My thoughts on Wikipedia and its use in schools has been getting some in interesting press just recently. My original thoughts were posted here after the Handheld Learning Conference in London.
This article together with my presentation at the Scottish Association of Geography Teachers Annual Conference in October resulted in a nice piece in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland. I made some comments about the TESS piece just so I could clarify a couple of points. Overall I was very happy with it and I did say the things that were highlighted.
The TESS article was then used by Cara Sulieman to write a piece for Deadline Scotland. Unfortunately, I felt this piece missed the point. I’ve contacted Deadline and explained to them that I would be willing to do an extended interview – but they haven’t got back to me yet!
Anyway, I had just got back home tonight when I picked up a ‘tweet’ that said they were talking about me on BBC Radio Scotland. I tuned in but missed all but the last minute or so. I’ve now had a chance to re-listen to the piece on iPlayer.
The BBC didn’t mention me by name – but I’m well known enough for people to join up the dots. I think it’s a real shame and unprofesional of the BBC that they didn’t contact me for my opinion because actually they have completely missed the point in what I consider to be a poor piece of journalism. You can listen to it here and tell me what you think
I have written a rough transcript from the programme below. It may be slightly inaccurate as I just typed it as I was listening. I have also then inserted my own comments.
Anyway, it went something like this:
BBC: "Depute Head teacher from Musselburgh says that pupils should be encouraged to use the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia despite its inaccuracies".
OB Comment: That is actually not quite what I said. You can read the extended piece here.
The BBC Introduce Oliver Kamm (Times columnist) who recently defined Wikipedia as 'vain, glorious amateurism'. They ask him what he thinks is wrong with Wikipedia.
NOTE: for the record - I enjoy Oliver Kamm's articles on the Times on-line (although he would probably argue that the on-line version is not as good as the printed version :-)) . But I think he was misinformed and badly briefed by the BBC.
Kamm: "What’s so wrong with it is not so much the balance between accurate articles and articles that are self- promoting rubbish. Wikipedia makes no distinction between someone who has knowledge and are competent to comment or if you are just someone off the street".
OB Comment: This gets us back to age old debate of knowledge, what is knowledge and who has the expertise to write articles? The person ‘off the street’ might actually write a really good Wikipedia article – particularly if it was about their street. You see Wikipedia caters for niche markets as well as the big issues and articles. That is one of the reasons why it is so big.
Kamm: "The problem is that knowledge is democratic in the sense that no one has the last word. But its not democratic in the sense that anyone can join in".
OB Comment: Depends of your definition of knowledge. Why can’t anyone join in? The more people that join in, the larger the debate we have and the more conversation we share with each other, the more we contribute to the growth and understanding of knowledge.
Kamm: "Wikipedia doesn’t encourage people with real competence to express their expertise".
OB Comment: Yes it does Wikipedia encourages anyone to comment – even people with errrmmm….’knowledge?’
Kamm: "It’s [Wikipedia] certainly fresh in the sense that it doesn’t distinguish between total rubbish and genuine expertise. But that doesn’t contribute to the sum of knowledge".
OB Comment: Do the disclaimers that are littered all over Wikipedia not contribute to this?
Surely it flags up when something might be ‘rubbish’ with text boxes saying things like "The factual accuracy is disputed' - 'This article contradicts another article' - 'This article contradicts itself' - 'This article reads like an advertisement' -'This article needs additional citation for verification"
Anyway, if you find something that is not actuate in your opinion, why don’t you have a look at the discussion tab, collaborate with the on-line community and then edit the article?
Kamm: "If the teacher, the Deputy Head Master (that’s me by the way!) who is encouraging his pupils to look at Wikipedia is unconcerned about that distinction then I’m slightly worried about it".
OB Comment: Really sorry you were poorly briefed by the BBC about my original article. My point is that because children use Wikipedia and because we can’t make it go away, WE SHOULD be teaching them to use it responsibly, rather than giving no guidance at all on its use. If we give no guidance at all they are likely to believe anything that they read. I actually think we probably agree on this point?
Kamm: "There is no equivalent on-line resource to my knowledge that is as reliable as your standard printed encyclopedia. There used to be a great printed encyclopedia by Columbia. Proper scholarly works written for a non specialist audience such as school pupils are the right way to imbibe and encourage knowledge".
OB Comment: Yes there is? If you really want ‘scholarly works’ what about an on-line version of a traditional encyclopedia? For example Britannica on-line? Surely on-line is better than printed because it is kept more current and up to date?
Kamm: "What I would like educators to do is to encourage school pupils and students at university to approach critically the resources that they use and to be aware that only things that can be properly checked and researched are reliable knowledge. Wikipedia doesn’t discriminate between different types of user and that’s what worries me".
OB Comments: I completely disagree. Wikipedia can be properly checked and researched but it doesn’t mean that it is reliable, refuting the point about reliability being guaranteed through the checking of sources. I do of course agree that we need to teach school children to critically approach sources – that’s why I wrote the article on Wikipedia in the first place. We need to teach learners to use Wikipedia properly and to do their best to verify all the sources that they use.
I actually like the fact that anyone can edit Wikipedia and I’ve already acknowledged that this brings associated difficulties. I like the fact that knowledge doesn’t have to be elitist.
The interview went on a bit longer. But I think I’ll leave it at that.
I wonder if the BBC will get in touch now and ask me for my opinion? They presented a rather one-sided, biased argument that if it was a Wikipedia article would be unlikely to come up to standard and would be flagged as a concern…
By the way Oliver and I have already made our peace over on his blog.