I’ve used Renee Hobson’s quote “informed scepticism”, which I read in Henry Jenkins’s paper on Wikipedia, as the title of this post because it resonates with me as being a good mantra for critically reflecting on all media that we read, watch and listen to. A criticism of Wikipedia by educators of its use as a scholarly source as there are issues with its veracity as it does not undergo the same lengthy peer-reviewing process as academic papers do. However, there is a learning opportunity to had from using Wikipedia as an information source by looking at the processes that are going on (I use the present because an article in Wikipedia is never “finished”) behind the article. By clicking on the edit tab on an article we can see: the whole history of the writing process from all its contributors, the debates, discussions, arguments and negotiating, and, all the references and hyperlinks to these references that the authors have used to substantiate their arguments. Learners can get to see the process behind the creation of an article in Wikipedia, they see the discussion, debate and negotiation that went/goes on between contributors and how they use references/hyperlinks to support their arguments. Exposure to this process, Henry Jenkins suggests, will help learners develop a vocabulary for thinking about the place of media in their lives and engage in meaningful relection or, in other words, critical scepticism. If a student believes there to be some misinformation in a Wikipedia article then can change the article, contribute to the debate in the edit sections and cite references to support their changes. Learners are being exposed to and actively participating in what Jenkins calls New Media Literacies – a set of social skills and cultural competencies that make up this “participatory culture”. There has been a paradigm shift in the way people learn, work and socialise with the emphasis moving towards community involvement through collaboration and networking. Young people are going to need these skills and competencies when they move on to FE and in the modern workplace so why not expose them to collaborative ways of working from an early age – they are probably already doing it anyway within their own community of friends and peers!
I wonder if the academic establishment feel threatened by Wikipedia’s model of democracy and access to information for all, and use the lack of veracity claim to discredit informal learning that the Internet has facilitated. In many ways academic institutions, academic journals and academics are still very much the gate-keepers of knowledge; you should only be able to access knowledge by attending formal institutions, being taught by “recognised” authorities on subjects and able to access (via paid or university subscriptions) papers in journals. Why should only the fortunate few have access to information?
I would like to add (25.02.2011) that I hadn’t really appreciated the amount of time it takes to get an academic paper published in a printed journal. Online journals reduce the delay between writing and publication while retained the attritubes of peer-review and critical discussion.