20.087 student use of Wikipedia

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 06:53:45 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 87.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Norman Gray <norman_at_astro.gla.ac.uk> (45)
         Subject: Re: 20.084 student use of Wikipedia?

   [2] From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca> (50)
         Subject: Re: 20.084 student use of Wikipedia? Tonkawa texts?

   [3] From: "Bleck, Brad" <BradB_at_spokanefalls.edu> (15)
         Subject: RE: 20.084 student use of Wikipedia?

   [4] From: Robert Cummings <rec_at_uga.edu> (59)
         Subject: draft policy statement on student use of Wikipedia

   [5] From: Joseph Jones <jjones_at_interchange.ubc.ca> (27)
         Subject: Re: 20.084 student use of Wikipedia?

         Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 06:46:46 +0100
         From: Norman Gray <norman_at_astro.gla.ac.uk>
         Subject: Re: 20.084 student use of Wikipedia?


In Humanist 20.084, Alan Liu wrote:


Excellent advice.

> (c) Students should be aware that Wikipedia is a dynamic,
>mutating resource. Even if it is appropriate to cite it as a
>reference, the
>citation is meaningless unless it includes the date on which the
>page was
>accessed (which would allow a reader to use the Wikipedia "history"
>to look up the specific version of the article being referenced).
>Wikipedia articles on some topics change so frequently (even to the
>of vandals "reverting" to earlier scandalous misinformation) that a
>should include the exact hour of access.

There's a more concrete alternative. Every Wikipedia page includes a
`Cite this article' link in the `toolbox' on the left. That page
gives advice for citing Wikipedia articles in a variety of citation
styles, and including mentioning the date and time of the citation,
but more importantly it includes a link to a _specific version_ of a
Wikipedia page.

Thus <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanities> is the URL for (the
current version of) the article on the humanities, but <http://
en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Humanities&oldid=60830095> is and
will remain a link to the version of that page that was current when
I looked at it five minutes ago, irrespective of any edits,
reversions, or wars that subsequently take place over its contents.

Incidentally, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Humanist_Internet_Discussion_Group> exists, but redirects to a page
about the `Council of Australian Humanist Societies', which in
passing refers to a Humanist list which is not _the_ Humanist list.
It might be worth adjusting (no: fixing) that, and if so, editing the
page <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanist> to be a `disambiguation
page', rather than a redirect to `Humanism', as it is now [I'll
volunteer to do the editing if a volunteer is needed].

