Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia That Anyone Can Edit.Or Maybe Not

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia That Anyone Can Edit.Or Maybe Not

Article excerpt

Anyone can edit Wikipedia...or not.


TORONTO - A recent dust-up between Wikipedia and Canada's largest university raises questions about how collaborative the popular website that bills itself as "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" truly is.

The online information portal recently took a professor from the University of Toronto to task for one of his classroom assignments.

Steve Joordens urged the 1,900 students in his introductory psychology class to start adding content to relevant Wikipedia pages. The assignment was voluntary, and Joordens hoped the process would both enhance Wikipedia's body of work on psychology while teaching students about the scientist's responsibility to share knowledge.

But Joordens's plan backfired when the relatively small contingent of volunteer editors that curate the website's content began sounding alarm bells. They raised concerns about the sheer number of contributions pouring in from people who were not necessarily well-versed in the topic or adept at citing their research.

Discussions in the Wikipedia community became very heated with allegations that articles were being updated with erroneous or plagiarized information. Some community members called for widespread bans on university IP addresses and decried the professor's assignment as a needless burden on the community.

Joordens issued a statement defending his students, saying only 33 of the 910 articles edited were tagged for potential problems.

But he also acknowledged that he did not understand the limited scope of the Wikipedia editorial community, which boasts a few thousand members compared to the more than 488 million people that visit the site every month.

"I assumed that the current core of editors was extremely large and that the introduction of up to 1000 new editors would be seen as a positive," Joordens said.

"However, the current core of editors turns out NOT to be that large, and even if my students were bringing signal along with noise, the noise was just too much to deal with on the scale it was happening."

Joordens said the Wikipedia community became "annoyed and frustrated," adding that things became heated to a point he found "somewhat ridiculous."

The animated discussion that's ensued from the incident highlights both the pros and cons of using social media in the classroom, experts said.

Sidneyeve Matrix, media professor at Queen's University, said crowdsourcing platforms like Wikipedia offer unparalleled opportunities for students to engage with their topics of study and to feel they're actively involved in the learning process. …

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