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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wikipedia





Wikipedia is described as the largest free encyclopaedia, having recently surpassed the 3 million article milestone (Parrack, 2009). What is truly unique about Wikipedia is that not only is it freely accessible, it is also freely editable. Dave Parrack (2009) claims 1300 new articles are created each day, having decreased from about 2200 during the peak growth year of 2007. He reports that Wikipedia now hosts in excess of 3 million articles.
Wikipedia is not without critics. Criticism levelled at the online encyclopaedia include suggestions that its ease of editing makes in unreliable and unauthoritative, that it exhibits systemic bias and that its group dynamics hinders its goals (Wapedia, nd). Reliability assessments examine the speed at which false or misleading information is removed, however in a widely reported case it was shown to have taken Wikipedia administrators considerable time to rectify serious errors in information that falsely defamed an individual. Systemic bias is considered based on the possibility that overrepresented opinion by particular racial, ethnic or gender groups could unconsciously, or not, alter or skew the opinions expressed within the encyclopaedia. Group dynamics describe processes which include amongst other things social influence, and effects on behaviour. Social status of people within groups is well researched and it is usual to find the group leader having a strong influence on the group. Criticism has been levelled at co-founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales as having an undemocratic level of control over final content and Brent Bedford (nd) suggests protocols set in place by Wikipedia obscure the fact that Wales has the final say.

Regardless of the criticisms, Wikipedia is here to stay. What is important for me as a learning manager is to assist students to understand and apply critical literacy skills when undertaking investigations. Kahn & Kellner, (2006) suggest that for students to fully participate in an increasingly globalised and technologised society they must learn where authentic knowledge is found, how to recognise and distinguish between authentic information, misinformation, malinformation, commercially biased information and other forms of useless information and they suggest students need to be able to recognise gaps in information and understand why such information may be missing or absent. These are the skills required by students to enable them to critically evaluate and interpret information.

Bedford, B. (nd). What is Wikipedia? [electronic resource]. Retrieved August 19, 2009 from http://www.larouchepac.com/node/5215
Kahn, R. And Kellner, D. (2006). Reconstructing Technoliteracy: a multiple literacies approach. E-learning, 2 (3), 238-251
Parrack, D. (2009). Wikipedia celebrates three million articles milestone. [electronic resource]. Retrieved August 19, 2009 from http://tech.blorge.com/Structure:%20/2009/08/18/wikipedia-celebrates-three-million-articles-milestone/

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