Wikipedia – the great book of knowledge

Detail from the puzzle globe Wikipedia logo.

We used to need libraries to make the sum of human knowledge available to all. Today we have Wikipedia, where the sum of human knowledge can be shaped by all of us. But can we trust it?

Wikipedia  features 30 million articles, in 287 languages. And it’s written and edited — for free — by 77,000 contributors around the world. What did we do before Wikipedia? How has wikipedia influenced knowledge flow and global connectedness?  How does technology change the nature of information, the truth, facts and the power of community?  Power of the collective  interactive space where everyone on the planet can collaborate. At this CBC radio podcast Philip Coulter  suggests that the collective mind is perhaps the best mind we have.

Coulter dubs the term ‘vector knowledge’ which summarizes perfectly how wikipedia knowledge networks connect directly and indirectly to create the mesh of human information and knowledge in this digital repository.

Download The Great Book of Knowledge, Part 1
[mp3 file: runs 00:53:58]

In the podcast The Great Book of Knowledge, Part 1 you will hear a fascinating discussion about Wikipedia from a number of operational, social, innovative, and connected society perspectives.The entire podcast is very worthwhile listening to in order to be able to really appreciate the [R]evolution in access to human knowledge, and the way we build and share information to further knowledge endeavours.

Tips for Using Wikipedia Effectively

Use Wikipedia to get a general overview, and follow the references it provides as far as they can take you.

Look at the Discussion tab to see if the article you’re reading is part of a WikiProject, meaning that a group of people who care about the subject area are working in concert on its content. They may not be experts on the subject, but signing onto a WikiProject implies a writer has more than a casual interest in it.

If it is part of a WikiProject, see if it has been rated. Articles in WikiProjects go through a type of peer review. This is not the same type of peer review your professor talks about regarding scholarly research, but even such a limited review does at least imply that someone from the WikiProject has looked at the article at some point and assigned a quality rating to it. In any case, to be fairly sure that a Wikipedia article expresses what laypeople might need to know to consider themselves reasonably informed, look for a rating of B/A or above.

You may find it helpful to consult any or all of the following for additional help in understanding Wikipedia, finding and evaluating sources:

Remix culture as a creative and professional habit

Yesterday the Charles Sturt University ICT Community of Practice had one of it’s regular afternoon forums, campus-wide, in meeting spaces, and via online conferencing. It’s a great way to bring people together from various faculties and disciplines. The focus in on sharing – not quite a PechaKucha, but close to it with just 10 minutes to share a few nuggets of gold!

As one of the invited presenters, my focus was on creativity and the use of images. This is based on the fact that I want teachers to understand remix culture (when it comes to images); use of creative commons and various sources of free images; image attribution; and visual presentation for blogging and creating presentations. With the 10-minute presentation I also included one of the regular updates that I provided my teacher/students in the Digital Citizenship in Schools subject to help springboard ideas.

The trick of course is to engage teachers from all ends of the spectrum of ICT prowess. So for the newbies, an introduction to flickr and other CC image sources is a must. For the geeks an introduction to tools like Alan Levines wonderful FlickrCC Image Attribution Helper is a must!

A lovely lecturer in Veterinary Science contacted me later to let me know she was excited by the ideas and would be weaving what she has leaned into her work. How cool is that? To be able to share across disciplines in this way is future learning methinks!

Understanding remix culture as a creative and professional habit IS  about understanding creativity and copyright!

Image: cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by A. Diez Herrero

Flickr Attribution Helper update!

Around about this time last year I shared a post about Greasemonkey and Flickr for the adventurous. In this I’m elaborating on the wonderful tool, created by my friend Alan Levine aka @cogdog, which is a core essential part of my digital toolkit.

As it was this time last year, I have a group of students working with me on visual elements of online presentations as part of their exploration of Digital Citizenship in Schools, and of course I introduce them to the FlickrCC Attribution Helper for Greasemonkey. The reason for this is related to ethical use of online images, and the value of working with Creative Commons as an effective source of visual imagery.

