As I ponder Lankshear and Knoble’s observation of what transforms an online participant to a collaborator in their book New Literacies, I find the collective “we” as the catalyst for transformation. From this place, my mind keeps coming back to a world-renowned humanitarian that acts as the collaborative “glue” for chimpanzee preservation as well as other environmental affairs. I will draw a parallel between a Wikipedia participant’s progression to the role of collaborator to that of Jane Goodall’s evolution from chimpanzee scientist to activist.
The authors explain the natural progression of how a Wikipedia participant moves from participant to collaborator according to Susan Bryant, Andrea Forte, and Amy Bruckman (2005) in ‘Becoming Wikipedian: transformation of participation in a collaborative online encyclopedia’. Lankshear and Knobel walk through the transformation starting from a novice consumer, to an occasional editor, to a caretaker of collections, and finally resulting in a skilled collaborator. In the following paragraphs, I will draw parallels between this transformation and Jane Goodall’s progression to become a global collaborator.
According to the Jane Goodall Institute, Goodall’s time with the chimpanzees began in 1957 in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. This novice stage in her career consisted of following, observing, and tracking the behaviors of chimpanzees. This was an information gathering phase that laid an essential foundation for her scientific research. Even though the chimps were not allowing her to come too close, she made astonishing discoveries from afar with her binoculars. Goodall learned that not only do chimps eat meat, but more importantly, they use “fishing poles” or tools to extract termite snacks from their nests. As far as a novice Wikipedia participant goes, this parallels the discovery of incorrect information. Perhaps, even, that the Wikipedia chimpanzee page states that chimps are vegetarians.
Goodall began to form a clearer and clearer image of chimp society. This phase parallels the occasional editor in Wikipedia where a novice gains the confidence to change the incorrect statement that chimpanzees are vegetarians to chimpanzees are omnivores. This phase snowballs into more and more contributions being made. In addition to Jane’s formal science methodology for documenting observations, she began to document that chimps have personalities, minds, and emotions. This awareness led her to give chimps names over numbers in her scientific writings. Her confidence was growing and she insisted that her viewpoint and observations were valid. Then there was a breakthrough: Goodall’s observations were published in National Geographic.
The caretaker of collections stage blossomed after the National Geographic publication spread. With new support, Jane and her new husband, Hugo, created the Gombe Stream Research Center. Here, they built permanent buildings and hired more researchers. Goodall’s tools and abilities were becoming more advanced like a Wikipedia caretaker’s abilities expand to learn the Wikipedia “watch” function in order to watch over a collection. Goodall became better able to watch over and gather data for the chimpanzees in Gombe National Park.
Over the next couple decades, Goodall continued to learn about chimp feeding behavior, ecology, infant development, aggression, and consortships. As a result, Goodall was better able to understand the larger chimpanzee community, and she compiled 25 years-worth of research into her book The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior. Goodall attended the Understanding Chimpanzees conference in Chicago. This was an important moment for Goodall’s transformation. In collaborating with chimpanzee scientists from all around the world, it became clear that Goodall absolutely needed to become a chimpanzee activist. From this point on, Goodall became an increasingly skillful collaborator in activism for chimpanzees and she now acts on behalf of the collective chimpanzee community. In comparison, a Wikipedia collaborator has a bird’s eye view of the larger Wikipedia community and truly understands how it works.
At 81 years of age, Goodall is travelling 300 days out of the year, advocating not only for the greater chimpanzee good but for our worldly ecosystem. Lankshear and Knobel say, “The capacity to collaborate presupposes an overall conception of a community of practice such that one can act and respond in the light of a system as a whole—or at least, from a larger perspective than simply contributing ‘pieces’” (162-163). Jane Goodall now watches over and fights for our earth’s collective environmental rights. Lankshear and Knobel also say, “Collaborators provide a particular kind of ‘glue’” (161). Goodall is most certainly collaborative “glue” that the environment desperately needs. Lastly, Lankshear and Knobel express, “Most importantly, perhaps, the role and practice of this kind of boundary spanner can mentor as well as mediate the knowledge contributory efforts of others” (165). Goodall is mentoring environmental groups and mediating the global conversation. She is a collaborator in the truest sense.
Bryant, S. L., Forte, A., & Bruckman, A. (2005). Becoming Wikipedian: transformation of participation in a collaborative online encyclopedia. doi:10.1145/1099203.1099205
Early Days | the Jane Goodall Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.janegoodall.org
Lankshear, C. (2011). New literacies.