The term “Wiki” was first coined by American computer programer Ward Cunningham (1949-present). It refers to websites which enable users to generate content by editing information about an event, object or phenomenon as it occurs in reality.
In 2000, Internet project developers Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger established Nupedia, which was the first example of a website which utilized the concept of developing a free encyclopedia for users to generate information for distribution on a digital network.
Initially Newpedia comprised of articles which were based predominantly on the opinions of expert academics. A major flaw in Nupedia’s implementation of an open encyclopedia to consumers was a lack of resources, strict peer review processes and leadership tensions between Wales and Sanger in the direction of Nupedia.
Nupedia was scrapped in 2003, and Wikapedia was soon formed as a new social platform. Adopting the notion of “Wiki” proposed by Cunningham. Thus enabling wider distribution of information to consumers who could participate in the process of editing of articles on the site.
There is a strong role for adults to play in insuring that young people develop a critical vocabulary for thinking about the place of media in their lives and engage in meaningful reflection about the ethical choices they make as media producers and participants in online communities.
The new media literacies is essentially a set of cultural and social skills required by the digital generation in order to understand and navigate the new media landscape.
The emphasis is on Collaboration and Networking; in short a shift of focus from the individual to a focus on community involvement.
Three Core Concerns:
The Participation Gap — the unequal access of youths to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge which will prepare them for full participation in the world of tomorrow.
The Transparency Problem — The challenges young people face in learning to see clearly the ways that media shapes our perceptions of the world.
The Ethics Challenge — The breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization which might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles as media makers and community participants.
Key Skills of New Media Literacies
Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others towards a common goal.
Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information source.
Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize and disseminate information.
Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative sets of norms.
The internet has placed new emphasis on the need for schools and afterschool programs to foster a set of cultural competencies and social skills which young people need as they confront the new media landscape that has appeared.
The new literacies are almost all social skills which have to do with collaboration and networking. From these come Participatory culture, where individual expression becomes community involvement. Everyone has a role in media literacy. We are all consumers and we are all producers in this digital age.
We are no longer mere ‘audience’ members when it comes to cultural production. We are participants.
Participatory Culture is:
Where there is relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement.
Where there is strong support for creating and sharing what you create with other.
Members feel some degree of social connection with each other.
These are the ‘special ingredients’ of how Wikipedia functions as a self-regulating process.
Now onto the benefits of Participatory Culture:
- Opportunities for peer-to-peer learning.
- A changed attitude towards intellectual property.
- The diversification of cultural expression the development of skills valued in the modern workplace.
- More empowered conception of citizenship.
Now a Trip back down Memory Lane With Nicholas Carr
Nicholas Carr in his article is Google Making Us Stupid? talks about the weight of technology and what it is doing to us. In Carr’s article he mentions that ‘the deep reading reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle and that we simply zip along the surface with information processing’ Now what does this mean in terms of Wikipedia, a site where absolutely anybody can edit the content.
We live in a fast pased lifestyle, everyone is always wanting to try the new faster, smarter better thing in life. We are constantly producing, consuming and wanting more. For this Wikipedia serves a great purpose, you get an extradionary amount of information in just one site, instead of wasting time looking around for what you need.
Clay Shirky states that “Every past technology I know of that has increased the number of producers and consumers of written material, from the alphabet and papyrus to the telegraph and the paperback, has been good for humanity” Is this perhaps true of Wikipedia then?
The amount of reading has increased exponentially. We are reading more than ever in this Digital Information Age!
Personally, as a child of this digital generation, I used Wikipedia for just about anything, especially in school. There was nothing better than just cutting and pasting information that I automatically believed was accurate. As I grew older and became more aware that changed of course!
However this can be problematic if children are not aware of the finer details of Wikipedia. Anyone can edit articles, that means people who have actually studied the field and have a wealth of experience (Expert Paradigms) or those keyboard warriors (Idiots) who know absolutely nothing accurate about the subject matter yet believe they do. Vandalism is another topic continually occuring with Wikipedia, while blatant vandalism is easily spotted and rapidly corrected such as Jesus secretly being Batman, it is Wikipedia’s more subtle vandalism that people will fall to, such as the date of something in the eighteen century that could easily be changed.
Collective Intelligence exploits the potential of network culture to allow many different minds operating in many different contexts to work together to solve problems that are more challenging than any of them could master as individuals.
In this world nobody knows everything, everyone knows something, and what any member knows is available to the group as a whole at a moment’s notice. What holds a knowledge community together is not the possession of knowledge but the social process of acquiring knowledge.
The possession of knowledge is relatively static, however the social process of acquiring knowledge is both dynamic and participatory.
The Wikipedians bond by working together to fill gaps in their collective knowledge thus continually testing and reaffirming the group’s social ties.
