikipedia and its sister projects caused some kind of rejection among Academia, but in this case, suspicion soon gave way to curiosity, and this was replaced by an unprecedented enthusiasm and a proposal : the viquimodernisme project: A project to improve worldwide known Catalan Modernisme presence on Wikipedia

This wikiproject is based on the fact that Modernisme-related contents on Wikipedia, one of the crown jewels of Catalan art-especially in Barcelona, needed an urgent improvement. Considering that Wikipedia occupies the top positions on Internet search engines, it is normal that Academia agrees that the information presented in this online encyclopedia should be correct and adequate. Who better than the members of GRACMON, world authorities on the Catalan Modernisme, to help us in this goal?

Previous steps
First we did a previous Wikipedia audit, conducted in the summer of 2012, which allowed us to determine the status of the issue and draw the lines of action to propose a methodology and indicators to assess the wikiproject. The audit is available (in Catalan) here. This experiment represents a milestone in the whole of Barcelona & Catalan GLAM projects, and is done with the will of establishing working mechanisms and protocols that will be a reference for future experiments of a similar nature.

Calling teachers and students
On the other hand, GRACMON researchers decided to make an innovative turn on the way of teaching art history subjects in the University of Barcelona, which meant that students would have a specific active role in the realization of this wikiproject: instead of performing traditional course work in the form of stapled sheets of paper that ended up probably in the trash bin, students must edit Wikipedia articles, based on a wikiproject page.

This paradigm shift led to a rethink on how to tackle a task, doing it in an open way, as a constant work in progress. It caused a big change in mind both for students and teachers.

Few aspects of a traditional “homework” remained intact, beyond the search for references and bibliography. Thus, participants were immersed in a world of encyclopedic language, where the code-wiki-syntax is strange, where the community of Wikipedia editors was actively involved and participated and intervened in student's articles. In addition, the work done by students acquired great outreach: rather than regular course works, that may only have two readings (from the student and the teacher), it had changed to produce a text that will be read by thousands and sometimes-great virtue of Wikipedia- could be translated and spread like wildfire worldwide.

How we did it
During the first semester of the academic year 2012-2013, more than one hundred students from three subjects from art history degree and post-degree from the University of Barcelona participated in this wikiproject. Most of them were completely novice to wiki-world, but this has not meant that the result is unsatisfactory: they have created and improved over one hundred articles related to Catalan Modernisme (biographies of artists, research publications of the time, articles on works prominent modernists, etc.) 

Articles have been improved mainly on Catalan Wikipedia, but depending on student's language preference, some of them has also been created or improved on Spanish, French and English Wikipedia. Most of them did not even exist on any Wikipedia, or if existing, they had a room for significant improvement. Our expectations have been surpassed by far, even before wikiproject has come to an end (planned for June 2013).

Teachers did the avaluation in collaboration with Wikimedians, who did a recommendation on how the Wikipedia articles were evolving. The project is still ongoing and now we are about to start our second semester.

When we finished the first semester, we did a survey to the students. Full version in Catalan can be read here. We did a short version in English with some Interesting results:

Survey on Viquimodernisme project on Catalan Wikipedia
Volunteer Survey offer to 100 students and answered by 35.

Project is still ongoing and we have no final results yet, but it has caused interest among Academia and we will present our final results on the CoupdeFouet International Art Nouveau Congress on Barcelona, this June 2013.