The Wikipedia Web

Bryan Alexander points to a Washington Post article on Wikipedia that treats the subject with “a breezy mixture of sneer and fear.” (Does fear encompass the evident ignorance?) He notes that “In educational settings, I’m still getting signals that the Wikipedia
is a sort of nexus for academic dislike of all things digital.”

I too sense that Wikipedia has become something of a synecdoche for open environments and loosely-structured practices. Though the reaction lately is less likely to be universally negative. What I find notable is that almost everyone is fairly familiar with Wikipedia. Maybe they don’t know how it works, but they’ve used it. It’s almost always a good use of workshop time to explain how entries are created, how they are corrected, how disputes are moderated — all these things work pretty explicitly in Wikipedia, and by most fair standards it’s astonishingly successful. A simple exercise is to urge participants to find and correct a Wikipedia error — it takes people longer and longer to find mistakes all the time.

So I too use Wikipedia as a nexus for discussing all manner of digital effects. Sure, you have to acknowledge some shortcomings, but I’ll stack the benefits against the liabilities any day. And when, as is almost inevitable, someone asks “what do you think of students citing Wikipedia in an academic essay?” I simply shout back “what do you think of someone citing Britannica? Huh? HUH?” and glare at them a bit. That usually shuts them up, and shutting people up is the hallmark of authoritative instruction.

BTW, Bryan’s blog Infocult has been exceptionally prolific, provocative, witty and often downright creepy of late.

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About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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