Andrew Church makes a good case for teachers permitting and even encouraging students to use WikiPedia during their research projects for school. I would extend his encouragement even further, and assert that teachers should encourage students to also AUTHOR WikiPedia articles. Teachers need to author and contribute to articles themselves as well. There are multiple reasons for this:

  • Many misconceptions about WikiPedia abound. Lots of people still think all the articles are authored by uncredentialed, ignorant “folks off the street” and the content there has little real value compared to a “traditionally” authored and edited encyclopedia. One of the best ways to address this misconception is to provide opportunities for people to explore articles about which they DO have expertise. Generally I have found that people are impressed at the breadth, depth, and accuracy of the articles they find on WikiPedia. To take this learning curve to the next level, however, I think it is appropriate to invite people to CONTRIBUTE and help AUTHOR WikiPedia articles. Getting people to explore the HISTORY and DISCUSSION tabs of WikiPedia articles helps open their minds to the extensive discussions which have and CONTINUE to take place about the validity of information included in different articles.
  • We are living in an information landscape increasingly characterized by user-created content. Because of the number of eyeballs reviewing WikiPedia content, it is a very active and scrutinized space for learners of any age to watch and also PARTICIPATE in the sharing of ideas and information. To understand the value and utility of user-created content, I think people need to experience it in personal ways. Contributing to WikiPedia articles of interest about which a person has some expertise, and then “watching” that page to see the continuing evolution of that article, is a great way to personally experience user-created content.
  • We all have expertise. The expertise of students may not line up perfectly with the formal school curriculum, but students DO have expertise about curriculum-related topics. Having students review WikiPedia articles about characters in books they have read, movies they have seen, or other topics they have studied in class can involve a great deal of analysis and evaluation. What is missing from the character page of a favorite book character on WikiPedia? Students CAN identify ideas and information which should be added. How exciting for them to be able to make REAL contributions to the global information resource that IS WikiPedia. That type of experience is likely to be both meaningful and memorable not only for the students who make the contributions, but also those who learn about (and even view/see, since that is visible in the HISTORY tab of the page in question) the contribution(s) made by their peers.

Can students be “Internet trolls” on WikiPedia as well as other sites permitting commenting and user-created contributions? Of course. Students need to understand the value of creating their “permanent online record” in digital spaces, however, as Steve Dembo and others frequently remind us. As students “work the web” and both create as well as consume content, they can craft for themselves a digital record of their CONSTRUCTIVE contributions to resources like WikiPedia. Have you considered that students could, as part of their online digital portfolio, link to their own “contributions” page on WikiPedia? If the edits and contributions they have made to different WikiPedia articles are kept/persist in the article, those digital contributions could meaningfully reflect on both the content area expertise as well as digital communication skills which that person possesses.

I helped some of the library-media specialists in our state department of education create and edit a new WikiPedia entry back in October for Encyclo-Media, which is our state’s annual library conference. That process of creating an article and “proving” its validity to the WikiPedia editors was an illuminating process for us all. I hope to share more workshops in the months ahead about using WikiPedia not only to access and CONSUME content, but also SHARE and CONTRIBUTE ideas. These are valuable learning activities for educators as well as students: For “learners” of all ages.


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  • http://www.needleworkspictures.com/ocr/blog Mathew

    This makes a lot of sense. I would hope that over time the community corrects misinformation. The only problem is that there are always going to be less people editing than those just reading.

    I think the value in a site like Wikipedia (or any web site) is working with students to synthesize multiple sources and evaluate information for correctness and bias.

  • lindsey

    This is a fabulous idea. Getting students to actually analyze what is printed on Wikipedia can be a great learning tool. I do not know if I would go so far as to say that they should be using it in research project but I think allowing them to do assignments that deal with really looking at an article on Wikipedia and seeing how they would make it better is a great way to get students involved in their learning.,

  • Infidel

    “Many misconceptions about WikiPedia abound. Lots of people still think all the articles are authored by uncredentialed, ignorant ‘folks off the street'”

    Which is just the case.

    “To take this learning curve to the next level, however, I think it is appropriate to invite people to CONTRIBUTE and help AUTHOR WikiPedia articles.”

    And then tell them to pray they never fall prey to people like Durova:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/12/04/wikipedia_secret_mailing/

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    This situation about “Durova” does not equate to uncredentialed, ignorant folks off the street” being the authors of all content on WikiPedia. I would refer you and others following this situation to Stewart Mader’s post “5 Reasons The “Wikipedia Secret Mailing List” Isn’t A Big Deal.” As Stewart points out, the fact that there is radical transparency to the WikiPedia editing community is the reason we’re hearing about this, and that’s a good thing. Of course there have to be procedures to deal with trolls who want to disrupt and virtually vandalize content on WikiPedia rather than help it continue to grow into a viable information resource. I don’t know all the details about Durova, but I do have some insight into the editing and spam prevention methods in place by WikiPedia editors. They have to have procedures in place to deal with problems and people who want to cause problems. Whenever people have power over others, especially large numbers of people, there are going to be problems and issues. The way this has and is being handled points to WikiPedia editors having to deal with problems and issues like any organization– except that this “laundry” is out in the open for all to see. Again, this situation does not refute or argue against the viability of WikiPedia as an information resource, or the value in inviting people to actively contribute to it. I think the article you linked to in “The Register” is taking a less than balanced view of this situation. I stand by my original contentions in this post.

  • Infidel

    This “radical transparency” must have been what prompted Wales to get on the back of the whistleblower.

    We’re hearing about this IN SPITE of Wikipedia policies and the way they are put to work.

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