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My life as a Wikipedian

By Lisa Neal / March 2007

TYPE: OPINION
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In her reflections on procrastination for eLearn Magazine, Claire Gill draws a clear distinction between issues associated with completing individual versus group projects. Group projects are different, she writes, because a resulting site might "suffer from my missing content." I took that notion to heart and decided that I could no longer allow the world to suffer from my missing content.

I had noticed that Wikipedia did not have an entry on Online Health Communities and resolved to write one. As perhaps the only person in the world teaching a course on this topic (at Tufts University School of Medicine), I am certainly qualified to write on it. I really didn't know what to expect: Would my content expertise be enough? That didn't seem likely. But then, Wikipedia is the place where "anyone" can contribute-or was, before those recent, high-profile instances of vandalism forced Wikipedia to tighten rules for contributors. As a result, I spent weeks trying to keep my entry posted despite its seemingly automatic (and less than friendly) "flagged for deletion" status.

Even before Wikipedia's recent problems, there was no shortage of related encyclopedic controversy. "Is it accurate?" ask the site's critics. But some say that Wikipedia's negative press derives in part from the challenges it represents to traditional media and old-world "official" sources. A peer-review comparison of Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica reported in Nature found an average of 2.92 mistakes per article for Britannica, and 3.86 for Wikipedia. Overall, Wikipedia has earned a phenomenal reputation, especially for how current it stays, and for how widely it is used as a reference.

The new rules for contributors require that anyone creating or editing an entry must register so that all changes can be tracked and identified. But in an effort to further protect Wikipedia's integrity-and prevent problems like "vanity pages"-all new entries are (apparently) tagged for removal. I immediately felt like I was sparring with unseen demons. Were they bots or real people? And what could I do about it?

I added a justification, and tried to "wikify" the entry, which involved adding references and reformatting the text. Next I enlisted assistance: I contacted one of the many Wikipedia volunteers, called Wikipedians, for help with formatting, and I contacted my students to review my entry. I asked them to add to it since they were now very knowledgeable (grades, however, were already in; I should have asked earlier). Even though the deletion flag was eventually removed, I nervously checked almost every day. Thankfully, the page is still there.

What did I learn? Volunteer policing is highly effective; volunteers can be very helpful to "newbies"; and as the creator of a page I am now a Wikipedian. My friends are very impressed that I created a new entry, but none is following in my footsteps even though TIME Magazine's named "you" as Person of the Year .

I wonder if Encyclopedia Britannica wants my help now.



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ADDITIONAL READING

    Lisa Neal
  1. Q&A
  2. Storytelling at a distance
  3. Talk to me
  4. Q&A with Diana Laurillard
  5. Online learning and fun
  6. Everything in moderation
  7. eLearning and fun
  8. The basics of e-learning
  9. Is it live or is it Memorex?
  10. Five Questions... for John Seely Brown
  11. 5 questions... for Richard E. Mayer
  12. Five questions...for Elliott Masie
  13. Five questions...for Lynn Johnston
  14. Five questions…for Matt DuPlessie
  15. Do it yourself
  16. Predictions for 2004
  17. Degrees by mail
  18. The Value of Voice
  19. Predictions for 2006
  20. Five questions...for Shigeru Miyagawi
  21. Five questions...
  22. Five questions...for Larry Prusack
  23. Five questions...for Karl M. Kapp
  24. Music lessons
  25. Learn to apologize for fun and profit
  26. Advertising or education?
  27. Of web hits and Britney Spears
  28. Predictions for 2008
  29. Serious games for serious topics
  30. Back to the future
  31. Predictions For 2003
  32. "Spot Learning"
  33. When will e-learning reach a tipping point?
  34. Q&A with Saul Carliner
  35. Five questions...for Seb Schmoller
  36. Do distance and location matter in e-learning?
  37. Why do our K-12 schools remain technology-free?
  38. "Deep" thoughts
  39. The stripper and the bogus online degree
  40. Five questions...for Tom Carey
  41. Learner on the Orient Express
  42. Five (or six) questions...for Irene McAra-McWilliam
  43. How to get students to show up and learn
  44. Blended conferences
  45. Predictions for 2002
  46. Learning from e-learning
  47. Q&A with Don Norman
  48. In search of simplicity
  49. Five Questions...for Christopher Dede
  50. Want better courses?
  51. Designing usable, self-paced e-learning courses
  52. Just "DO IT"
  53. Senior service
  54. Formative evaluation
  55. Blogging to learn and learning to blog
  56. Predictions for 2007
  57. Not all the world's a stage