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Whatever happened to last year's breakout stars?
That’s because universities in Poland and Ukraine are exploring new requirements. Instead of cribbing research from Wikipedia for papers that will probably only gather dust, advocates of the idea say students would be better off writing their own Wikipedia articles.
Although critics warn that Wikipedia articles are no substitute for rigorous academic papers, supporters say more than simply putting more information at public disposal, erasing boundaries between the internet and academia will invigorate scholarship by enabling it to benefit everyone.
“Contributing to Wikipedia considerably increases students’ motivation since their articles can be read by the whole world, not just their teachers or supervisors,” argues Sergei Petrov, one of the Wikipedia project coordinators in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute ran a test program during its last fall that produced 23 new or expanded articles on Wikipedia Ukraine.
Since anyone can edit a Wikipedia entry, point out mistakes or improve an article’s structure, the argument goes, thousands of reviewers could lighten the load for college professors by helping out.
The institute wants to expand the practice, and similar intitiatives are being considered by universities in Sumy in northern Ukraine and the capital Kyiv.
Across the border in Poland, the Medical University in Poznan is exploring an even more ambitious initiative: a requirement to write Wikipedia articles that could entirely replace bachelors theses as early as this year.
“We want to drop the requirement of writing a bachelor’s thesis,” dean Zbigniew Krasinski told local newspaper Gazeta Poznan. “These works contribute little, are about re-writing [not original research], and take up increasing amounts of space in the archives.”
Lawyers are currently working out the kinks. If successfully implemented, the scheme would institutionalize a practice currently used by individual professors. Under the new program, which would include the entire university, each student would work with a supervisor to develop specific entries.
However, some are warning Wikipedia articles may not be suited to all disciplines. While medical terms may fit the encyclopedia’s structure nicely, it doesn’t work for social sciences, says Piotr Oleksy, a doctoral student in eastern studies at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan.
“Traditional articles or essays are better for intellectual development, truer to the spirit of the humanities, which cannot be shelved into such narrow categories as Wikipedia entries,” he said. “It may make sense for medicine, but in the case of social sciences, I’m against it.”
Both local and international Wikipedia sites are fully behind the project, which they see as a chance to boost exposure and quality.
One problem the academics may be able to tackle is lack of “depth,” a rough indicator of quality based on the ratio of edits and non-articles, such as discussion and user pages, to the total number of articles.
Despite its maximum possible readership of just 40 million native speakers, Polish Wikipedia is the world’s eighth largest version (down from fourth, now occupied by the 23-million-strong Dutch speaking community). But while English boasts the biggest depth at 748, and French has 157, the Polish site comes in at a puny depth of 18 (Dutch is even worse at 17).
However, hopes that Polish Wikipedia will see dramatic improvement may be too optimistic, says Pawel Zienowicz, spokesperson for Wikimedia Poland. A few well-written academic articles, he says, will do little to change a statistical average determined by a myriad of trivial ones.
“[Overall depth is determined] by entries about some village in France, pages that are visited by five people a month, and usually by accident,” he said.
Nevertheless, the initiative has particular appeal in Eastern Europe, where academic writing was long tainted by propaganda, Zienowicz says.
Local teams that specialize in weeding out falsifications and ensuring neutrality have made Wikipedia a more reliable source of information than standard encyclopedias that are sometimes “filled with lies,” he said.
The idea of having students contribute to the online knowledge repository is gaining traction far beyond the post-communist region. Launched two years ago, the Wikipedia Education Program encourages professors around the world to assign writing entries as class work.
The program has helped produce nearly 6,000 pages of published content in its first year and almost double that in the second, thanks to a growing flock of volunteers and more than 3,500 trained new editors.
Another engine is institutional cooperation. Education program spokeswoman LiAnna Davis says partnerships with Georgetown University and other academic associations are helping promote the project.
Wikipedia is currently focusing efforts on southern countries such as Brazil and India as well as in the Middle East, which has been particularly receptive. A dean at Cairo’s Ain Shams University has encouraged instructors to replace traditional assignments with the translation of high-quality Wikipedia articles.
Arabic Wikipedia has seen rapid growth as a result, almost doubling in size over the past three years, and has one of the best depth levels of any language version at over 240.