Collective intelligence places new emphasis upon diversity: the more diverse the participants, the richer the final outcome.
- Increased reliance on Wikipedia.
- These teachers worry that youth aren’t developing an appropriate level of skepticism about the kinds of information found on this particular site.
- There are legitimate concerns about the credibility of online information and the breakdown of traditional notions of expertise which should be debated
How to Combat These Criticisms
Much as educators responded to the debates in the 1990s about “political correctness” and multiculturalism by arguing that we should “teach the debate,” today’s educators should help young people to understand competing arguments about the value of Wikipedia. In this context, it is not enough to construct policies restricting the use of Wikipedia as a source if we don’t help foster the skills young people need in order to critically engage with a site which has become so central to their online lives.
This cynical perspective is the antithesis of what the educational experience strives to foster. It is informed skepticism and a sense of the power of communication as a form of action to transform and shape society that educators hope to impart to students.
The emphasis is on Informed Scepticism rather than being dismissive.
Describing it as an encyclopedia emphasizes Wikipedia as a product rather than focusing attention on the ongoing process by which its community pools information, debates what knowledge matters, and vets competing truth claims. Encyclopedias we have known in the past were depositories of an always already completed process of writing and research. Wikipedia is something different.
“When you first come to Wikipedia, it really seems like a collection of articles. It seems like a bunch of pages about different topics. Now when you talk to people who are very involved in Wikpedia, it becomes a collection of people who are carrying out a project….Wikipedia was a place where people were coming together to write about the world and figure out what’s true about the world and what kinds of facts are important to know about the world. These are the kinds of things I think students should be doing.” – Andrea Forte
“To the ordinary user, the turmoil and uncertainty that may lurk beneath the surface of a Wikipedia article are invisible. He or she arrives at a Wikipedia article via Google, perhaps, and sees that it is part of what claims to be an “encyclopedia”. This is a word that carries a powerful connotation of reliability. The typical user doesn’t know how conventional encyclopedias achieve reliability, only that they do.” – Robert McHenry
Wikipedia is simply one of a broad range of online activities that involve the collaborative and coordinated production and circulation of knowledge. Online games such as World of Warcraft and Diablo encourage people with very different skills to work together to meet challenges that are designed for this kind of coordinated activity; the community may develop its own mods and toolkits that help them to monitor and organize such large-scale activities. Fanfiction sites operate very similar.Through the varying online communities helps young people to think about their own roles as researchers and writers in new ways.
How Wikipedia Empowers
Warning Flags – The things at the top of a page eg. No references, In need of attention, expert required.
Talk Pages – A place where you can discuss and weigh in about the contents of a page.
Neutral Point of View – Means representing fairly, proportionately, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources. It is a fundamental principle of Wikipedia and is especially important when Wikipedia’s global status is taken into account.
Hyperlinks – Wikipedia taps the power of networked culture by providing hyperlinks where-ever possible; this makes it very easy for readers to return to the original source and weigh its evidence for themselves Eg. references at the bottom of the pages.
The academic skills and learning services of the Australian National University (ANU) recommend Wikipedia as a good starting point when investigating research questions. However it is advised that Wikipedia should not be cited in academic studies.
The ANU would only allow the citation of a Wikipedia source if a student is effectively able to demonstrate that the article has originated from an authoritative source, with an expert knowledge of a phenomenon.
As mentioned previously in the history of Wikipedia, the peer review process of articles on Nupedia was scraped and Wikipedia enabled any user to generate content which may be submitted to the online free encyclopedia.
The ANU values this contribution of Wikipedia as an online source suggesting that Wikipedia offers:
- Up to date entries on the most recent phenomenon or abstract issues
- A history of discussion of articles, which enables users to see how contributors have arrived at certain viewpoints.
While the ANU does support Wikipedia as an online source, as an academic source articles need to be treated with caution as:
- Entries are not specifically written by experts within the field
- Articles can have biased opinions based on a phenomenon. (eg My opinion of an issue that arises in society, may be different to that of anyone else’s opinion.)
- Some articles lack sufficient quality in information, Also information can be subject to error.
Overall as an open source of information Wikipedia is very convenient for gathering up knowledge on a particular subject or phenomenon. However as an academic source, Wikapedia may not be the best tool to cite information, and the better alternative is to adopt empirical research studies.
How many humanities and social science researchers are discussing, using and citing Wikipedia?
Lisa Spiro conducted a search into how many Wikipedia references were cited from two leading humanities and social sciences data journal collections. It became clear that there had been an increase in citations by humanities and social science researchers from Wikipedia from 2002 to 2008, which indicates the researchers acknowledge and engage with it. As we are told at university not to use Wikipedia to reference anything, it was surprising to read that Wikipedia was gaining respectability due to the well-known scholars that were citing it. However just because these well-known scholars are citing Wikipedia, surely it doesn’t mean it is a reliable source? Christine Borgman notes “Scholarly documents achieve trustworthiness through a social process to assure that the document satisfies the quality norms of the field”.
