Monday, March 12, 2007

"The Resilient Power of Common Sense" - Wikipedia in the Economist

The Economist just ran an article on Wikipedia, which while behind the times for us in ed. tech. blogging, is a good indicator on how the rest of the web-not-quite-2.0 world perceives it or will come to perceive it. After all, the Economist is the intellectual's magazine.

"Wikipedia has strengths too, chiefly the resilient power of collective common sense."
The article shares how anonymity can be a problem with Wikipedia, but then argues that collectively it is in fact VERY well maintained and that even many of the pretend-experts are conscientious, careful, and accurate.

"Constant scrutiny and editing means even the worst articles are gradually getting better, while the best ones are kept nicely polished and up to date. Someone, eventually, will spot even the tiniest error, or tighten a patch of sloppy prose. Mr Jordan, for all his bragging, seems to have been a scrupulous and effective editor."

It's a great article to share with your teachers. As much as I have tried, I come across teachers who are resistant to the idea that Wikipedia can be trusted or that Wikipedia can be used as a source by students. They think that they are teaching good research skills. I think they are missing an opportunity for students to think critically, to defend arguments, and to confirm information from other sources.

Has anyone else come across the attempting-to-be-web-savvy teacher who in efforts to show they are "with it" with new technologies, make the pre-emptive ban on using Wikipedia as a source with students?

Are we not missing out on conversations with students on "collective common sense"? Or global participatory culture? Educators complain about misuse and abuse of social networking sites like MySpace, but fail to acknowledge the powerful force for shared knowledge that Wikipedia (and other sites have become). Web 2.0 is being used for good right in front of even the most tech-resistant noses, but they miss it hiding behind "anyone could write it, so it's not allowed."

"The quality of writing is often a good guide to an entry’s usefulness: inelegant or ranting prose usually reflects muddled thoughts and incomplete information. A regular user soon gets a feel for what to trust."

I thought that was a nice quote to describe exactly what we are missing out on, by not allowing kids to use Wikipedia. Don't we want kids developing that skill of getting "a feel for what to trust"?

I'm going to be sharing this article with my staff. Let's see if it can get our own conversation started.

[on a side note...Conservapedia?!? Really?!]


Justin Medved said...

Great post Dennis !

To quote the "long tail"

"Wikipedia should be the first place you go for information, not the should be your starting point........"

Right or wrong, fact or fiction, correct or incorrect have been the mantras of traditional education.

Should modern education now be about teaching:
"Right and wrong, fact and fiction, correct and incorrect and most importantly HOW WE TELL THE DIFFERENCE


Kim Cofino said...

Right on!

I'm trying to work with our current librarian to explain why Wikipedia is actually an important resource to consider - so we can teach students "how to tell the difference" between fact and fiction, as Justin describes above. She's still in "banning" mode, so I've definitely got an uphill battle ahead of me.

Thanks for the "reliable" resource. I'm finding that the same people that are resistant to wikipedia, are also resistant to information found on edublogs or in books written by people like Will Richardson and David Warlick, or even Thomas Friedman... Maybe the Economist will do the trick ;)