Thursday, December 29, 2005


From the "if you haven't seen it, it's new to you" department:

Cryptographer/Theoretical Computer Scientist Manoj Prabhakaran taught a course on expanders at the University of Illinois this Fall semester. Besides the links to other excellent courses on expanders, Manoj organized a course blog where students recapped various lectures. The part new to me: one of the course "requirements" was that students were encouraged to post articles to the "expanders" section of Wikipedia. While I don't see many articles on expanders that were ostensibly created by students of this course, I think this is a brilliant idea -- there's an important difference between transcribing course notes and writing Wikipedia articles. With your LaTeX hat on, you know you're writing for fellow "Doctorate in Expanders" diploma holders, but when you're writing Wikipedia articles, you have a hazier picture of your reader as a reasonably smart, somewhat scientific, citizen on the net (a good approximation is often a smart first-year graduate student). Good writing practice for graduate students. Way to go, Manoj.


David Molnar said...

That is a good idea! Maybe another idea would be to encourage participation in comp.theory or some other appropriate forum. I find that these allow for much more of a back-and-forth than weblog comment discussions or editing wikis.

Manoj said...

Thanks Siva.

I must admit that it was an experiment and we didn't go the full length. Contributing to Wikipedia was "encouraged," not a requirement. Maybe next time :-)

Blogging was enforced, but there wasn't much of quality control. The original plan was to hopefully have some participation from folks outside our campus. But somehow we didn't push it that far.

David's suggestion is interesting. I have never used these other CS theory forums though.


Manoj said...

Just to clarify, we did contribute a couple of articles to Wikipedia. But not as much as we would have liked to.

David Molnar said...

The benefit to using comp.theory (or sci.crypt) is that you get a lot of exposure to people outside your immediate sphere. In sci.crypt, at least, there are also several commenters who are extremely sharp. For example, that's where I first corresponded with David Wagner and Jonathan Katz.

The downside is that there are many people who don't know much and a few actively detrimental people involved. This makes discussions interesting sometimes; you need a lot of patience.

In the case of cryptography, there's also the cryptography moderated mailing list, which tends to cut down on some of the worst excesses of usenet. I am not familiar with a similar mailing list for theory in general; Lance links to V.Z. Nuri's theory-edge mailing list, which I haven't been on in a while...

Andrei Lopatenko said...

Good idea, but it seems that students did not create much new content.
Perhaps, writing to Wikipedia assumes too much responsability in constrast to writing to blog, so students were afraid of writing.
Some blog posts are quite good to be included into WikiPedia, but they were not included.