Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Coming clean about Wikipedia

Some interesting thoughts about Wikipedia on Cool Cat Teacher blog. No sense in repeating the thread, but Victoria raises some relevant points about this ever-growing online knowledge source. She says:

3) Whether or not educators like Wikipedia, perhaps its flaws are because so many educators do not like wikipedia and have thus ignored it.

I ask you to join and become an editor who cares about adding fact to the subjects you care about. -- Start by watching the edublog page! (But do not add yourself, only add others that you believe you have enough proof that they are notable.)

What should we as educators do? Ignore it? Embrace it? Fight it?

I, too, am reserving judgement on Wikipedia, but I do like her point that one way to improve it is by becoming more of an active part. Here's my own Wikipedia story, told maybe to get it off my chest or just to share with whoever reads this...

During the planning of a unit on The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, I begun to further explore the use of the marigold flower as a dominant symbol in the play. After a little research online, I ended up - of course - at Wikipedia. Despite one of the more succinct and user-friendly descriptions, what I noticed from the Wikipedia entry was that it lacked vital information: when marigolds predominatly bloom and how they are hearty flowers that thrive in many different garden conditions. In context of the play, where the flowers symbolize the main character and her exposure to the "radioactive" dysfunctional family environment caused by her mother, I thought this was a crucial piece to know. It also seemed to be lacking the definition provided on Wikipedia. So I edited it in there. There were already several sources cited in the definition, which I too checked out during my research. However, in my revision, I also referenced another web site that included this additional information. My final edit amounted to a handful of sentences interspersed in the existing definition.

Then I directed students to the definition and asked them how the marigolds could serve as a symbol in the play. Not sure why, but I never told them my behind the scenes role. Was I afraid they'd see how easy it was to do, if they didn't already know? Did I think it would - rightly or not - taint their consideration of the source? Was there a tinge of guilt in what I did?

It still has me thinking. Is the role of an educator, to manipulate information or knowledge sources for a particular benefit? Or was I doing nothing different than if I prepared a handout with notes about the flower, which included the information I deemed important?

Still not sure if I've answered all the questions in my mind.


Vicki A. Davis said...

If it remained in, it wasn't you as there are man people who watch these pages. It would not have stayed, believe me, if it weren't accurate. That in itself is a testament to the veracity of what you did. Additionally, you could talk about how you edited but you could also talk about the thousands of editors in Wikipedia and how information stands. What you did is professional and respectable because you contributed. I applaud you!

Vicki A. Davis said...

I'm sorry, many people who watch these pages -- not man!