A More Reliable Wikipedia?

It appears that Wikipedia,
the often maligned and misunderstood experiment in democratic
collaborative intelligence, is undergoing some serious metacognitive
reflection.  Two essays have appeared on Wikipedia that attempt to
assess the efficacy of this experiment:

The articles are a fascinating self-assessment.  As intriguing as
the essays are the discussions are all the more interesting.  They
represent what I believe are some of the most significant of the new
"21st century" literacies: negotiation, distributed cognition,
judgment, and collective intelligence.  In his white paper, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT, defines those literacies as:

is the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and
respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following
alternative norms

Distributed cognition is the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities.

is the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources.

Collective intelligence
is the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal.

FYI – You can search for Henry Jenkins lectures and course materials on MIT Open CourseWare.

I can’t relay just how often I hear educators boast that they "never
let their students use Wikipedia."  I believe that their fear is
well-intentioned.  While I understand that the notion of unlimited
authors and editors can seem unreliable, I maintain that any and all
sources should be evaluated with critical analysis; that is why
judgment is such a crucial life-long literacy.  Lots of unreliable
"experts" find ways to publish, either online or in print.  Learners
should always be encouraged to cross-reference sources.  Wikipedia
articles offer a terrific object lesson in judgment while often tapping
into the mode of research that many digital natives find so natural,
non-linear random access (a.k.a. hypertext.)

Well, for those who simply can’t get past the collective origin and
revision of Wikipedia content or who believe in a compromise between
total authoring freedom and expert oversight, the co-creator of
Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, has announced a new project,  Citizendium.  According to the press release on January 24, 2007:

a project aimed at creating a new free encyclopedia online,
announced today that its pilot project has been a success, and that it is moving
rapidly toward a public launch. For the first time, anyone can visit the website
(www.citizendium.org), create a user account and get to work within minutes. The
project, started by a founder of Wikipedia, aims to improve on the Wikipedia
model by adding “gentle expert oversight” and requiring contributors to use
their real names.

the Citizendium
pilot project began in November 2006, over 150 expert editors and 350 authors
have joined, creating hundreds of articles, testing the concept and software,
and participating in lively discussion on the future shape of the project.

“We are
demonstrating that experts and non-experts can work shoulder-to-shoulder on a
wiki, using their real names, in a collegial atmosphere,” said the project’s
Editor-in-Chief, Wikipedia co-founder Dr. Larry Sanger. “We didn’t know whether
this would work, but it has so far, quite well. We are learning that
accountability has merit in the world of wikis.”

I would appear that collective intelligence, judgment, distributed cognition, and negotiation will be put to the test with Citizendium
and I’ll be interested to see how the academic community receives this
new project.  I will certainly feel more comfortable directing my
students to Citizendium in the future.

I’m curious to see what direction you provide to your students with regard to using Wikipedia in research.


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