If you don’t build it, they’ll build their own…

I was pleasantly surprised when a friend sent me a link to a Livejournal site run by UBC students. Websnob that I am, I’ve never spent much time with Livejournal, but judging by the activity on the site it’s more successful in fostering online community than most of the attempts to do so here have been.

I noticed a post proposing a UBC wiki, and couldn’t resist signing up for a Livejournal account so I could add a comment pointing to our various environments that we support. The response was immediate, and most interesting:

There’s also the small detail that using a UBC-hosted wiki requires us to comply with a certain set of standards and forces us to give UBC the final say in content. This isn’t to say that our intended project by any means seeks to defame or damage UBC, just that a wiki should be democratic, and any university-owned pages and servers aren’t. Complaining about the prices or food quality probably wouldn’t go over well there.

If we could get a dedicated wiki hosted by UBC, I’d be open to that idea, since the purpose here is to provide information to a large audience. But we want to convey accurate information, too, so your suggestion would be a solution only if UBC wouldn’t police the wiki.

Let’s leave aside the presumption that an institutional site won’t be ‘accurate’ — though it nicely turns around a common criticism I hear about wikis and blogs from faculty and administrators.

I’ve never had to delete objectionable content from a UBC wiki page (spam excepted), though I would not hesitate to do so in the case of hate speech or something like that. But I think this desire for autonomy is legitimate — even with a hands-off attitude, there is bound to be certain constraints on the dialogue of an ‘official’ site, if only because certain members of the community will be wary of ‘policing’.

Back when I worked at that Buckminster Fuller Fever-Dream of a University that briefly flourished under the moniker of TechBC, the students maintained their own discussion board, the TekBC underground. Given the constant state of churn and chaos (in good and bad senses) that pervaded our attempt at high-tech higher-ed utopia, the students had a lot to discuss. The discourse was frank, and at times harshly critical. The site’s existence was something of an open secret. Lots of us on staff and faculty read it regularly, though we had to pretend we didn’t know anything about it. Personally I found it invaluable.

TechBC is just a memory. But I see that the TekBC Underground is going strong. There’s probably a lesson there.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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4 Responses to If you don’t build it, they’ll build their own…

  1. Nate Lowell says:

    The accuracy issue is endemic. By the time the institutionally authorized web-boffins at my school actually get the information and get it changed, the damage has already been done.

    The problem is the “offically accurate” and the “practically accurate” conditions are sometimes mutually exclusive. By the time the “officially accurate” information catches up with what’s really happening, two cohorts of students have stubbed their toes.

    Credibility is a fragile commodity

  2. Jon says:

    Good on the LJ community! UBC and its website hardly inspire confidence, after all, despite the good work obviously being done in some quarters, e.g. by yourself.

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