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