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:

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

Participatory culture through wikipedia

Leigh Blackall : Keynote address: Thursday : From the Navcon07 conference, Generation.com. Where to next? Gosford, Australia.

Leigh’s keynote covered a range of topics – all designed to show how a participatory culture is what will turn learning around – whether through wikipedia or good use of Creative Commons, or more. It was really interesting to hear Leigh talk about Otago Polytechnic, and their shift to Creative Commons for the production of all their learning materials.

Nice one! Bit different from what happens in schools now – and really worth thinking about. All part of the Open Source movement of course – but this is not yet in the discussion horizon in most schools yet. Hopefully the pieces will fall into place sometime soon.

Leigh focussed on modernism and postmodernism, and points to his notes here:

modernism and old schools

  1. A state of mind
  2. Fascism
  3. Access DETnied
  4. Memex

Postmodernism and new schools learning

  1. Deschooling Society
  2. Pedagogy of the Oppressed
  3. Groups and Networks
  4. Individualism and the best and worst of times.

Models?

  1. Loganlea State High – Jenny Shale
  2. Catholic School – Greg Whitby
  3. New American School House
  4. Youtube in school
  5. History of Social Software

Here is Leigh in a snippet about participatory culture enabling learning…..

Image: The pieces are falling into place.