Researchers and scholars cite Wikipedia on a diverse range of topics as well as searching for images. Contemporary culture and Information technology were popular topics that many used Wikipedia to obtain information. User’s claim that mechanisms and information technology where among the most reliable content domains on Wikipedia given the high interest of such topics.
After analysing the findings of her research, Spiro came to her own conclusion that there were four main criticisms of Wikipedia. They included:
1: Research projects shouldn’t rely upon encyclopaedias.
2: Since Wikipedia is constantly undergoing revision, it is too unstable to cite.
3: You can’t trust Wikipedia because anyone, including folks with no expertise, strong biases or malicious intent, can contribute to it anonymously.
4: Wikipedia entries lack authority because there is no peer review.
Spiro also declares that Wikipedia’s appropriateness as an academic source depends on what is being cited and for what purpose. User’s should use critical judgement in analysing its reliability and appropriateness. Spiro doesn’t think there should be any shame is citing Wikipedia.
Among some ideas to help make Wikipedia a more reliable source, users think that contributors should be required to use their real name for verification. This would, to some extent, eliminate a number of false statements or accusations. Users also found that non-controversial topics were quite good on Wikipedia.
After reading other articles about whether or not Wikipedia should be cited, I found that there were many academics and scholars that believed that no encyclopaedias should be cited. They should just give you goof background information related to your studies.
‘Social Ties: Networking Together’ by Yochai Benkler was an examination of the effects of the internet on social relations. Benkler begins by describing the two different opposing views on how the internet would affect a person’s social relations. On one side of the argument people were really concerned that this new freedom would fray social ties and fragment social relations, in short a bit of a breakdown of the community, after all communication was the basis for all social relations. You couldn’t have meaningful relationships except by communicating with others, at a face to face level. This dystopian view was particularly strong in the 1990’s when the internet was just starting out.
The other view believed that these new ‘virtual communities’ of the internet would come to represent a new human communal existence, providing more opportunities and ways of sharing human interaction. This emphasis was on ensuring a utopian view, leading to greater equality for all through this proprietary information notion. The more information some one has, the greater the power they hold.
Benkler examined a few studies and papers in order to better understand the effects of the internet on social relations. In Mark Granovetter’s study it was suggested that the kind of human contact that was built around online interactions was thinner and less meaningful. Mark referred to these online relations as being ‘weak ties’ that have been created based on a similar interest or practice. Howard Rheingold’s book ‘The Virtual Community’ also showed similar findings, Rheingold’s observations on online behaviour and computer mediated communication proposed that online relationships are more limited in nature than relationship ties to family and friends and if given the freedom to design our own communications environment flexibly, we would create a system that allows us to strengthen the ties that are the most important to us.
With the internet it doesn’t necessarily make us more social beings, it simply allows us more degrees of freedom. As human beings we have a tendency to do more of what is easier to do than what requires great effort. Peer production helped make this possible, it offered a new platform for human connection. While it might seem easy and simple, things such as free downloadable software and Wikipedia, actually take a lot of people working together, sharing their ideas with each other, all around the world. It is through these purposes and interests that bring these unconnected individuals together, with whom they interact with, work with and eventually allow a social relationship to thicken over time. The internet allows us to extend networks across space, compress time and alter our experience of proximity. Thus communities are always revolving and changing.
Wikipedia is a great source for first bases of knowledge, however with Wikipedia it invites youth to imagine what it might mean to consider themselves as experts on some small corner of the universe. As they collect and communicate what they know, they are forced to think of themselves writing to a public. This is no longer about finding the right answer to get a grade on an assignment but producing credible information that others can count upon when they deploy it in some other real world context.
Wikipedia assumes an active reader who asks questions about the factual claims presented, the evidence supporting the claims and the sources that were consulted.
There are 6 questions that need to be asked when thinking about the media literacy movement and Wikipedia.
1. Who made and who sponsored this message, and for what purpose?
2. Who is the target audience, and how is the message specifically tailored to them?
3. What are the different techniques used to inform, persuade, entertain, and attract attention?
4. What messages are communicated or implied?
5. How current, accurate, and credible is the information in this message?
6. What is left out of this message that might be important to know?
If you keep all this in the back of your mind then Wikipedia is the site for you!
Q. Has anyone in the audience viewed the history of the discussion section in Wikipedia with regards to how contributors came to their conclusions when writing the article? If so do you believe that their contribution’s are reliable source of information? If not, would you investigate this feature of Wikipedia for research purposes?
Q. Do you personally believe that online relationships can be possible replacements for real world human connections or even possibly more beneficial?