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