20 March 2007

Sound Suggestions on Wikipedia

A phenomenal piece by Cathy Davidson in the Chronicle on what the lessons we, as academics, can learn from wikipedia and the pedagogical tools it provides us as educators. I couldn't agree with Davidson more in that the academy needs to shake our tail feathers a little bit and quell their fears of new technologies. The idea of having students contribute to wikipedia is a great opportunity to increase buy-in from students in their research and their writing. It also gives them first hand experience in the publishing and editing process, and more likely than not, in the way that publishing and editing will be handled by the time many of them are ready to make contributions to their fields.

Davidson makes an interesting point in her essay regarding wikipedia as a vehicle for the common good, "the life of the intellect." In many ways, I can't help but agree that an environment that not only encourages but is based on collaboration and contribution nourishes the appetite of the mind. If you did read the "Discussion" section of any wikipedia article, you might suprised at the amount and level of the debates about small areas of the article. What a phenomenal way to illustrate the writing and research process to students!

Yet I still hesitate to agree wholly with this characterization of wikipedia. Perhaps it is the anonymity of contributors that irks me and the consequential questions of reliability, objectivity, and longevity of the entries. One thing that Davidson, and many other supporters of wikipedia are quick to point out is that if you don't like what is written, you can change it. Does that not have an Orwellian ring to it? And how can we assert that there is no continuity or steady pace to knowledge? Remember, wikipedia is claiming itself as an encyclopedia, a compendium of knowledge. Perhaps I would feel better it they called themselves a compendium of information?

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