Posts tagged ‘Wikipedia’
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.
Get thee over to the Wall Street Journal and read this gloves-off (you know, in a genteel way) debate between Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and Dale Hoiberg, editor-in-chief of Britannica. Here’s a taste:
Mr. Hoiberg: No, we don’t publish rough drafts. We want our articles to be correct before they are published. We stand behind our process, based on trained editors and fact-checkers, more than 4,000 experts, and sound writing. Our model works well. Wikipedia is very different, but nothing in their model suggests we should change what we do.
Mr. Wales: Fitting words for an epitaph… …We are open and transparent and eager to help people find criticisms of us. Disconcerting and unusual, I know. But, well, welcome to the Internet.
Personally, it took me a while to get to the point where I feel a fair level of trust in the quality of Wikipedia. I think Wales has done an excellent job of creating a system that maximizes the benefits of open source collaboration, while minimizing the drawback and dangers of having too much openness. I’m reminded of the brilliant article Clay Shirkey wrote a few years ago, “A Group is it’s own worst enemy“. Shirkey, building off of the concepts expressed by psychologist W.R. Bion in his seminal work,”Experiences in Groups“, wrote,
Group structure is necessary to defend the group from itself. Group structure exists to keep a group on target, on track, on message, on charter, whatever. To keep a group focused on its own sophisticated goals and to keep a group from sliding into these basic [destructive] patterns. Group structure defends the group from the action of its own members. (emphasis is mine, pjb)
I remember being struck by Bion’s work when I first read him in a college psych class, but Shirkey really brings it home. Although Shirkey is mostly focusing on social software, the concepts expressed in “Own Worst Enemy” are applicable well beyond that topic, and you might find yourself reflecting on the structure and health of your library (or your Bridge club, or your — um, make that OUR — government). Geek confession: I keep a copy of Shirkey’s article in a “Ponderables” binder on my night table and re-read it regularly.
But I digress. Point is, Wales has done a great job of keeping Wikipedia from being it’s own worst enemy, and I’ve seriously warmed up to Wikipedia as a trusted source.