Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Down-Side of Wikipedia and Other Online Sources

As I was typing my last post yesterday, I was looking for an accurate, relatively brief description of Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. I first checked Wikipedia and searched for "multiple intelligence," and the entry that is online gives a very brief, sketchy rundown of the main ideas, but most of the post was spent blasting away at Gardner. More and more I and my students have found entries on this public-built encyclopedia that are perhaps questionable (most are fine, though). This is a problem when information, often of a technical nature that one would prefer to find written up by an expert in a formal, peer-reviewed medium, can be entered by just about anyone. I have to be careful to warn students to not blindly accept information found on Wikipedia and the Internet as a whole. If one wants to use a source that has not gone through peer review or is not supported by known experts in the field, or is written up in what is supposed to be a neutral forum of knowledge but clearly has a personal bias built into it (as is the case with the multiple intelligence example), then readers need to be able to make the distinction between what is valid information and what is questionable information. This is a difficult decision to make if you are a nonexpert, which of course is normally the case of the users of Wikipedia and similar online sources of information (it is unlikely experts would be looking up the information in the first place). This is a growing problem educators and researchers will need to address in this age of massive amounts of information: How legitimate is the information being used by today's students, since there is a rapidly increasing number of questionable and downright faulty sources that are being used?

I need to mention, to their credit, Wikipedia does allow online edits and rebuttals to entries, and this particular entry for multiple intelligences is tagged as one whose "neutrality" is "disputed."


mark said...

Hey Von,

With open-source references like wiki, the quality tends to be a longitudinal phenomena -getting much better over time. It is annoying when wingnuts highjack an entry and engage in a " war of editing".

One of the wiki ppl contacted me once because a corporation ( Nationmaster) was screwing around with an entry I was connected to slightly.

Naturally I had to make my own " adjustments" ;o)

vonny said...

Hi Mark,

And, depending on the interest level of the topic the time dependence for corrections and massaging will likely vary by vastly different time constants. I do have worries when it comes to students, who often believe if it is on the web, it must be true. That can be a tough frame of mind to conquer, depending on the person, as I know you have much experience with as well. And open source is one of the foundations of 'web 2' planning and formatting. IMO, I expect it to get worse (for students) before it gets better.

Hope you had a relaxing break!