Wikipedia and Wikis–Content Creation and Analysis Leads to Learning
While presenting at and attending several teacher conferences and workshops recently, I noticed quite a bit of negativity surrounding the issues of wikis in general and, specifically, Wikipedia. Mostly, I believe from my conversations, it seems that many still do not understand much about wikis or enough about Wikipedia. Certainly, there has been a lot published about Wikipedia and comparing it to other encyclopedias, with the Searcher article from early 2006 often cited, but I am still surprised by the strong reactions I receive from teachers, professors, and school librarians when I talk about Wikipedia as a positive example of Web 2.0.
Yes, I understand the downsides of the Wikipedia model, but I also recognize the positive aspects. For instance, I have never seen my undergraduate or graduate students in courses I have taught at Rider University and Rutgers University work harder at ensuring that the information they were providing or revising on their class wikis and/or Wikipedia was extremely accurate, up-to-date, and thoroughly-cited with academic resources! See, they knew that they were authoring information and placing their content into a vehicle which would automatically receive criticisms/comments by many, not just from their professor. This is a good thing, as they knew they were creating or revising global content, seeing themselves as members in a community of learners. Not allowing the use of Wikipedia whatsoever, or evening totally blocking it at schools with blocking software, is not the answer to our problems with it.
In my quest to better learn about and educate others on Web 2.0 collaborative tools, including wikis and Wikipedia, I must say that I have enjoyed the conversations and even some of the strong debates about their usefulness and appropriateness. But since I have not been blogging about Wikipedia itself, I thought it was time to do so. In a very recent email to a conference participant, I mentioned several older and recent postings and publications about Wikipedia in general that I would like to share more widely.
My favorite, now, is the 7 things you should know about Wikipedia from the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative that came out last month. I think anyone who wants to learn more about Wikipedia will find this 2-page article quite enlightening. EDUCAUSE provides an interesting scenario of a student using Wikipedia as a source for his paper, followed by a concise explanation of what Wikipedia is, who’s using it, how it works, why it is significant, its downsides, its future, and, finally, a short paragraph on its implications for teaching and learning, which ends by stating that “some theorists contend that content creation and analysis is a necessary component of learning. Wikipedia can encourage students to analyze what they read, ask questions, and engage in reflective, creative learning.” I wholeheartedly agree. Let’s learn both sides of this issue, and please, take the time to read and distribute this in your schools and libraries. Other articles and links I have led questioners to besides those mentioned/linked to above are these:
1) Middlebury College post in Mar. 2007, with almost a dozen other links.
2) A Business Week article in Dec. 2005. Check out the question and paragraph dealing with students citing a Wikipedia article.
3) Wikipedia’s own criticism article. Check out the references, as well as the critical article itself. Do a “Edit” and “Find on this page” search of “Wales” and you will see some of his comments here.
I hope this helps everyone better understand Wikipedia, and I welcome your thoughts and contributions to this post.