Interesting piece on the BBC website today about students at Imperial College London trying to “bridge” the worlds of academia and Wikipedia. They seem very sensibly to be saying – Wikipedia isn’t going away – Wikipedia is just about the world’s most used research resource – why not bring academic brains to the task of improving rather than scorning the open source encyclopaedia?
I’ve seen both sides of our schizophrenic approach to Wikipedia. As students in Nicco Mele’s Harvard Kennedy School class on Digital Media, Politics and Power, we learned how to use and analyse and edit Wikipedia pages. As a student in a third grade class in the Cambridge public school system, my son was told “never” to use the site – it wasn’t “proper” knowledge.
I get that. Eight year olds are looking for “facts” they can sweep into their course work – they haven’t yet been taught to check & double check sources, to go through a Wikipedia article to the footnotes – they probably haven’t been taught how to use Google or how to search through a real bricks-and-mortar library for the soundest sources of up to date information. I’d be pretty upset as a parent if my eight year old thought Wikipedia was the fount of all knowledge.
But demonising Wikipedia won’t work. It’s massively used and it’s in all our interests to make it massively better.