(Via Smart Mobs) So here is a research study (and I mean research, full of all sorts of funny looking formulas and symbols and stuff) about Wikipedia that comes to the conclusion that the more edits there are to a particular article the more accurate it is. Not surprising, to me at least, but since smart people are publishing quantitative results, it might add to the discussion.
Since its inception six years ago, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia has accumulated 6.40 million articles and 250 million edits, contributed in a predominantly undirected and haphazard fashion by 5.77 million unvetted volunteers. Despite the apparent lack of order, the 50 million edits by 4.8 million contributors to the 1.5 million articles in the English-language Wikipedia follow strong certain overall regularities. We show that the accretion of edits to an article is described by a simple stochastic mechanism, resulting in a heavy tail of highly visible articles with a large number of edits. We also demonstrate a crucial correlation between article quality and number of edits, which validates Wikipedia as a successful collaborative effort.
The conversations I had this week about Wikipedia with the schools I was working with in Atlanta were pretty heated at times. But it’s interesting how it quickly turns into a larger discussion about students as editors in general, and that Wikipedia ain’t the only problem we have in terms of what to trust and what not to trust. And that quickly turns into another discussion about how the network (if you have one) filters out much of the good stuff, just as it did in this instance. You may not trust the source, but if you trust the person or people who sent you the source, the source inherently becomes more trustworthy.
Or something like that…
Chris Champion says
I know the big criticism about Wikipedia is that anyone, including someone interested in spreading disinformation, can edit an entry. Here’s an experience that happened this week by one of my students. A lesson learned and a teachable moment:
“Bill” decided that it might be funny to edit his namesake’s entry in Wikipedia (a 19th Century British Naval Officer) – changing some minor details, some perhaps inappropriate language. 1 minute later, reverted. So he did it again. 1 minute later, reverted and marked as vandalism. So the very next student who logs into Wikipedia gets a message saying that our IP was flagged.. so we catch “Bill”.
The teachable moment: “Bill” asks what his “punishment” will be…. I tell him that I’m going to assign some research on a topic that doesn’t have much detail in Wikipedia. Then, “Bill” is going to create a Wikipedia username, and login and contribute…
Bill Dolton says
The research cited by Will and the experience related by Chris in his comment supports my contention that Wikipedia is a valuable reference tool when used with a healthy does of critical thinking and fact cross-checking which we, as educators, must instill and develop in our students.
Curious still, then, is the news that Wikipedia founders are starting a new Citizendium website that “aims to improve on the Wikipedia model by adding ‘gentle expert oversight’ and requiring contributors to use their real names.” In light of the research above, why???
Stephanie Sandifer says
Will — I read this post just after visiting my district’s regional website for the very first time (my district is large and divided into several sub-regions and each has the ability to have it’s own regional website). I was very surprised to see that under the “resources” menu on the very first page of our regional site, Wikipedia is included as a resource. They also include Google and several other online resources.
I guess they didn’t get the “memo” about Wikipedia and Google being bad things that should be blocked? Just joking — I found it refreshing to see some educational leaders in my own district (and region) see the value in these resources and are willing to provide direct links for teachers, students, parents, and community members.
The irony in this is that my region provides the links — but we can only be readers/consumers and not producers or editors. Our district IP addresses are blocked from editing on Wikipedia (blocked by Wikipedia editors) thanks to vandalism by students. One more reason for us to be teaching them appropriate use rather than just blocking access!
Kevin Jarrett says
Will, I was coming over to mention if you’d heard of this … based on your post, I’m guessing no … a very interesting development indeed!
Sort of the best of both worlds if it takes off, don’t you think?
I had this conversation with my 9th grade son. I got the usual yadda-yadda from him, you know, how can Wikipedia be credible if anybody can edit it. He was incredulous when I told him that Wikipedia was probably more accurate than this history textbook.
Chris Champion says
Rick, good point. Ever locate the “errata” for a textbook? Here’s a compendium of errata websites for physics textbooks (I wonder if any use Pluto’s orbit as examples)