Saturday, July 2, 2011

Working the Wikis

Most people know about Wikis, especially with the ubiquitousness of Wikipedia. Although Wikipedia may be the most well-known Wiki, it is by no means the only Wiki as they seem to have proliferated over the years. There are Wikis for almost every subject from television shows like Psych, successful library practices, and a host of other topics.

Although Wikis are all over the web these days, not everyone knows what a Wiki is exactly. Wikis are web-platforms that allow people with some level of expertise in a field to contribute to a shared pool of knowledge that, typically, anyone can access and read. There is usually some mechanism, like an editor checking entries or sites that only allow verified accounts to contribute, to prevent just anyone from adding to entries. Granted, as anyone who watches Stephen Colbert knows, these measures aren't always effective as they can be by-passed if thousands of people try to make the same change.

Despite the minor risks of Wikis [and personally, anyone who relies of Wikipedia for their information without double-checking the information or at least consulting the sources cited in the article is asking for trouble] I think that Wikis have a lot to offer as they allow us to pool our knowledge together and benefit from what one another know. Wikis will never be able to replace doing one's own research into a field, but they can be a great starting place.

However, with the usefulness of Wikis also comes responsibility. People need to contribute to Wikis and not just "other people" as we all have something we can contribute to Wikis. We all have a tv show, books series, or obscure area of knowledge that we may not too much about; we all should take this knowledge and use it to add Wikis and create new ones. I myself have added to a number of articles on various Wikis about mystery novels, education, and various sci-fi tv shows.

When it comes to the teaching of information literacy, in particular, Wikis can help in two main ways:

  • Wikis can help us learn about and share information about best practices, the underlying principles, and such by being a place where people in the field can come together. LibSuccess, for instance, provides such a place for information literacy.
  • Wikis can also be used to teach information literacy more directly by being incorporated into the learning material and serving as a place where students can help create content. Students need to be taught to double-check web sources, which Wikipedia is a great source for, but they also need to be aware of spaces in which they can contribute information. 
Wikis can be a great way to learn, connect with others, and to share information if used correctly. They are often not used correctly as they are used in place of actual research, used for tv pranks, and added to be a small group of users. Part of this is because traditional information literacy often fails to equip people to deal with things like Wikis as traditional encyclopedias are far more static then Wikis which are constantly updated by users around the globe. We need to equip people to deal with content, like Wikis, to which they can contribute along with anyone else. 

As a side note, Wikipedia has a program, called the Wikipedia Ambassador Program that is trying to form relationships with professors, teachers, and educators so that they can have the resources and support they need to teach students and others how to use Wikis smartly and how to contribute to them as well. If anyone was at ALA, they had a booth in the Exhibitors Hall. 

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