A nice column in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Lee Gomes that rightly points out that the best part of Wikipedia are the discussions that occur behind the entries themselves. This is my experience too, these days:
Reading these discussion pages is a vastly rewarding, slightly addictive experienceâ€”so much so that itâ€™s become my habit to first check out the discussion before going to the article proper.
Maybe because Iâ€™ve always been interested in the craft of writing, but Iâ€™m curious to see what the sticking points are in the construction of the article. How are people negotiating the facts and the bias that they see? Who do they accede to? When does debate end? As I find myself creating more and more collaborative pieces of writing (Google Docs and Google Notebooks in particular) I find the process to be very different from the writing I normally do. And I keep thinking what a necessary part of the writing process this type of negotiation is going to be as we collaborate more and more on wikis and documents and videos and whatever else. When I ask teachers whether their students are writing employing truly collaborative practices (not simply â€œcooperativeâ€) and whether they are writing either alone or together in hypertext environments (which I also believe is a part of writing literacy these days), blank stares usually ensue.
Teaching Wikipedia gives us the opportunity to do both, especially if we tune into those back channel conversations.
Gomes includes some interesting examples and statistics:
- The 9,500 word article â€œIreland,â€ for example spawned a 10,000 word discussion about whether â€œRepublic of Irelandâ€ would be a better name for the piece.
- Wikipedia editors have spent 242,000 words trying to define â€œTruth.â€
- Hereâ€™s a quote from one entry: â€œI am not sure that it does not present an entirely Eurocentric view, nor can I see that it is sourced sufficiently well so as to be reliable.â€ That from the discussion on â€œKittens.â€
- And ironically, if you search for the word â€œDiscussionâ€ you are sent to the word â€œDebateâ€ where the discussion page includes a debate over whether â€œdiscussionâ€ and â€œdebateâ€ are synonymous.
More reason why I still think Wikipedia is one of the most important sites on the Web right now for educators to fully get their brains around.
Technorati Tags: wikipedia
Hi Will – Your post is timed nicely with this article from Wired (http://www.wired.com/politics/onlinerights/news/2007/08/wiki_tracker). Will this make Wikipedia even more useful down the road? I think it will make those anonymous editors think twice before they edit.
Alec Couros says
There was a similar conversation here back in January.
I commented on my own experiences … it’s important for people to see Wikipedia and other knowledge sources in a different light in comparison to the conversations behind the scene (where knowledge takes hold, is actualized).
Great that you’re pointing this out. Those who just don’t -like- Wikipedia probably don’t realize how much work is done by editors towards making WP the best it can be. I’d love to see more people not just make minor contributions to articles but take the next step and try to push articles to official “Good Article” status and beyond…
I do have to admit that I’m surprised not to see a mention of Wikiproject Schools on your site…or to see you contributing! 🙂
Loved the Kitten Talk banter (from your “Kittens” link above) about whether or not to include the entry, “Everytime You Masterbate…God Kills a Kitten”. Useful in developing critical thinkers!
Gary Stager says
A while back I posted something similar.
The gold in a wiki is often in the discussion pages.
The discussion page I point to has some very inspiring ideas for wikis in education.
Lynne Bailey says
Regarding the article mentioned by Page, [http://www.wired.com/politics/onlinerights/news/2007/08/wiki_tracker] mention about the Wiki Scanner, developed to see who is editing entries, hit the wires around 8/15, and I read that NASA topped the list of government agencies tinkering with entries [http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=9457&mid=181499].
CIA, FBI edits Wikipedia led this yahoo article
[http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070816/ts_nm/security_wikipedia_dc] and the New York Times has a good piece here [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/19/technology/19wikipedia.html?ex=1345262400&en=786d0a243046f262&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink].
The genius behind all this a Cal Tech graduate student, and you can find the Wiki Scanner at http://wikiscanner.virgil.gr/.
Wikipedia has truly blossomed and become a very valuable Internet web resource. These discussion pages make it even more so, and together with a way to monitor and weed-out conflicts of interest, it increases it’s veracity and makes it even more useful for everyone.
I was really pleased to read this entry because I’m also addicted to the discussion section of Wikipedia, and as a writing teacher, I always share those discussion pages with my classes (it’s amazing how few of them have explored that aspect of Wikipedia before) to show them that writing is indeed a process of carefully assessing audience, strategies, structures, rhetoric, etc. We usually have a good laugh over the discussion for our university’s entry on wikipedia because two contributors get positively snarky over the style and organization of the entry; it’s a good way to get them talking about collaboration, about how people take their own writing very personally, and about differences in writing strategies.