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