Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wikipedia, Democracy, and Easy Access

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?


  1. It feels funny to respond to "my own" post, but I guess I'm not really doing that.

    Jay, I'm glad you're skeptical because I agree that most students do not take advantage of the potential collaborative benefits of Wikipedia. That said, I want to play devil's advocate with you here.

    First of all, I want to point out the reliability of Wikipedia is highly underestimated. You can see their entry on this (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia), or if you don't trust it, you can check out one (http://news.cnet.com/2100-1038_3-5997332.html) of many other articles on the Nature study that confirmed that Wikipedia is as accurate as the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

    Second, in which way is student use of Wikipedia a crutch? Are you suggesting that easy access to information is a problem? I understand that we want students to understand the research process as a process, but why not help students accelerate the depth of their research by providing background information (i.e. Wikipedia) and offering them a portal to the more specific and scholarly material?

    I think you are responding to the arguments put forth by Cascio and others that search engines and Wikipedia will serve as forms of artificial intelligence. It's true that we don't want students to rely on machines so heavily that they can't think for themselves, but I'm not convinced that Wikipedia does that. In fact, I would argue that it offers students a means to interact with difficult material more directly than the traditional print library search does. We have to teach our students to make the most of Wikipedia, however. This is our 21st century research challenge. I hope we all will choose to accept it.

  2. Technology may not make better students, but it certainly makes more resourceful ones. “Why read The Iliad when I can spark note it in a third of the time, hang out with my friends and do decently well on the test?” With the Internet and other technology readily available it makes it really easy for students to get the same information without following the directed, most likely longer, path. Students have always been resourceful. Jay, think about the student I observed in your class who spent most of his group time talking with his friends and then in the last five minutes, engaged the group beside him to “compare answers” so he would have something to show. He was also the first one to volunteer answers to your questions. The Internet only makes this type of action easier and it’s not going to stop any time soon.

    What needs to happen is for teachers to be aware of this kind of creative energy. Either one, we need to assign activities that make it impossible for students to cut corners, or two, we need to give them assignments that productively use this type of thinking. Just like in math there may be many different ways to solve a problem, some ways may be longer than others but that doesn’t mean any of the ways are ‘wrong’.

    I also think the problem with students not engaging in the collaborative environments available to them is either they didn’t know it was an option or they don’t know how. I myself have looked at Wikipedia many a time to find a quick summary of something I want to generally understand. However, it has never crossed my mind to edit a page or add a bit of my own knowledge to the pot. Why? Because there is still some sense of authority that I respect and don’t feel important enough to mess with. I realize Wikipedia perhaps shouldn’t carry the same weight as a regular encyclopedia, but in my mind it is there for me to glean information from (as an authority) and not for me to contribute to.

    The reason I, and most likely our students, do not view myself as an authority is a problem that goes even deeper. Students are not encouraged to develop their own valid ideas. (This is also part of the reason why they can’t write.) Students are made to feel that unless an accredited individual supports their idea, it has no value or weight. We do not teach students to develop and argue their own thoughts; rather we make them recount the ideas of others. If a student does not feel their ideas are good, why would they want to put them out to a community who will inevitably rip them to shreds? Students will never be a part of a conversation where they feel they have no authority to speak. Thus it then falls back on us, as teachers, to show students their ideas are valid and to invite them to collaborate.

  3. Jay!

    Your post REALLY got me thinking about Wikipedia use…I think your skepticism forced me to look past my own love of it.

    I’m going to jump right in and make an attempt to answer the question you posed about whether students are using Wikipedia as a simply a crutch…and what’s top stop them from looking up simple math equations (the correct ones, at least)…or the web version of 1984 (I realize, they’re much different). I had a strong reaction to this line of questioning. My gut response is that students don’t use Wikipedia as a “crutch” per se. I think students use it for the same exact reasons mentioned in the Head & Eisenberg article…to start the research process. BUT what I also think is that students use it as a quick place to go for a reference point for unfamiliar words, concepts or even historical occurrences or movements. I never let them use the site for academic references, but I tell them to use it to get started on a topic they might not be familiar with and I also warn them of inaccuracies.

