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Wikipedia: Too Large To Ignore Anymore

Wikipedia: Too Large To Ignore Anymore
By Larry Gordon

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In at least 150 courses at colleges in the U.S. and Canada, students were assigned to create or expand Wikipedia entries this year. The result has been better researched articles about, for example, the causes of paralyzing strokes and the history of the American West. And students are becoming better prepared for a future of digital info.
 



All through high school, Ani Schug was told to steer clear of Wikipedia. Her teachers talked about the popular online encyclopedia "as if it wasn't serious or trustworthy" and suggested it only be used as a tip sheet.

Imagine her surprise this spring when her American politics professor at Pomona College assigned the class to write detailed entries for Wikipedia instead of traditional term papers.

Turns out it was a lot harder than the students anticipated. Their projects had to be researched, composed and coded to match Wikipedia's strict protocols. Schug and her classmates wound up citing 218 scholarly legal and newspaper sources for their entry on a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing corporate donations for ballot initiative campaigns.

Then came the really scary step: All their work was posted publicly on Wikipedia for reading and editing by a potentially immense audience.

"It felt more real that other people will be reading us besides just our group and the teacher," said Schug, 19, who just completed her freshman year at Pomona. "It makes us feel more obligated to do a good job and present the facts in an unbiased way."

Once the bane of teachers, Wikipedia and entry-writing exercises are becoming more common on college campuses as academia and the online site drop mutual suspicions and seek to cooperate. In at least 150 courses at colleges in the U.S. and Canada, including UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco's medical school, Boston College and Carnegie Mellon University, students were assigned to create or expand Wikipedia entries this year.

The result, supporters say, has been better researched articles about, for example, the causes of paralyzing strokes and the history of the American West. And, they say, students are becoming better prepared for a future of digital information.

"Even the best research papers get buried in a drawer somewhere," said Amanda Hollis-Brusky, the Pomona politics professor who assigned the Wikipedia projects. "These make a real contribution to the public discourse."

When the not-for-profit Wikipedia was started in 2001, the idea was that antiestablishment volunteers -- in fact, anyone who could access the Internet -- would write and edit its mainly anonymous entries. An unbiased truth was supposed to emerge if enough contributors took part. By contrast, traditional encyclopedias hired expert authors.

But even as its popularity soared among the public, Wikipedia earned a reputation among academics as amateurish, peppered with errors and too open to nasty online spats over content. Wikipedia has tried to repair all that with better safeguards and a wider range of topics. (continued...)

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© 2014 Los Angeles Times (CA) under contract with NewsEdge. All rights reserved.
 

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Karl:

Posted: 2014-06-24 @ 10:37am PT
The difference between students and experts is still wide, and so can be the outcome of the Encyclopedias, with less quality in the case of Wikipedia than other encyclopedias.



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