• August 28, 2015

Episode 72: Wikipedia's Co-Founder Calls for Better Information Literacy

Jimmy Wales

The Wikimedia Foundation

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The Wikimedia Foundation

Jimmy Wales, a co-founder of Wikipedia, sits down with the Tech Therapy team to discuss the best—and worst—ways to use the online encyclopedia in teaching and research. And he challenges traditional newspapers to adopt some of Wikipedia's practices. Click here to download this recording.


1. jaysanderson - June 09, 2010 at 08:33 pm

Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information.

Michael Scott
Scranton, PA

2. dank48 - June 10, 2010 at 08:22 am

Absolutely. And the information has been given the best possible editing, utterly free of corporate interference.

For example, when Disney released Up! on DVD without bothering to add closed captioning, I was sufficiently ticked to mention that fact in the section of the Wikipedia article on Disney problems over the years. The addition was gone in less than an hour. When I added it back in, it disappeared again with equal rapidity.

So, if you trust corporations, trust Wikipedia, or any other internet entity.

Dan Kirklin

3. uconnche - June 10, 2010 at 08:38 am

Not all historians are interested in vandalizing Wikipedia. We haven't been making up fictitious pirates in my class; we have been improving articles on pirates by citing peer-reviewed sources.

You may see samples from past semesters here:
http://pirates.uconn.edu > click on a previous semester in the pane on the left side of the page. The students post a bibliography and seek to improve the quality of Wikipedia.

Steven Park
University of Connecticut

4. cwittig - June 10, 2010 at 09:10 am

Helping students evaluate resources, teaching information literacy skills and how to think critically about the sources and types of information you're using...wow, these all sound like what librarians are doing in schools and universitites every day...

Carol Wittig
Richmond, VA

5. cleverclogs - June 10, 2010 at 09:24 am

Back in 2005, Nature looked at the reliability of Wikipedia vs. Britanica and found that it stacked up pretty well (http://news.cnet.com/Study-Wikipedia-as-accurate-as-Britannica/2100-1038_3-5997332.html). Wikipedia has since worked to improve its reliability. I have personally found the pages that have to do with my specialization to be very complete, accurate and fair. And it's free. When Britannica decides information should be free and cites all its sources, I'll give it another look.

I have long suspected that many academics dislike Wikipedia because it doesn't solicit them to write articles the way Britannica et al do, and because it goes against the ingrained "individualistic" and "competitive" streaks that are generally considered to be part of the academic personality.

6. larrym - June 10, 2010 at 09:33 am

I have made one view available in my article, Lawrence J. Mykytiuk, “Wikipedia: Unreliable Source, Useful Heuristic Tool.” SBL Forum 5, no. 1 (January 2007; posted 21 December 2006): 4 pages. Available: http://www.sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=612 .

7. jbslibrary1 - June 10, 2010 at 10:13 am

How do colleges deal with this? Can't believe the Tech Therapists did not say colleges have librarians who teach information literacy. IT people? They are not the ones who teach students about finding and evaluating information. Librarians do this, working with faculty, just as Carol says in her comment.

8. sdorley - June 10, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I assume that the statement that "anyone in the world can write anything they want about a subject . . . so you know you are getting the best possible information" is tongue-in-cheek. It's certainly what some of my students think. Not really so. You can get what people "think" is information but has not been validated. There are several places on Wikipedia that say "needs citation." What do we do about that type of information? Just believe it because it's in Wikipedia? Well, that 's what my students do.

The other problem with Wikipedia is that it's lazy research. Students just run to it and do not bother to learn how to research fully and completely. It's a great source for people who just want to know something about the subject. But all too often students believe it's the 'be all and end all' of academic research. They don't know how to use a database. They don't know how to find scholarly articles--articles that may disagree with posted ideas. They don't know how to judge the quality and veracity of information for which they have no background. If it's in Wikipedia, they just believe it and cite it.

9. miche - June 10, 2010 at 12:21 pm

In response to some of the comments above -- all of us, in any role at our institutions -- can play a part in helping students learn how to " judge the quality and veracity of information ". This is the core of academic life (for us and for students) and we should seek out ways to teach this in any setting we can...libraries, classrooms, writing centers, etc.

