Why Wikipedia
 

I chose to focus this project on Wikipedia because it is the vanguard of what “Silicone Valley consultants” are calling Web 2.0, the revolution of user-generated content and material on the Internet (Grossman, 2006).  Wikipedia is also familiar if not omnipresent in my life and the lives of my students.  The students in my classes are already using Wikipedia in their research, with mixed success.  It is also significant that I am an avid Wikipedia user.  To be clear I consult far more than I contribute, but regardless Wikipedia is an important part of my personal Internet use.  A recurring trend in the literature on technology implementation in the classroom is that teachers must be comfortable and adept with the technologies they are introducing to students.  I am no expert, but my familiarity and interest in Wikipedia is an important foundation for this unit. 

 

What is more, Wikipedia is a theoretically compelling entity.  The principles that undergird the Wikipedia project are similar to the values that support the learning environment I wish to create.  There are five “pillars” that define the Wikipedia community; these are listed on the “Help” page and are also posted as their own self-contained entry (“Five Pillars,” 2006).  The first of these tenets establishes Wikipedia as an information-based entity, i.e., “an encyclopedia incorporating elements of general encyclopedias, specialized encyclopedias, and almanacs.  All articles must follow our no original research policy and strive for accuracy.”  The second pillar presents Wikipedia’s position on neutrality, “we strive for articles that advocate no single point of view.”  The third pillar explains that Wikipedia is free and can be edited by anyone, with regard to copyright and intellectual property concerns this means that “all text is available under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) and may be distributed or linked accordingly.”  The fourth principle supports the community standards, for there is a “code of conduct” and it is expected that Wikipedians (users and contributors of all stripes) maintain respect and openness.  The final pillar may seem foolish to some, but it is essential: “Wikipedia does not have firm rules besides the five general principles elucidated here;” Wikipedia is inherently dynamic.

 

A number of things stand out to me about Wikipedia in principle and in practice.  Wikipedia is grounded in community and in the belief that share knowledge is in and of itself of value.  Since anyone can contribute and edit and no one individual’s knowledge is privileged there is a certain democratic tendency in this community.  Wikipedia resists being labeled as “an experiment in democracy” (“Five Pillars,” 2006).  Still, there is a definite move away from sanctified hierarchies of expertise and in inherent commitment to making knowledge collective.  Wikipedia is also grounded in the understanding that knowledge is dynamic and interdependent.  As an encyclopedic body of knowledge, Wikipedia’s content is ever changing and also interconnected through organizational categories and hyperlinks.  Finally, the emphasis on even-handed arbitration in matters of conflict is also a defining feature of the Wikipedia community.  It is up to Wikipedia users to maintain Wikipedia’s neutrality and accuracy; the structures that support this self-governing community emphasize the respectful and open-minded collaboration.

 

There are ways in which these principles parallel the constructivist and sociocultural theories of learning.  Wikipedia assumes that 1) all users have something to contribute, 2) communities can moderate themselves, and 3) knowledge is best constructed collaboratively.  These principles translate to a classroom where 1) students’ prior knowledge and areas of expertise are validated, 2) students are given autonomy and direct the inquiry, and 3) students learn cooperatively.

 

References

 

Grossman, L. (2006, December 25).  Time's Person of the Year: You.  Time, 168 (26).  Retrieved December 16, 2006 from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1569514,00.html.

 

Wikipedia: Five Pillars.  (2006, December 14).  In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  Retrieved December 19, 2006, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Five_pillars. 

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