    But – I’ll admit it – I use Wikipedia on maybe a daily basis. I use it a lot when I’m planning a lesson on something I’ve never taught…or something I never studied in college but am now teaching. Like students, I use it as a starting point. I used Wikipedia to get a foundation of knowledge about Oscar Wilde before the first time I taught The Importance of Being Earnest. I also used it the first time I ever assigned “Cinderella,” a poem by Anne Sexton. And actually, I used it just last week during class to learn the background information on an author whose argumentative essay I’d assigned. The students saw his extreme argument on same sex marriage as ridiculous (their words) and wanted to know his background…so we started with Wikipedia. Wikipedia and dictionary.com have also helped me reorient myself with the world of literary conversation since I’d been away from it for ten years. Maybe I’m the one who uses it as crutch – who knows.

    I’d like to think that Wikipedia falls somewhere in between the two sides you’d posited – academic space and a crutch. I think its best uses stem from it being somewhere in between. And I also think that the more we can encourage students to know how it fits into the spectrum of information available, the better off all we’ll all be. There is an art to the “sifting” through. I think Ian mentioned during class a few weeks ago something about how this process teaches us about authoritative texts…it forces us first to sift, and second to determine the authority in what we find, and third I guess to know when to keep looking. Based on how incredibly fast hijackers’ pranks are reversed, I think Wikipedia can be the middle ground. (Insert witty Switzerland joke here.)

    Lastly, I do think that the results of Wikipedia do outweigh the negative. I’m not sure what you mean by “results,” but the way I see it, results consist of newly accumulated bits of information, some useless some useful, of persons who’ve become just a tad bit smarter from these bits of information. (Not to be confused with becoming wiser.) In encouraging our moving forward as curious, life-long learners, I see the instant gratification as exciting. But – from a teaching standpoint, we do have to be explicit with students about the uses of Wikipedia…we have to model the positive uses and compare with negative responses. It’s out there, it’s hugely popular, it can be useful, and it’s accessible by anyone with the Internet – Actually now that I think about it, and I’ll end with this: I suddenly feel an obligation to teach how to and how not to use it...

  4. Jay, you raise the question about whether Wikipedia is used because it is easy access and this makes me think about what I’ve been experiencing with my students. Last month, I had my freshman students do a research project that centered on the Great Depression in preparation for reading Of Mice and Men. I received my students’ work and saw that a large amount of students (probably close to 80%) had included Wikipedia, Yahoo.com, or Answers.com as one of their sources. Even though we repeatedly went over which sources were credible, students still included these in their paper. I passed back all the papers and had my students revise both their sources and their writing. When I told them my concern about Wikipedia being that information can change from day to day and I wouldn’t have a place to check their facts, they understood right away. Many of the students said that they knew not to use Wikipedia as a source in the paper, but it is much easier than tracking down an article on the database and having to skim through 15 articles, realizing that not many of them are full documents or pertinent to the research. Similar to the students in the Head and Eisenberg’s study, my students reasoned that they used Wikipedia for easy access rather than because it was a good source of collaboration or a source that offered multiple perspectives.

  5. (Continued...)

    I know I may sound as if I am anti-Wikipedia by my teaching example, but I do like to promote Wikipedia as a starting point. In addition, if I was having my students include a bibliography rather than a works cited on the paper, I would have them include Wikipedia as a source they consulted. I’d like to think I’m valuing “the use of wikis as printed texts” (20) as Alex Mueller points out in his article, “Wikipedia as Imago Mundi.” Wiki pages can change frequently as they are scanned and read by different individuals, but the same can happen in a class discussion in which people offer differing opinions and come to a conclusion that may be far from where they started. I think what people are most afraid with Wikipedia is the lack of name associated with information, which is what we’ve been referring to all semester in regards to authorial control.
    Bolter refers to encyclopedias of the Middle Ages as “authoritative texts” (82) that were composed by philosophers who were experts on certain subjects. I wonder whether the philosopher’s name was attached to each bit of information and I also question how relevant this is seeing as they did not invent every given subject that they analyzed. Mueller helps to show that encyclopedias and Wikipedia are similar in that they are compiled information that is read and revised by different individuals. What is different about these two mediums is that one began in printed form and one was created for the digital world. However, both these texts hold information that is informative; information that allows individuals to bounce around between different topics without committing themselves to one reading. I do think Wikipedia should be encouraged in the classroom to allow students to see how perspectives differ and to also evaluate the validity of sources. Students who see articles in a journal or database may not be as apt to question the arguments that are made, but those on a wiki page may make students feel that they are entitled to their opinion, especially since they have editing capabilities.

