Cites & Bytes @ Bailey

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wikipedia World 'O Fun...

I thought I was talking to a College Writing class about Wikipedia the other day and gathered up some background information that has been making news (and controversy) lately. Turned out they just wanted to learn about databases, but not being one to waste some good resources, here you go:

William Badke's What to Do with Wikipedia, which reveals that librarians use Wikipedia too (in secret and not for anything very serious) and instead of just wringing our hands about the dumbing down of the academic world, suggests that we should be proactive about using Wikipedia to help develop critical thinking skills.

All the News That's Fit to Print (Out), a New York Times Magazine piece that came out last summer, an interview with the Wikipedia founder and a good look at the internal structure, how wikipedia gets edited and policed, and some good points about the pride of ownership. People who author and/or edit particular subjects are very committed to doing the best job they can.

It appears that we will all have a lot of free shelf space soon, as the New York Times also called on us to Start Writing the Eulogies for the Print Encyclopedia.

Wikipedia alternatives are suggested by Beyond Wikipedia (sent by Librarian Lynn Hoffmann) and Newsweek points to The Revenge of the Experts, wherein professional vetting is sought. They cite as an example of expert guides, but I have to tell you I am personally not all that impressed with those experts and their web sites are nightmares of usability.

And then I did some fun experiments.... do you realize how easy it is to edit Wikipedia? Just click on Edit this page and go to it, you don't even have to log in! For instance, for this class demonstration I made myself Miss America 2007. Fun! Thank you so much! I'm surprised that swimsuit thing worked out, but I am all about world peace.

I didn't save the change, of course, because I don't want to be a vandal but I was truly amazed. And so were the students, for real. I was pointing out to them that if you click the History or Discussion tabs in Wikipedia, the process and dialog are laid bare and are very, very interesting. Isn't it surprising that we don't look behind the curtain, so to speak? Even when the curtain is open?

Also, a little side note... I thought it might be a little more realistic if I were to be Miss America of say, 1922 or something, but there weren't any winners listed beyond like the 1990's or 1980's. This seemed unusual to me but that could possibly be when time began for the average Wikipedia author.


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