What to Do With Wikipedia - 0 views
Wikipedia is an affront to academia, because it undercuts what makes academics the elite in society.
Embracing the World of Wikipedia
Figuring out what to do with Wikipedia is part of a larger question: When is academia going to acknowledge the elephant in the room? Over the past decade, the web has become the primary informational environment for the average student. This is where our students live. Wrenching them out of it in the name of academic quality is simply not going to work.
But the genius of the web is that it is a means, not an end. The same medium that brings us Wikipedia also brings us e-reference and ejournals. Thus we have an opportunity to introduce Wikipedia devotees to three undiscovered realities:
1. Truth to tell, much of Wikipedia is simply amazing in its detail, currency, and accuracy. Denying this is tantamount to taking ourselves out of the new digital reality. But we need to help our students see that Wikipedia is also an environment for shallow thinking, debates over interpretation, and the settling of scores. Wikipedia itself advises that its users consult other sources to verify the information they are finding. If a key element in information literacy is the ability to evaluate information, what better place to start than with Wikipedia? We can help students to distinguish the trite from the brilliant and encourage them to check their Wikipedia information against other sources.
2. We need to introduce students to digital resources that are, in many cases, stronger than Wikipedia. Some of these are freely available online, like the amazing Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://plato.stanford.edu). Others may be commercial e-reference sources with no barrier except a user name and password.
3. The most daring solution would be for academia to enter the world of Wikipedia directly. Rather than throwing rocks at it, the academy has a unique opportunity to engage Wikipedia in a way that marries the digital generation with the academic enterprise. How about these options:
• A professor writes or rewrites Wikipedia articles, learning the system and improving the product.
• A professor takes his or her class through a key Wikipedia article on a topic related to the course, pointing out its strengths and weaknesses, editing it to be a better reflection of reality.
• A professor or information literacy instructor assigns groups of students to evaluate and edit Wikipedia articles, using research from other sources as an evaluative tool.
• A course takes on specific Wikipedia topics as heritage articles. The first group of students creates the articles and successive groups update and expand on them. In this way, collections of key “professor approved” articles can be produced in many subject areas, making Wikipedia better and better as time goes on.
If you want to see further options, Wikipedia itself provides examples (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:School_and_university_projects).
What to Do with Wikipedia
When academia finally recognizes that Wikipedia is here to stay and that we can either fight it or improve it, we may finally discover that professors and students have come to a meeting of minds. This doesn’t mean that Wikipedia articles will now be fully acceptable in research paper bibliographies. But surely there is a middle ground that connects instruction on evaluation with judicious use of Wikipedia information.
Ultimately, the academy has to stop fighting Wikipedia and work to make it better. Academic administrators need to find ways to recognize Wikipedia writing as part of legitimate scholarship for tenure, promotion, and research points. When professors are writing the articles or guiding their students in article production and revision, we may become much less paranoid about this wildly popular resource. Rather than castigating it, we can use it as a tool to improve information literacy.