  6. Excellent comments and I apologize for the delay in posting. Something that's been on my mind today (I spent all day working on DESE curriculum units) is this: the information on Wikipedia isn't all that important. I know this will ignite some controversy, however, think about what's more important: the research method or the actual research? With Wikipedia, there's only 'search.'

    Melody, to get to your point about that student in my class. Is he actually learning if he's copying answers off other students? The reason he gets such low grades is because he's been enabled to 'get answers' throughout school. He's very intelligent, although I doubt school has anything to do with it. Resourcefulness has its limits. If you saw his behavior record you'd see that he's often too resourceful.

  7. Jay,

    Great post - always love hearing what you have to say!

    Before I attempt to give my insight on your queries, I would like to discuss my own experience with wikipedia. Wikipedia always frustrates me (in a good way) because whenever I search something, e.g. an anarkali dress (Pakistani), I end up on a page about psychodynamics an hour later. When I realize how much distance in cyberspace I have travelled between pages, it amazes me! It's addicting because it's so much knowledge a click away. What's fascinating is that the information is connected somehow, however distant it may be. If you keep clicking on the hyperlinks it leads you farther away from what you initially set out to research. I would be more worried that my students can't stay focused on their research topic!

    Have any of you ever developed ideas while on wikipedia? Sometimes wikipedia inspires me when I'm scanning a page with images, or sentences and phrases that are thought-provoking.

    Wikipedia is a great tool to use if you're researching complex terms.

    Obviously, I believe its positive aspects outweigh its negative. I think Melody brings up an important point about the collaborative function of wikis: would students feel comfortable if they were asked to contribute to this type of wiki? Melody discusses authority, and our fear to take the responsibility of conveying information. What if we were to consider the affect on students? Would students attempt to be more knowledgeable about any material if they were told they were responsible for posting accurate information about said material? How would they handle that responsibility? Most would probably resist it, and some would probably mimc the "Chaucer was a loser" individual. I would like to think that they might take a responsibility of this magnitude serious, and this might lead them to appreciate, and understand, the uses of wikipedia.

  8. Great post, Jay. I love how you approach things with such an even keel manner, which is great in contrast to someone like me who is the freewheeling definition of excitable. Your steadiness pulls me back (at least temporarily, my momentum is tremendous) into a steady orbit.
    There’s a lot of fruitful and fun discussion going on in here, and so I’m sure I’m going to get sidetracked. But if there’s one misconception about Wikipedia that gets me bristling it’s the concept that is in there isn’t reliable. Say what you will about using it as a crutch (I’ll say my own piece in a bit), but as anyone who has decided to jokingly edit a Wiki page before knows (hi!) the place is policed rather vigilantly. I know there’s an anxiety regarding not knowing where the information is coming from, or that sort of thing. I appreciate that. It just seems like the claim that “anything can go up onto Wikipedia” once had some truth to it, but that it’s been slowing burning away for the past decade or so. I can accept all sorts of critiques about collaborative efforts, and whether or not Wikipedia is making our students lazy. Claiming that the site is unreliable strikes me as particularly easy. A paper tiger.

    (I’m not sure anyone has actually been as vociferous in his or her claims regarding this, but since we’re talking about Wikipedia let’s throw it onto the table. It’s a discussion, right? Right! Right?)

    By making this claim, we’re assuming something that I’d like to chip away at: that other sources are reliable. I don’t think I’m being particularly inflammatory when I comment that a lot of scholar articles are shredded for inaccuracies. Be it in the fields of literature or in the sciences or what have you. People dissect these glowing paradigms of “real” articles all the time for their rampant mistakes.

