I was involved in a very interesting audio conference last night, sponsored by Language Lab Unleashed, titled “The Great Wikipedia Debate.” The event was spurred by some national press regarding Middlebury College’s Department of History announcement that it would not permit students to cite Wikipedia as a reference, and the conference included Don Wyatt (chair of the Department of History at Middlebury College), Elizabeth Colantoni (Professor of Classics at Oberlin College), Laura Blankenship (Senior Instructional Technologist at Bryn Mawr), and Bryan Alexander (Director of Research at NITLE).
You are able to download an audio archive of the event on the site, which is supposed to made available 48 hours after the event, so perhaps by this weekend it will be available.
It was a thoughtful discussion, focusing on the appropriate role of academia in its relation to Wikipedia. There is a case to be made, in my view, of permitting–even encouraging the use of Wikipedia for academic use, but being more careful in allowing it to be cited as the source, if a citation is supposed to indicate reviewed authority.
During our discussion, Bryan Alexander went a step further in embracing Wikipedia and made the interesting proposal that professors have almost an ethical obligation to engage in Wikipedia and improving entries they are knowledgeable about to help make it better; however Professor Wyatt wondered if professors would take the time to engage in activities that did not help advance their careers.
I learned of a brand new version of Wikipedia just launched this week called Citizendium,
a just launched effort that attempts to introduce more accountability into a user created online encyclopedia by prohibiting anonymity and providing what it terms “gentle expert oversight”. So far it is a very small effort with just 1,100 articles.
But it looks a whole lot promising than the also recently launched Conservapedia, which is supposed to be an alternative to what Conservapedia’s founders felt was a liberal bias to Wikipedia. It’s not even necessary though to get into the extremely questionable merits of a politically conservative online encyclopedia like this (a “fair and balanced” version of information for the Web?); it’s enough to look at some of the atrocious quality of so many of Conservapedia’s entries on its own merits to see that this site is not worth one’s time.