Wikipedia: Poster Child for Web 2.0

(Originally published April 28, 2006 at

This is not an article debating the pros and cons of Wikipedia. Instead, it is a commentary on new models and how we must adjust our teaching and learning styles to be effective contributors to the collective intelligence being built via web services.

Paul Graham, essayist, programmer, and programming language designer, stresses the role of democracy in the new wave of web applications and services. He states that Wikipedia is good enough for most people and the fact that it is free means people actually use it – which they do, in very large numbers. So, rather than berate and debate the quality, let’s develop a strategy to make it better and become active participants in the vetting of content.

Teaching Students About Wikipedia

I recently gave a presentation for school librarians on Web 2.0 services and social networking. I thought the sessions went well but I was shocked to hear later that my comments were quite controversial. Many feel the Internet is filled with poor information and believe the problem is worsening with the movement to user-generated and edited content. To illustrate the short-comings of Wikipedia, one librarian works with students who are evaluating accuracy of information. Her class exercise is to post erroneous information on Wikipedia. Their class discovered that the wrong information could be posted although eventually was corrected by another Wikipedia contributor. However, in that time span between edits, the erroneous information was available for anyone to consume. Most in the session thought this was an interesting class exercise.

Hold on! In my opinion, this is akin to graffiti on the newly painted bathroom wall and has the potential to affect far more people. Does anyone else see the lost opportunity here and the destructive message this sends to students? Even as an experiment, why would we ever encourage or allow our students to post erroneous information? As citizens of the net and members of the information democracy, we have an obligation to contribute in a positive way. We must teach our children and students to be responsible with information sharing. Please don’t follow the learning model above, instead, let me suggest another approach.

To effectively teach how to use Wikipedia, find an article which is under protection. Protected pages are those which have been vandalized or have some content debate that needs to be discussed by contributors. Look for this message on the top of a Wikipedia page to determine if it is in protected mode:

The page on Kashmir is currently in protected state. Once you find a page that represents a meaningful topic to your students, evaluate the content on the page, comparing it to content derived from other sources. Then, review the page revision history and follow the discussion to understand the source of controversy.

Teach the Process; Teach the Importance of Democratic Intellectual Property Building. Stress the Importance of Your Students’ Voices.

If we nurture ourselves and our youth to be active content contributors, they will understand the social good in contributing and sharing knowledge. By acting responsibly, they have an opportunity to gain self-esteem through recognition for their ideas and work. These social networking models are important and resonate with our youth. Let’s teach them how to research, review, edit and create original content appropriate for mass consumption.

I suspect the British had the same shock and horror about self-government in the colonies. It is a bumpy ride at first, but I do believe thousands of good-willed, motivated people can overcome the small minority intent on wreaking havoc. And with good leaders, I’m more confident this social experiment can succeed.

Teachers, librarians, and information specialists are in a unique position to affect monumental change in harnessing collective intelligence. Is it an uphill climb? Yes, but what an exciting climb it will be!


Berinstein, Paula. “Wikipedia and Britannica – The Kid’s All Right (And So’s the Old Man).” Searcher , Vol. 14, No. 3. Mar. 2005. Information Today, Inc.. 10 Apr. 2006.

Giles, Jim. “Internet encyclopaedias go head to head.” Nature, International weekly journal of science . 15 Dec. 2005. Nature. 10 Apr. 2006.

Graham, Paul. “Web 2.0.” Paul Graham . Nov. 2005. 09 Apr. 2006.

Kashmir.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopdia . 8 Apr. 2006. Wikipedia. 10 Apr. 2006.

Kashmir – History (article revision history).” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia . 08 Apr. 2006. Wikipedia. 10 Apr. 2006.

About the Author

Dawne Tortorella admits to using Wikipedia for many initial, high-level glances at a topic. In fact, she believes it does a good job at tracking technology trends and concepts – an area she mainly focuses in. But her primary interest in wikis is based on the model of building collective intelligence and open intellectual property. She is anxious to see how things evolve over time in wiki world.

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