    Regarding Wikipedia as a crutch.

    I think we’re making sweeping remarks regarding how a medium is being employed as opposed to the medium itself. Wikipedia is a database that is maintained by thousands (millions?) of people and provides detailed definitions and investigations of seemingly every topic. It unto itself cannot be a crutch. At least that’s what the spirits are murmuring in my ear at this late hour. It seems where a lot of the debate is coming from is how specifically our students employ Wikipedia.
    Can Wikipedia be used as a crutch? Absolutely. You can take Wikipedia and stick it in with every other critique of the Google generation. Answers are at our fingertips, there’s no premium on retrieval or research like there used to be. I totally agree with you Jay when you say that the research technique has become corrupted. Well, corrupted in the sense that you can smash “Cartesian Circle” into Wikipedia and all of a sudden you have a centuries-old debate distilled before your eyes.
    So can Wikipedia be used as a crutch? Of course it can. Does that mean it isn’t without its uses? No way. I actually don’t think anyone is claiming it is without its uses, but instead we seem to be assembling a Pros/Cons list amongst ourselves. My argument is that so long as Wikipedia can serve as a viable medium for really anything, our focus shouldn’t be on slapping around a unique and wonderful tool with our intellectual sledgehammers and instead begin to bring the onus back onto us.
    Shouldn’t we be discussing how to harness Wikipedia more efficiently? How to teach our students to differentiate between when Wikipedia will and will not suffice? Nicole briefly mentions this understandable problem of students not wanting to venture out of their comfort zone. Relying on Yahoo Answers and Wikipedia. My suggestion is that we drawback our pitchforks from impaling Wikipedia and begin to figure out how we can integrate such a potentially useful tool into our curriculum.

  9. [cont]

    Brief aside: Yahoo Answers is in a COMPLETELY different league that Wikipedia. It’s unfair to compare the two.

    I’m not denying the faults, I guess I’m rather just weighing in that I think the positives far outstrip them simply by them existing. Yes, that sentence is less than elegant.

    In an ideal world, Wikipedia strikes as something along the lines of what Lindy envisions. It can be a starting place. A foundational floor to someone’s research. It can elegantly set the base for further research, explaining to a student the themes of say – the Cold War. Is it good enough to serve as the one and only source for a research paper? Of course not. I wouldn’t cop to that.

    It can serve as demystifying a concept, and give the students a whole allotment of other search phrases and ideas to take with them.
    Not only that, but it also serves as the handiest reference guide for people. Back to the mention of Cartesian Circle. I actually looked this bad boy up on Wikipedia today. I had taken a class on modern philosophy some six years ago, and the memory of Descartes was beginning to scab over with the passage of time. I was able to search for the Circle on Wikipedia and glean a quick synopsis. That synopsis was enough to scrape off the scab, and the information I had learned previously began to reemerge.

    Whether it’s as a starting point or as a quick reference guide, Wikipedia is not without its faults. Students can rely on it too much, never venturing out. People like me can Wikipedia something quickly and then forget it moments later because ease of access doesn’t place much of a premium on recall. Despite these problems, I firmly believe that it isn’t the medium that needs to be shuttered off, but rather our usage of it should be critiqued.

    That’s just me though.

  10. "The difficulty seems to be, not so much that we publish unduly in view of the extent and variety of present day interests, but rather that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record. The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships."

    Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think"

    (I forgot to briefly mention this quote.)
    I looked up the term "square-rigged ships" on wikipedia, of course, because I didn't know what they were. I think this quote is interesting because she discusses our inability to "make real use of the record." Why the word real? Is records online not "real" because their not tangible? The phrase "human experience" unites us, people from the past and present, in a vast sea of information that we "thread" our way around for our own purposes.

