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Reflecting on Issues of Wikipedia Use

At the SHARP conference on book history, I discussed the idea of having students reflect on issues associated with Wikipedia to reflect on the whole process of engaging in digital writing. (For the PowerPoint presentation: Download file). For a handout: Download file

For this idea, I drew on Henry Jenkins presentation to the National Media Education conference, What Wikipedia Can Teach Us About The New Media Literacies (Part One) http://www.henryjenkins.org/2007/06/what_wikipedia_can_teach_us_ab.html#more
and Part Two http://www.henryjenkins.org/2007/06/what_wikipedia_can_teach_us_ab_1.html#more

Jenkins notes that through grappling with issues of genre definition (What is Wikipedia?), audience, verifiability, validity, editorial review, etc., students are learning to address and acquire information literacies. For example, in studying changes made in an entry, students can note how supporting evidence for a claim was added to enhance the validity of that claim.

Students can also reflect on challenges involved in collaborative wiki writing related to Wikipedia. One of hte major challenges has to do with editorial oversight: who decides on what material should or should not be included, the validity of information included, or the appropriateness of certain revisions.

Students could also examine the issue of verifiability: whether and how statements in Wikipedia are supported in terms of evidence or quotes. Wikipedia states that “Verifiability says that attribution is required for direct quotes and for material that is challenged or likely to be challenged. Any material that is challenged and for which no source is provided may be removed by any editor.�

And, they could examine instances of editors’ constant monitoring of entries. In an article by Jonathan Dee "All the News That’s Fit to Print Out� in The New York Times Magazine: Dee notes that a large number of young people serve as editors ready to quickly review and remove misinformation--something that he finds to go contrary to life in the media age of subjectivity: “But the Wikipedians, most of them born in the information age, have tasked themselves with weeding that subjectivity not just out of one another’s discourse but also out of their own. They may not be able to do any actual reporting from their bedrooms or dorm rooms or hotel rooms, but they can police bias, and they do it with a passion that’s no less impressive for its occasional excess of piety. Who taught them this? It’s a mystery; but they are teaching it to one another." Students could discuss how and why these young people really care about editing the entries so that they will be accurate.

And, students could contrast Wikipedia to other rivals: Citizendium, that involves no anonymous editing and whose editors are specialists in particular subjects, orScholarpedia, in which articles are written by experts who act as curators and which includes anonymous peer review. They could also study
Conservapedia in which topics such as “Evolution� are defined in ways consistent with a conservative ideology:
“Creationist scientists believe that mutations, natural selection, and genetic drift would not cause macroevolution.[14][15][16][17][18]. Furthermore, creationist scientists assert that the life sciences as a whole support the creation model and do not support the evolutionary model.