Last January 15th, Wikipedia got his 10th anniversary. In Guadalajara, we’ve got a local celebration Mexican style, with mariachi and tequila.
Seeking for a free content encyclopedia, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger developed back in 2000 a first project Nupedia, where contents were written by experts. The expert’s logic demanded a very slow revision process. The search for speeding that process a parallel strategy started, that when mixed with the culture and philosophy of free movements, ended up in creating Wikipedia, the encyclopedia everyone can edit.
It is this quality, everyone, the one that has lead to lots of critiques around is validity. If it is not written by validated and recognized experts, our first thought is that we cannot think on the information being trustable. Nevertheless, there is formal research that speaks of its quality –in certain topics and languages- (the first one, published just 4 years after it was borne, by Nature, and famous for the conflict with Britanica Encyclopedia). Concerns about quality on information produced by people on internet is in all fields (for example, in health information produced by patients). Research, in general, tends to say that together, we can build trustable information.
The key is in “together”. Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia where anyone, isolated, can edit content. There is a working process, which includes helping one another to keep the stated values (for example, neutrality) and to learn to be Wikipedia editors.
In the educational field, for me, the most important thing is not whether Wikipedia is trustable or not. They even declare that nothing prevents entrances that are erroneous or not clear, and that even if the editing process will help for that information to be arranged fast, “Wikipedia cannot be perfect”. For me, the important thing is to stop looking at knowledge as something “given” and expressed by an expert (that at school ends very easily in a meaningless copy+paste practice) and start conceptualizing knowledge as something alive, in constant change, and that can be developed collaborative. It’s about conceiving Wikipedia at its essence: a virtual community that together develops encyclopedia content, and, overall, a community where we can participate.
Wikipedia has recommendations for schools on how to use it to develop information literacy skills, and how to learn other digital citizenship ones: public domain concepts, collaborating in open communities of collective creation, writing skills, language domain, etc. They host as well, several educational projects.
An interesting example of this last educational uses was publish by Michigan University chemistry teachers at J. Chem. Educ. They asked students to edit Wikipedia with the objectives of exploring advanced concepts of chemistry and of learning to communicate sciences to a public with different backgrounds. In teams, students first identified weak entrances with key concepts. Then they develop and alterative text that was discussed in class and later inside the Wikipedia, where they received feedback of its community. After the experience students declared, apart from some references to the official objectives, the importance of collaborative learning, and that they liked helping to improve the quality of scientific information available to the public.
At its 10th anniversary, I invite you to look at Wikipedia’s daily life as an opportunity to move from an education centered in content dictated by experts and reproduced by students, into an education centered in learning and collective developement of knowledge, a knowledge that we can make public.
Original version in Spanish: http://blogs.iteso.mx/ote/2011/01/27/wikipedia-10-anos-de-colaborac...