  11. Jay, great post! I agree with you about being skeptical because I am too. When I was student teaching last spring, I had to teach the research paper to 10th graders. I did a mini-unit on finding reliable sources, citing, etc. and throughout this whole process my cooperating teacher made me emphasize "ABSOLUTELY NO WIKIPEDIA!" I had to make it clear to students about 5 times a day not to use Wikipedia at all. They of course did not understand and would think of every excuse in the book to use it because yes it is a very easy way to find the answers. My teacher's point was that it is "a terrible website to use as a source because anyone can go in and change the information" The whole time, I was skeptical because I have used Wikipedia to start my research or to get me somewhere to continue researching elsewhere; I felt like a hypocrite because I use it on occasions and I was preaching to these students how bad it is to use in research (my teacher made me). After today's readings, I wonder how teachers should go about dealing with Wikipedia in a high school class that is trying to teach students how to research. I kept thinking this is why my teacher makes it a rule to not use it, but I asked her and she said she never allows her students to use it. So, I am puzzled again. How do we face this? How do we get students to use this in collaboration with other articles or research? How do we implement the strategies in sorting through Wikipedia as a supplement or as a starting point when students use it in their daily lives?

    I see Wikipedia changing most in college because in my personal experience, I was never allowed to use it in high school but on certain occasions in college I could. I've talked to many high school teachers who also do not allow the use of Wikipedia, so I think this is a common thing. How do we get past the preconceived notions about Wikipedia? How do we change people's minds when they have been set for so long?

  12. The problem I find with responding to this blog is that I get so consumed by reading all the comments, which are sometimes longer than the blog, that I forget what exactly was in the blog and what questions I'm supposed to be answering.

    So wikipedia. I admit, I use it more to look up who played who in a tv show I was watching or to answer a question I have a bout some musician. When I use it for academic purposed it is usually to remind me of something I forgot. Like a date. I am terrible at remembering dates. My boyfriend is getting is masters in engineering, and i notice that he is always looking formula's up on wikipedia.

    Do I think it is a crutch? No. I think it is convenient. We find the information quicker so we have more time to think about it.

    It can be a teaching tool. A way to get students to think critically about the information they are consuming.

  13. Sara and Melody both made comments that I couldn't say better myself. Sara uses Wikipedia for trivia, or a starting foundation to her research. Melody made a great point that if the students don't know how to write in he first place, then they will turn to the nearest source of summary.
    And these are both very true observations! Perhaps many of us are forgetting the pre-Wikipedia days when we copied sentences directly from the encyclopedia and tried to pass it off as our own. I got busted by my 3rd grade teacher on my report about quails, which had nary a footnote! What a little jerk I was.
    I had a teacher in high school that would give "anti-spark notes" quizzes. He asked questions that he knew spark notes had skipped, such as direct quotes and minor character names. Mybe we need to think about the kinds of assignments we're giving to students.
    As Ian said, we're assuming that non-Wikipedia (mostly referring to print) sources are reliable. I certainly would rather a youngster go to the hotly contested "Men's Rights" wikipage, rather than get ahold of this yahoo's book:


    Which brings me to my point about the nature of Wikipedia itself. Wikipedia is more accurate that we think, but when it comes to nuanced or controversial topics, you'll find glaring holes on the website.
    For example, when you look up the Castro regime, the cursory sentence "health care was socialized" is a bit misleading about the Batista regime before, and the current state of healthcare in Cuba.

    No deep analysis, no controversy, and also, no major errors, just like an encyclopedia. But if you know a lot about a controversial topic, you'll find Wikipedia to be especially maddening.

    Lessons about credible sources are important. I've taught plenty of adults how to use JStOR and Lexis Nexis. It just doesn't occur to most people until they have to dig a little deeper.

  14. ay, great post! I have to say that I agree with the Wikipedia fans; I definitely have used Wikipedia as a way to spark an idea when I begin doing research. I also have used Wikipedia when I want to get a broad overview of a topic very quickly. It is a great resource for information. At the same time, I would never use information from Wikipedia without confirming the information in a credible source. However, like Ian said, many academic articles and essays are hotly contested, so one must learn how to evaluate all sources of information, not just Wikipedia. As Alex Mueller says in his essay, “Wikipedia as Imago Mundi,” “readers must not simply regurgitate information gained from encyclopedias and pass it off as unquestionable truth. Rather, readers are encouraged to read and respond critically to such texts, offering corrections or supplementing existing material” (19), and the same is true for any source material. I think this is where teachers have an opportunity to teach their students to be critical consumers of all information. Even though I feel very positively about the use of Wikipedia as a starting off point, I have never found an original or thought provoking idea there. What I mean to say is that my ideas come from me, from my thinking and research, and it is clear when a student’s idea is original and thought provoking and when it is simply regurgitating information. So even if teachers worry that students are taking short cuts, like Jay says, “technology will not produce better students,” and it will always show.