Twitter arguably started the Arab Spring, but it will be up to Wikipedia to keep it going.
The star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” charmed practically everyone at the Oscars, where she was the youngest best actress nominee ever; she went on to film a remake of “Annie” opposite Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Jepsen, who had 2012’s song of the summer with “Call Me Maybe,” released the fifth and final single from her debut album in January 2013. She toured the U.S. in mid-2013 -- just as Daft Punk and Robin Thicke battled to succeed her as icons of the summer.
Honey Boo Boo
2012’s biggest reality star, the young pageant contestant Alana Thompson, had a quieter time this year, with a second season whose ratings were strong but whose buzz was a bit muted. America was, by now, accustomed to young Thompson, and outraged or scandalized reactions were reserved for other TLC programming, like “The Man With the 132-Pound Scrotum.”
Ocean missed out on the top Grammys for which he was nominated in early 2013; he bounced back quickly with featured appearances on albums by Kanye West, Jay Z and Beyoncé, and is at work on a new album. Things are looking up!
The “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike” star had a marginally less charmed 2013, with “White House Down” failing to connect with moviegoers and “Foxcatcher” delayed until next year. It may get worse before it gets better: His big 2014 sci-fi flick, “Jupiter Ascending,” looks … well, a little weird!
With their third album in 21 months hitting No. 1 immediately upon its fall 2013 release, the boy band that broke into America in 2012 would seem to be here to stay for a while. Still, they looked a bit nervous in their reaction shots during the Video Music Awards’ ‘N Sync reunion; maybe not this year, maybe not next, but eventually, the Justin of One Direction is going to break out. For now, though, things look good!
Lana Del Rey
The famously uncomfortable “Saturday Night Live” musical guest overcame endless mockery from 2012 to land her first top-10 hit in the summer of 2013 -- a remix of a year-old song, “Summertime Sadness.” As the co-writer of “Young and Beautiful,” the love theme from “The Great Gatsby,” Del Rey is such a front-runner for the best original song Oscar (last won by Adele) that there has been a direct-mail campaign to academy voters against her. The song was also played at the most romantic event of the year: Kanye West’s stadium marriage proposal to Kim Kardashian.
Wilson, who charmed fans of 2012’s “Pitch Perfect,” had a rockier 2013, with her sitcom “Super Fun Night” struggling creatively and in the ratings. Her next planned movies are both sequels, to “Kung Fu Panda” and -- hoping lightning will strike twice -- to “Pitch Perfect.”
Another 2012 music icon, Gotye won the record of the year trophy at the 2013 Grammys for “Somebody That I Used to Know.” He released no new singles in 2013, and has told the press he has been struggling to complete new material. Good luck, Gotye!
The golden boy of the 2012 Olympics, without feats of aquatic derring-do to distract the public this year, saw his always-tenuous persona completely shift from “amiable jock” into “utter dolt” with his E! reality series. Worst of all, the series was canceled.
In 2012, the young actress -- best known for her role in the indie “Winter’s Bone” and a supporting part in the “X-Men” franchise -- had marquee roles in the first “Hunger Games” film and in David O. Russell’s comedy “Silver Linings Playbook.” In 2013, she played to her strengths: After winning an Oscar, she starred in the second “Hunger Games” movie, on whose publicity tour she managed to charm everyone in America, and had another role in a David O. Russell comedy, “American Hustle,” for which she might just win ANOTHER Oscar. By 2014, she may end up running a major studio, or serving as president.
The breakout bikini model of 2012 made a repeat appearance on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue -- and got to do high-fashion spreads in Elle, Vogue and Vanity Fair. She was cast in a Cameron Diaz comedy, too. Some types of appeal are eternal!
E. L. James
The “50 Shades” novelist now gets to help share some input into a movie adaptation set for release in 2015. She probably never needs to work again! Isn’t that great? Isn’t that … just … great?
The “Gangnam Style” phenom performed at New Year’s 2013, but will spend New Year’s 2014 flipping channels to find his pistachio ad, his goofy antics having been outdone in the past year by “The Fox” singers Ylvis. Nothing meme can stay.
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