Alan Levine has written a Flickr Attribution Helper – a browser script that embeds easy to copy attribution text to creative commons licensed flickr images. Greasemonkey is an add-on for Firefox browser. Once Greasemonkey is installed, you have the ability to add all sorts of magical things to the functionality of your browser.  The Attribution Helper also installs into other browsers without the help of Greasemonkey.

Do take time to revisit the post to discover why this tool is fabulous ~ if you are not already using it. If you are using it – keep reading for an update!

Here’s the twist!  A student asked me to clarify the attribution code found on some of my images. For example, if you look at the image in my last post, you will see that if as follows:

Image: cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by heyjudegallery

What is SD? the student asked?  Upon checking the CC licensing options I could find no SD! 

A quick tweet to Alan, and a quick response has resulted in an updated version of FlickrCC Attribution Helper for Greasemonkey.

Lovely!  Now the same code being generated for that image reads as follows:

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by heyjudegallery 

In other words, we have SD replaced by SA for ‘share alike’.  Did I ever mention that Alan is awesome?


Top Image: cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Sebastián-Dario

The great unwashed ~ and information


In using the phrase ‘the great unwashed’  I’m not referring to the young Steve Jobs, infrequent bathing discussed in the New York Times, or even the rather disparaging term coined by the Victorian novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton ~ who ultimately led to that phrase “it was a dark and stormy night’ being immortalized by none other than Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy. (You should check out more about comic book legends and the back story to that doggy author)

But for me ‘the great unwashed’ and the proverbial ‘dark and stormy night’ may well be referring to the rubbish tip that is the internet. Wander in there too long, and you will indeed have a dirty mind and body :-)

Seriously though, this is exactly why teachers need to take such a considered approach as to how to integrate technology tools and digital resources into their learning and teaching environments. It’s also why such initiatives as Wikipedia  have served to teach us how to share and participate in the curation of information. Wikipedia has come of age just when we need it to.

That makes perfect sense. Through user-generated efforts, Wikipedia is comprehensive, current, and far and away the most trustworthy Web resource of its kind. It is not the bottom layer of authority, nor the top, but in fact the highest layer without formal vetting. In this unique role, it therefore serves as an ideal bridge between the validated and unvalidated Web.

Teachers have also been using tools like Diigo and Evernote to show students how to ‘annotate’ the web and share information. While this works well on the smaller scale, it does not match the venture that Wikipedia represents.

Shared on Twitter, Hypothes.is may well be the next phase in making sense of the great unwashed information environment that is the internet. Of course, like any venture it might fail – but I think Hypothes.is is one to watch for now. Imagine…

If wherever we encountered new information, sentence by sentence, frame by frame, we could easily know the best thinking on it.

If we had confidence that this represented the combined wisdom of the most informed people–not as anointed by editors, but as weighed over time by our peers, objectively, statistically and transparently.

If this created a powerful incentive for people to ensure that their works met a higher standard, and made it perceptibly harder to spread information that didn’t meet that standard.

Peanuts image: source Gary Ware
Texture image: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by SnaPsi Сталкер

Free to mix – guiding the way

My recent visit to New Zealand has left me breathless with some of the yummy opportunities available for students across the country. One of these, the Mix and Mash competition is all about creative use of media. “Are you a crafty storyteller? An app developer? A visualisation ninja? Then this is the kiwi event for you”.

Wow!  Check out the 2010 winners if you want to get an idea of what they have been up to including posters, cartoons, alternate music, poems, and many more supreme mashups.

For the rest of us, as we stand by and watch, why not go and grab a copy of Free to Mix: An educator’s guide to reusing digital content. Use the word document to create your own school version, or just share the PDF. 

This initiative is another from the wonderful National Library Services to Schools, which is unique to New Zealand.