I have lately been impressed by the ways students can work with Wikipedia...to learn how to collaborate, to learn econonmy and power of textual information, and to learn what it means to build knowledge. Getting students to work WITH Wikipedia is a good step away from their simply using it for a quick answer.

For anyone who would like to read more about utilizing Wikipedia in teaching and learning, don't miss this contribution to Hacking the Academy (www.hackingtheacademy.org): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Awadewit/TeachingEssay

10. ambicatus - June 10, 2010 at 01:42 pm

It is absolutely staggering that wikipedia is heralded as anything but a tool for controlling an ignorant populace. Whatever noble intentions might exist in crafting an entry are almost instantly obliterated by ignorant, self-interested, and woefully uninformed editors who include false data, blatant error, or politically/financially motivated blather. I condemn wikipedia and fail my students for using it.

11. prof_truthteller - June 10, 2010 at 02:02 pm

WIRED magazine posted an interesting article on recent research,by Gary Small, summarized as: "When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain." (see WIRED 18.06, http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/05/ff_nicholas_carr/)
Which problematic phenomena Jimmy Wales, of course, does not address and does not seem concerned about in the least. I teach using Wikipedia in every class- as a way to do "lazy research," (lazy not being by definition, bad) as a way to get started, get ideas, see what others are talking about, assess the topic for it's potential usefulness for a major research treatment, get some links out to various sources, etc. The problem is, people won't go any further and I think it's partly due to the shallowness and the cursory nature of "surfing" the Internet. And of course, as others have noted, LIBRARIANS

12. prof_truthteller - June 10, 2010 at 02:09 pm

Librarians have been teaching this for DECADES and who pays any attention to them? but when some TECH person speaks up and repeats THEIR scholarship and practice, everybody is in awe. Classist bias. Also not mentioned is the issue of how do people get paid for this work. Even in the neighborhood where people pick up litter every day, they still have to pay someone to haul off the garbage. Britannica, and other online fee-based systems, cost money for a reason. The knowledge worker wants to get paid just like the factory worker wanted to get paid. The Nature study, cited by another comment, noted that there were several valuable advantages of the Britannica articles over the Wikipedia articles, including consistency due to editorial oversight, and the organization and structure of the individual articles as well as of the whole.

13. awadewit - June 10, 2010 at 05:25 pm

Wikipedia has such a wide range of quality and quotes such a wide-range of sources, that it is a wonderful way to teach source analysis. If you want to teach students how to do good research, you have to explain the benefits and drawbacks of different kinds of sources, not just lament their poor skills.

14. cervantes57 - June 10, 2010 at 05:57 pm

I'm like, so glad that JaySAnderson posted Michael Scott's comments, which came right out of his ... office. But I'm sure we all will benefit from seeing Michael pronouncing these immortal words in YouTube:

I play it all the time for my students before they embark in doing their homework!!!

15. cervantes57 - June 10, 2010 at 05:58 pm

Here's the link, which got erased from the previous posting:

www dot youtube dot com/watch?v=kFBDn5PiL00

16. kgschneider - June 10, 2010 at 07:15 pm

"Wikipedia has such a wide range of quality and quotes such a wide-range of sources, that it is a wonderful way to teach source analysis." Exactly!

And two thumbs down to the overawed Chron reporters who seem oblivious to the roles librarians play in information literacy in, let's see, hmmm, every single institute of higher ed.

17. hyunjungbae - June 11, 2010 at 12:38 am

I am so glad to hear this conversation. People who make these can think critically. That is an enormous relief. Even better, young people are not necessarily 'know' how to use the powerful new tool. They need old folks for the tacit knowledge. This is great. Now, I have to tell my students this.... hm.

18. agell - June 11, 2010 at 10:23 am

A more current response to whether or not technology creates "cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning" comes in today's NYTimes Op-Ed by Steven Pinker (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/opinion/11Pinker.html) which begins with -- "NEW forms of media have always caused moral panics" -- and ends with this:

"The new media have caught on for a reason. Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and waking hours are not. Fortunately, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales, from Twitter and previews to e-books and online encyclopedias. Far from making us stupid, these technologies are the only things that will keep us smart."

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