Thursday, November 13, 2008

Notes from the Wikipedia Workshop

What to do about Wikipedia

Teaching Our Students to

Evaluate Information

Presented by Lynn Kanne & Kelley McHenry - November 6, 2008

a definition

A wiki is…

A page or collection of pages designed for collective editing. Every change is tracked.

Wikipedia is…mass collaboration:

A constantly growing free online encyclopedia

  • Run by a nonprofit
  • Created by “peers”
  • Over 9 million pages in 250+ languages…and growing

Wikipedia is not…

A complete repository of all knowledge or a final destination for research.

A directory, publisher of original thought, or a manual

Source: Broughton, John. Wikipedia: The Missing Manual. Cambridge: O’Reilly, 2008. (Available in the library)

everyone is an editor

  • Anyone, anywhere
  • Any age
  • Any experience or qualifications
  • About half live in the US; most others in English speaking countries
  • Motivations
  • Essjay controversy

"The ethos of Wikipedia is that anyone can contribute, regardless of status… What's relevant is their knowledge as judged by other readers, not whether they are professors or not – and the fact the student [Essjay] was exposed shows it works."[53]

Standards for Wikipedia articles

  • Cite reliable sources – all articles must be based on cited information
  • Respect copyright
  • Article Grades (Featured articles meet the highest standards; wikipedia has developed a rubric for evaluating other articles. Grades are indicated on the discussion pages.)
  • Obscure facts: Siegenthaler Incident
  • Topic guidelines

These articles didn’t make the grade (thankfully)

o Evil Tutorial

o Famous watermelons

o Lame drivers

o More

evolution of an article

Writing by committee…

  • Stub (the very beginning of an article)
  • Refinement (content is added)
  • Compromises & discussion – view the discussion section of the article to follow its development
  • Content disputes
Work it out informally
Help from a more experienced editor
Third opinions
Formal mediation (mediation committee – with binding resolutions)

Trail of crumbs…example

perspectives: student

"I trust wikipedia, i don't care what people say, anything listed on the article is cited at the bottom and most if not all are from trusted encyclopedias, I actually think wikipedia is better because there's more infomation [sic] than any other encyclopedia and its FREE!!”

(From a comment on “How (much) to trust Wikipedia,” a youtube video)

perspectives: researchers

Giles, Jim. "Internet Encyclopaedias go Head to Head. " Nature 438.7070 (2005): 900-1. Research Library Core. ProQuest. Seattle Central Community Coll. Lib. 3 Nov. 2008

  • 42 articles reviewed
  • 8 major errors, 4 in each
  • 162 minor errors in Wikipedia; 123 in Britannica
  • 17% of Nature readers consult Wikipedia
  • Less than 10% contribute

other perspectives

An Internet entrepreneur…

Keen, Andrew. Cult of the Amateur. New York: Doubleday, 2007.

other perspectives


…might be the best source…about itself: reliability & criticism


“A document that anyone in the world can edit sounds like utter anarchy, yet the high quality of the majority of Wikipedia articles disproved that assumption. The reason? Because editors have a greater incentive to fix pages than vandals have to break them. Over time, articles get better and better.”

“Another great advantage of Wikipedia; we know it’s flawed. Subsequently we might even learn to read critically, check sources and perhaps think independently -rather than accept a premise just because it’s there in black and white.”

“Wikipedia isn’t an encyclopedia, it is more like the Guinness book of World Records, you use it to settle stupid bets that no other book is going to touch.”


Workshop group brainstorm – how to help students evaluate Wikipedia

  • Compare to other sources
  • Review citations in Wikipedia for quality
  • Consider the meaning of the peer review concept
  • Emphasize the idea of fact versus opinion
  • Have them review the article grading system and consider what it means
  • Review date or currency of articles
  • Look at the quality of the writing/language used
  • Look at the edits and the number of contributors and their activity in Wikipedia
  • Ask them to consider whether the writer is biased or if the article is promoting a particular idea or object
  • Use Wikipedia as a way to discuss how knowledge is constructed – what it means to “know” something