A nice column in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Lee Gomes that rightly points out that the best part of Wikipedia are the discussions that occur behind the entries themselves. This is my experience too, these days:
Reading these discussion pages is a vastly rewarding, slightly addictive experience—so much so that it’s become my habit to first check out the discussion before going to the article proper.
Maybe because I’ve always been interested in the craft of writing, but I’m curious to see what the sticking points are in the construction of the article. How are people negotiating the facts and the bias that they see? Who do they accede to? When does debate end? As I find myself creating more and more collaborative pieces of writing (Google Docs and Google Notebooks in particular) I find the process to be very different from the writing I normally do. And I keep thinking what a necessary part of the writing process this type of negotiation is going to be as we collaborate more and more on wikis and documents and videos and whatever else. When I ask teachers whether their students are writing employing truly collaborative practices (not simply “cooperative”) and whether they are writing either alone or together in hypertext environments (which I also believe is a part of writing literacy these days), blank stares usually ensue.
Teaching Wikipedia gives us the opportunity to do both, especially if we tune into those back channel conversations.
Gomes includes some interesting examples and statistics:
- The 9,500 word article “Ireland,” for example spawned a 10,000 word discussion about whether “Republic of Ireland” would be a better name for the piece.
- Wikipedia editors have spent 242,000 words trying to define “Truth.”
- Here’s a quote from one entry: “I am not sure that it does not present an entirely Eurocentric view, nor can I see that it is sourced sufficiently well so as to be reliable.” That from the discussion on “Kittens.”
- And ironically, if you search for the word “Discussion” you are sent to the word “Debate” where the discussion page includes a debate over whether “discussion” and “debate” are synonymous.
More reason why I still think Wikipedia is one of the most important sites on the Web right now for educators to fully get their brains around.
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