    In response to Nicole W. experience student teaching; I think that teacher was just really taking the “No Wikipedia” idea to an extreme, perhaps because she was afraid of the students getting “lost” in cyberspace like Alhem describes, or perhaps because she did not want to have to think about figuring out if information was credible. However, I think the best answer is to just teach students the difference, and how to find the differences.

  15. The role of Wikipedia is definitely changing how we teach beginning students to look for information. For young students, they have been well versed in internet protocol from an age when many of us did not even own computers. They are continuously taught what is an appropriate website, what websites are necessary for assignments, and how to clearly show where sources come from. At the middle school level, students are taught to look at websites, and as a general rule of thumb, if it is not a .edu site, they are advised to not use it. When doing web based research, middle schoolers are rarely given the internet as their open playing ground. Rather, they are given guided sites to do research. They work through the school library and it’s web based resources. By limiting their freedom, they seem to gain an understanding that we’re not hiding information from them, but rather we are focusing their searches towards information that has been verified and defended.
    I think Wikipedia enhances a knowledge base because it opens the reader up to differing ideas. Some pages on wikipedia provide so many other opportunities to gather ideas, and then go and do what I consider to be the “actual” research: literary journals, published articles, etc… Have people’s minds changed as a result of Wikipedia? Our minds have changed as a result of the internet existing in nearly every moment of our lives. Wikipedia might just have more financial backing to get itself into the top tier of a Google search.
    I think the positives in Wikipedia are outweighing the negative, on my basis that anything we read is good. If it brings up new ideas, or leads to further interest, or is simply that pull that brings kids into a story, so be it. Maybe it will allow them to feel they are part of the discussion, and thus contribute, and in my ever optimistic world, decide to read and research further.

  16. In 2009, during the summer semester, I took a translation course where we spent a couple of sessions translating a German Wikipedia article (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mittelgriechische_Sprache) into English (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_Greek). That was the first time in my life I contributed something useful/"professional"/not crap to Wikipedia. To be honest, I had been messing around with Wikipedia a couple of times before, checking out how far you can go until your post is deleted, or you are "banned" from the community, etc. Shame on me...But during our translation project, I really plunged into the world of the wiki, which was fascinating. Our professor was very eager to make us access this new space (he is a Wikipedia nerd). This experience changed my attitude towards Wikipedia completely. I regard it as a useful ressource, and I respect it more. I think I became part of the community, which made me want to prevent it from being abused by people like my former me.
    What I am trying to bring across by telling this story is that we have to put this useful tool into a productive framework. Just like with blogs, we have to teach our students how to use it, and how to use it successfully and productively.
    Even more than with blogs, I am pretty enthusiastic and optimistic about wikis inside the classroom. And I think we should all be eager to mediate a certain enthusiasm and professionality to our students. Otherwise they would miss a great chance.

  17. Jay, I typed your name into Wikipedia and up popped the words, "Rock star." I think this is pretty accurate if I do say so myself.

    All joking aside, I believe that regardless of how accurate or reliable Wikipedia is, the ease of accessibility will always be problematic when placed before the uninformed user. I think the authority of Google and other search engines such as Bing and even Yahoo! contribute to the misunderstandings students and even teachers alike may have of Wikipedia. What webpage does a student pull up first--Google or Wikipedia? Perhaps I am off the mark here but isn't it more common to hear "Google it!" rather than "Wikipedia it"? Google, as the dominant authority of search engines points us directly to Wikipedia every time. The more we use Google, the more we use Wikipedia, and the more likely authority will be misplaced upon the information that we are accessing. So, Jay, I would agree with you when you say that Wikipedia is a crutch because of it's ease of access but also because student's do not know how to use it and are not informed how to do so because of some teacher's (like the one Nicole W. experienced) immediate resistance to the site as a whole.

