Scope of MI response

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Introductory Caveats

The actual answer to this question probably depends on the long-term uses of the site, which we don't really understand yet. So that really makes this guess work.

Also, some of these ideas depend on having certain personnel (i.e. Math Images "writing experts") available. I don't know who will be available when.

Some premises I'm working with

1) Unlike wikipedia, we seek to instruct, not just inform. Many people are not that good at thinking about how to instruct effectively, and they could reduce the accessibility and clarify of our pages in an effort to convey more information or to be more rigorous or efficient.

We either want to keep out pages that aren't carefully pedagogically considered, or we want to keep them separated from the more careful pages.

2) don't think our goal is complete documentation of all human knowledge about mathematics, the way wikipedia's is. Getting enough volume that people see the site as a generally valuable resource seems critical, but having every topic under the sun maybe doesn't.

3) On the other hand, having more contributors will increase the quality of pages in many ways. Even our best existing pages have typos and as well as more significant mathematical errors or passages of poor writing that would almost certainly be improved with more traffic.

The idea

1) Content is never harmful (except for quality dilution risks), so we let anybody contribute to the site.

2) We really hit people over the head with directions to read our writing guides, etc. Even when people edit existing pages, a note should appear imploring people to look through this information.

3) Any time somebody submits a page they have the option of engaging in a revision process with an MI writing expert. This category currently includes Anna, Steve M, maybe some of our S10 alum, and me, but regular page contributors can become MI writing experts by being nominated by existing MI writing experts.

This process should be centered around our written guidelines.

Pages that have gone through a revision process with an MI writing expert are somehow marked as "revised" or "quality assured" pages or something like that. Even writing experts need to go through this process with another writing expert in order to have their pages marked this way.

4) Every page is clearly identified as "quality assured" or not. Users can also filter their searchers for quality assured content only.

5) There are several ways to handle revision of existing pages, but maybe I should wait on this until I hear if you kind of like this idea.

Things that really should be in place before we implement this solution

1) Test-runs of the writing guides and standards. Feedback on pages has always been provided by Anna, Steve, and me personally. Using this summer as an opportunity to have people test out the writing guides as a peer feedback mechanism, and to have people improve on them, will be important.

After all, if these documents don't make sense to anyone except Anna and me, or they don't reliably lead to the kinds of pages we want, this whole plan can't work.

2) Distinguishing the character of our site from wikipedia's. We don't currently have anything that describes differences between us and wikipedia. Contributors might find this really helpful. Here's my sense of a few differences, though this will change as our site evolves and the character becomes more clear.


Topic Math Images Wikipedia informal comments
Use of "instructional techniques"

Yes: make liberal use of leading questions, phrasings like "it is easy to forget that", pose problems to the readers, etc.

Discourages these techniques: in their words, the aim is to "inform, not to instruct"

?

Tone

Conversational: sentences like the Monty Hall Problem's "If you are like most people, you probably thought ...., and like most people, you would be wrong" are great

Detached and encyclopedic

?

Scope of Individual Pages

Limited and not overwhelming: taste of the basic concept, a taste of a more advanced explanation, and a taste of what makes the topic interesting

Complete coverage of the topic

?

Emphasis on mathematics vs. context

Significant emphasis on why it's interesting

Less emphasis on why it's interesting

?

Density

Low density to make pages accessible: heavy use of images, many sentences aimed at clarifying points rather than introducing new information

High-density text, like an encyclopedia

?