And what has been surprising in students’ attitudes toward Wikipedia? Though my evidence is anecdotal, in the years of teaching with Wikipedia I have found almost no difference in the range of opinions about Wikipedia held by student writers and those held by their – mostly – older teachers. I find that roughly the same proportion of people have concerns about reliability, open access, and information literacy among students and faculty, just as I find roughly the same number of enthusiastic adopters among teachers and students. But when I query reluctant students about how and where they formed their negative opinions about Wikipedia, they usually point to a classroom environment where they were penalized for using it as a source. They almost never have had an experience which encouraged them to move from simply using Wikipedia to writing for it. As we move from seeing Wikipedia as only a resource to an online intellectual community, students are more than ready to accompany us.
Are We Ready to Use Wikipedia to Teach Writing?, March 12, 2009, Robert E. Cummings
The case against Wikipedia, like too many things in academia, is more than a little specious, often dependent on a kind of willful ignorance. I knew a professor once who hated Wikipedia so much that he learned to post to it, just so that he could put in false information.
He’d then give his students a simple research task, knowing that most would go to Wikipedia and get the false information he had planted. When they told him what they had found, he’d go, “A HA! You went to Wikipedia didn’t you!” He had nothing to teach, just “don’t use Wikipedia.”
Cummings presents a clear outline of why this sort of thing– besides the ethical implications– represents a wasted opportunity in several directions. Most importantly, it misses a chance to teach students about writing, the production of knowledge, and audiences, among other things.
It also misses the opportunity to continue to develop Wikipedia as both an source of knowledge and a community of writers and knowledge builders. I think some students might find this process so compelling they would become committed Wikipedians. That’s a social good in itself.
I think, though, that Cummings (and the rest of us technology and writing lovers) have to go further than developing arguments in favor of new writing forms. We need an entire range of critical judgments that would allow us to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I think someone like Cummings should write a piece called, “Why I Don’t Have Students Compose Videos in First Year Writing,” or “Why I Don’t Think Twitter is Appropriate in Advanced Composition.” We don’t have to agree on every point, of course, but we need the debate if we are ever going to defeat the Luddites.