    In order for the collaborative intentions of Wikipedia to be successful, students need to essentially break down their understanding of authority in the classroom. This means getting students to CRITICALLY think across the board. Critically thinking and deep reading in the "late age of print" is an issue of itself, yet once these issues are tended to, the more likely student's will know how and when to interact with the tools they choose to use.

  18. As usual I'm going to attempt to tackle one question out of the four: Where do you see the role of Wikipedia changing most? College, high school, middle school etc.

    First, I disagree that Wikipedia is a "crutch" for students. As a graduate student, I still use Wikipedia to get my bearings within a certain historical time period or a movement within English literature. It helps my research because it provides a context (and to be honest terminology) that makes my research easier because I know what keywords to type into any number of databases. I agree that technology doesn't produce better students, but to be honest, not a whole lot does produce better students except their attitude in approaching a subject; a lot of times it significantly outruns aptitude by a large margin.

    But anyway, back to your question. I think Wikipedia is such a monumental resource that it lends itself to every student under the sun (provided they can read). Technology won't produce better students, no; but it gives them a resource to approach a topic that to him/her may seem insurmountable without the little push a collaborative webpage may give them.

  19. To say I'm loving this discussion would be a gross understatement. I have much to say, which I'll save for later, but I do want to respond quickly to Markus and his experience using the German Wikipedia. I hope you will tell us more about this, either here or in class, because I have read that the German Wikipedia is much more academic in character, with an active network of specialists contributing and vetting entries. I'm curious to know if you found this to be true.

  20. Jay, I think this “crutch” issue is a fundamental concept of this debate. This same sentiment gave cause for the Platonic Dialogue, and for Hugo’s Frollo to “predict the end” of things in light of the book’s advent. As we can see, it has not been the end of things. No remediation of information has ceased literacy, intellectualism, or critical thought for those who are of that caliber.

    Yet, even with this in mind, I too am a bit pessimistic about Wikipedia’s potentiality to enable bad study habits within our students.

    What I hear most when engaged in this debate is, “what did students do before Wikipedia?” Well, in general, before we had computers, most college-ready students were highly literate, had formal educations, thus resources, time, and access to information that gave them a base to approach university-level curriculum. As we know today, when many students have to enroll in remedial courses in order to study at the college level. The base is just not there for modern students as it once was.

    Or rather, students without that base are increasingly able to attend college. There are more college students, not less academically privileged students. There are still that minority of folks who do enroll in college with such a background, but it accompanies, in many cases, an economic privilege.

    In many ways, this divide makes some students academically handicapped--and I was one of them. Of course, this has no bearing on levels of intelligence, but rather shows background, experience, and exposure to academics that are merely different from other students. And though we do not have the same base--which remedial courses have been created to remedy this in part--we are expected to be able to produce the same level of work.

    Here, I see no reason that a “crutch” in the sense we apply it to Wikipedia is bad in and of itself. It is an ignitor of ideas of sorts; we can go there to get vocabulary and context--the base--to approach college-level curriculum. And sometimes, the natural tendency for a discourse to develop its own lexicon makes it hard to approach a subject through scholarly mediums--we don’t even have the vocabulary to absorb the vocabulary of the discourse.

    Yet, I still feel pessimistic about how this will evolve the study habits of students over time. I think Alex discusses the remedy in his conclusion of “Wikipedia as Imago Mundi.” He says, “We should not encourage the use of wikis as a printed text--that is students should not simply mine Wikipedia for quotations and facts to include in their...papers.” Of course, this is something I have learned as a student of analog academia. Before the interwebs, we had to be critical of not just what we read, but also from what medium we received the information. As more students are using Wikipedia as a place to get a basis for larger projects, a mere starting point, I think I am OK with the practice. Still, I worry about it all being a slippery slope.


MOOCS: A Problematic Solution to the Disinvestment in Public Higher Education

I agree wholeheartedly with Bady’s cynicism of the speed, inevitability, and necessity of the MOOC movement. From 2011-2015 I direct...