Friday, May 16, 2008

Truth by Consensus: Wikipedia as a Scholarly Resource

I find the assumption, contained in this article, that a resource compiled by "average" people should not be used by students and academic scholars is not only an injustice to the thousands or even millions of earnest Wikipedia editors but smacks of elitism. Many Wikipedia articles include extensive bibliographies and references and even include quotes from print sources that would be gladly accepted independently.

Furthermore, as a Wikipedia editor myself, I can attest to the efficacy of their hierarchal editorial dispute resolution process and the diligence of their "only" volunteer watchdogs.

I would hope that our own faculty would at least consider incorporating the contribution of materials to Wikipedia as a worthwhile endeavor for both themselves and their students. Based on the list of institutions utilizing Wikipedia in their teaching and learning activities, I think we would be in good company!

"What are academics supposed to do with Wikipedia? On one hand, Wikipedia has just about anything one needs to know on its website. Need a list of every Poet Laureate? What about a brief history of the fall of the Roman Empire? Wikipedia is inarguably the easiest method of obtaining information on just about everything. On the other hand, there is no peer review on Wikipedia; only volunteer watchdogs. If the majority of the watchdogs say the information is correct, then it stays on the website. Badke claims, “If the average university student can safely go to Wikipedia instead of consulting a specialized print reference source, then academia is broken.”

Some academics argue that the problem isn’t with Wikipedia. Perhaps the fact that students need to be told in the first place not to use Wikipedia is the bigger concern, and a testament to the standards of those admitted into that university. The standards of a university that admits students who may use Wikipedia needs to be examined, along with the students trying to use this user-monitored website.

Wikipedia has responded to the concerns of academia by proposing a way for academics, students and Wikipedia to work together. Wikipedia is encouraging professors to teach students how an open content website works and having students post their work on Wikipedia. By asking universities to participate with students in submitting term papers, projects or notes to the website, it is the hope of all involved that, since the world will see students’ work, an increase in dedication to the project will subsequently occur. By doing this, in theory, students will continue to work with their preferred medium, and academics can rest easy, knowing that the university-posted information is indeed accurate. Some of the schools participating in Wikiversity, as it is called, include Texas A&M, University of Hong Kong, University of Pittsburgh, Northwestern University and University of Tokyo. Professor Jon Beasley-Murray, professor at the University of British Columbia, promises his students an A+ grade if their projects are accepted as a Wikipedia Featured Article."

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