Best wishes,


------------------------------------------------------------------------ ----
Norman Gray  /  http://nxg.me.uk
eurovotech.org  /  University of Leicester, UK
         Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 06:47:12 +0100
         From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca>
         Subject: Re: 20.084 student use of Wikipedia? Tonkawa texts?
I think this advise is quite useful. However, while the main focus here is
Wikipedia, the instructions really do apply for most online sources of
information.   For instance,
On Point #1
    "Boing Boing" is also not appropriate as a primary or sole reference.  For
that matter, _Humanist_ might not be as well.   ( technical point:  I wonder if
the word "primary" could result in confusion about "primary" vs "secondary"
sources.   It seems to makes sense through context, but I have never ceased to
be amazed at how communications can break down on the tiniest issues.)
On Point #2
    Any website is a mutating source.  The only difference is that the mutation
for wikipedia (and other trackback/archive-based sources) is transparent and
profs are more empowered to nab students on them.  Ok.  The mutations are also
more rapid and more vast.  And they may fluctuate from the authoritative to the
absolutely ridiculous.  And the lines of accountability are less
obvious.   BUt dates are standard for most citations though.   But I
assume you mean that
overlooking dates in a citation for most sources is a technical error while
losing the date for a wikipedia argument is a critical error/oversight?
Additional remark:
I guess my big thing is that evaluating any source of information is important.
I can understand that wikipedia is a particular issue for universities right
now, but it is equally possible that 10 years down the line, students will have
some new confounded thing to make a mess of their (or the appearance of their)
critical thinking.
And the biggest issue is to tell students to listen to that voice in their head
that's saying "you should probably spend another half-an-hour to check on the
quality of your research (and writing and data collecting and citation and
grammar and paper organization etc.).   The challenge for many of them are 1)
how do they check those sources 2) and how do they not take 6 hours to do the
1/2 hour job.   Libraries should be helping here.
Ryan. . .
 >          (1) As in the case of any encyclopedia, Wikipedia is not 
 >as the primary or sole reference for anything that is central to an
 >argument, complex, or controversial.  "Central to an argument" means that
 >the topic in question is crucial for the paper. (For example, a paper
 >_about_ Shakespeare or postmodernism cannot rely on an encyclopedia article
 >on those topics.)  "Complex" means anything requiring analysis, critical
 >thought, or evaluation.  (For example, it is not persuasive to cite an
 >encyclopedia on "spirituality.")  "Controversial" means anything that
 >requires listening to the original voices in a debate because no consensus
 >or conventional view has yet emerged.  (For example, cite an encyclopedia on
 >the historical facts underlying a recent political election, but not on the
 >meaning or trends indicated by that election.)
 >          2) Wikipedia has special limitations because it is an online
encyclopedia written by a largely unregulated, worldwide, and often
anonymous community of contributors.  The principle of "many-eyes" policing
upon which Wikipedia depends for quality-control (that is, many people
looking at and correcting articles) works impressively well in many cases.
Ryan Deschamps
         Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 06:47:48 +0100
         From: "Bleck, Brad" <BradB_at_spokanefalls.edu>
         Subject: RE: 20.084 student use of Wikipedia?
I don't have my statement about student use of wikipedia on hand, but
what it amounts to is that students may cite wikipedia if they
desire, but that citation does not count toward the minimum number of
sources required for a particular writing assignment. I also require
a minimum of traditional sources (meaning print-based journal
sources, though they may come from a library database; I'm at a
community college and we don't have the resources in hard copy that
students have at larger, better financed institutuions) and a maximum
number of web-based sources, and also distinguish between
authoritative web-based sources and junk (same with hard-copy
sources). Such distinctions seem central to the teaching of writing
and research today.
Bradley Bleck
Spokane Falls CC
         Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 06:48:40 +0100
         From: Robert Cummings <rec_at_uga.edu>
         Subject: draft policy statement on student use of Wikipedia
Dear Willard and List:
I sent the following repsonse to Alan Liu, and he sent the
attached reply, and so I send both on to the list herewith.
Dear Alan Liu:
My name is Bob Cummings, and I am currrently researching
Wikipedia and its use in the college classroom as part of my
dissertation research at the University of Georgia. I just
read your Humanist post.
I have several thoughts which I hope to post to the broader
discussion in Humanist. The first is that my research with
students writing in Wikipedia as a part of English Composition
has demonstrated that students who have a developed
appreciation for Wikipedia's strengths and weaknesses, similar
to the very ones you list in your statement, enjoy more
success in writing for Wikipedia.
Secondly, I would offer that your statement doesn't -- in
this iteration, at least -- seem to have much appreciation for
Wikipedia as a writing and researching opportunity for our
students. In many ways, Wikipedia creates knowledge in the
same tradition as the academy: contested truth claims are
debated with the hope of either finding consensus, or at least
mapping out irreconcilable positions. My experience asking
student writers to participate in Wikipedia's knowledge
creation process requires them to develop topical expertise
and a healthy sense of ethos. But results are often mixed, due
in large part to the very misconceptions of authority  that
you outline in your statement. Thus, once students develop
this appropriate sense of Wikipedia's  epistemological
strengths and weaknesses they not only have  an improved sense
of the value of peer-reviewed knowledge, but also contribute
to Wikipedia more effectively, becoming active scholars as a
part of their scholarly training.
Bob Cummings
Dear Bob,
          Thanks for your thoughtful response, which in large part I
agree with.  (I just finished teaching a course in which the
class built a site together using the MediaWiki software, and
in which they also studied Wikipedia.  See
http://liu.english.ucsb.edu/wiki1/)  However, I don't think
that the topic of your message (which you should really post
to Humanist, since the issues you raise are excellent) is
exactly the same as the topic of my draft statement on
Wikipedia.  My statement has the more limited goal of
addressing students simply using Wikipedia for other work as
if it were a stable print resource, not students who might be
taught to be critical readers and co-producers of knowledge by
participating in Wikipedia.  You may be right, though, that my
statement on Wikipedia in the classroom should really be
accompanied by a supplementary statement that interprets
"Wikipedia in the classroom" in your way (where Wikipedia in
essence becomes the classroom).  Perhaps you might post on
Humanist a kind of RFC 2 statement (which I suppose would be
addressed not to the student but to the instructor,
encouraging constructive and experimental use of Wikipedia in
          P. S. Feel free to include my response if you repost your
message to Humanist.
         Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 06:49:04 +0100
         From: Joseph Jones <jjones_at_interchange.ubc.ca>
         Subject: Re: 20.084 student use of Wikipedia?
Two comments on:
           Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 06:53:32 +0100
           From: "Alan Liu" <ayliu_at_english.ucsb.edu>
                              student use of Wikipedia
Statement from draft policy:
The best such sources are those that have been refereed ("peer-reviewed" by
other scholars before acceptance for publication, which is the case for most
scholarly journals and books) or, in the case of current events,
journalistic or other resources that are relatively authoritative in their
Qualify this absolute statement.  Perhaps insert the word "often"?
(The best such sources are often those that have been refereed... )
Think only of that famous groundshattering article published a while
back in Social Text.
Statement from draft policy:
(a) Wikipedia is currently an uneven resource.
All encyclopedias are uneven resources, some more uneven than others.
Even one single-author academic article is an uneven resource.  No
aura of authority can substitute for critical use of any source
Joseph Jones
Received on Fri Jun 30 2006 - 02:14:51 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Fri Jun 30 2006 - 02:14:52 EDT