I'm posting this on behalf of Jay. He's had some difficulty logging into the blog. (AM)
By Jay Wolan
Throughout this course we’ve learned time and again that emerging technologies are often refinements of previous ideas. Bolter elucidates this point throughout Writing Space. In particular, Chapter 5 discusses and analyzes the history of encyclopedic hierarchies. Through these often elaborate systems of knowledge association, writers such as Vincent of Beauvais and Isidore de Seville constructed pathways similar to modern hypertexts. These pathways of text functioned like the familiar blue highlights we encounter on the internet (or in House of Leaves). After reading this week’s readings, I started thinking of other places I encounter not only hypertext, but collaboration via Wikis. Obviously, the first place I thought of was Wikipedia. While I don’t use Wikipedia very often, I do use it for gathering background information. I wasn’t surprised to find out that’s what many college students use it for according to Head and Eisenberg’s study. At this point, it seems ridiculous not to use Wikipedia when beginning the research process. What did surprise me about their study was Result 3: “Respondents who were majoring in architecture, engineering, or the sciences were more likely to use Wikipedia than respondents in other majors.” This surprised me because I typically think of encyclopedias as humanities based resources. However, when you consider accessibility, it makes sense that students in mathematical and economical majors such as architecture and engineering would prefer ease of access over reliability. If that comes off as an unfair generalization that’s because it is! I also found it interesting that few of these focus groups relied on Wikipedia for its most prominent feature: collaboration.
I hate to be pessimistic about the fragile relationship between technology and education, but these mixed results seem to confirm the opinion I’ve long held: that technology will not produce better students. After this week, this belief extends to Wikipedia as well. Wasn’t Plato ahead of his time when you consider these results? Also, as an English teacher that regularly teaches George Orwell’s 1984, I can’t help but think of the many ways life already resembles the fictitious dystopia that protagonist Winston Smith experiences. It’s slightly disturbing that so many college students would reach for Wikipedia simply because of access issues. Only 16% of those students answered that they used it for the collaborative benefits. To me, this says that students are simply using it as a crutch. If that’s the case, what’s stopping them from looking up 2 + 2 = 5?
When I first discovered Wikipedia in college I thought it was great. I saw it as a move towards the democratization of the internet; especially at a time when the internet was becoming more of a commercial space than anything else. I particularly like Alex’s description of how “…understanding the world meant creating and recreating its image, Imago Mundi, in a language that would be accessible to more and more readers” (11). It reminds me of Jack Nicholson’s notorious remark at the beginning of The Departed. His character, Francis Costello, states “I don’t want to be a product of my environment; I want my environment to be a product of me.” Wikipedia really seemed like that opportunity. Although Francis Costello was based on the now incarcerated murderer Whitey Bulger, I think there’s some wisdom to his axiom. The benefits of collaboration in a closed space such as a Wiki are invaluable. That power is clearly demonstrated in the content of this course. It would be near impossible for us to construct the meaning making edifices as a class in any other format.
However, in light of this week’s readings, I’m increasingly skeptical of Wikipedia ever being realized as an academic space and not a crutch. The danger of allowing a full throttle move towards collaborative information poses many problems—about as many as relying on one authoritative source. Yet, the movement towards internet based retrieval systems continues unabated. If this all turns out to be a bad idea, there’s only one certainty: it’ll be too late. This leads me to some questions:
1. Where do you see the role of Wikipedia changing most? College, high school, middle school etc.
2. Do you agree with Bush when he states that the primary purpose of scientific research should be towards developing a strong knowledge base? Do you think Wikipedia enhances that knowledge base?
3. Do you think people’s minds have changed as a result of Wikipedia? Yes, I realize this question is too broad and ridiculous to fathom. Let’s do it anyway!
4. Do the positive results of Wikipedia outweigh the negative?