Yesterday and today I have been at the EduWiki conference at Leicester University, where there has been considerable discussion about the use of Wikipedia as a tool for teaching and learning, mainly in the higher Education sector. The discussion has mainly positive been taken from the point of view that Wikipedia is a wonderful resource, despite what the press say, and despite what Universities consider. There was only one speaker who said that Wikipedia is great, but not for what our community wants, but he was part of a team that has developed a very specific Wiki, using MediaWiki software, WikiVet.
There is certainly space for using Wikipedia as a tool for learning, for example one university teaching fellow uses the wikibooks function to gather articles together to use as part of the teaching materials for a course. He uses it because the information is free, copyright cleared and regularly updated. He uses the books as ebooks, but students can print them out if they want to. Other teachers use the fact that there are many different language Wikipedias so there are opportunities for language teaching and translation. The idea of editing articles, having to research the subject and consider sources before writing, was given as an example of giving students practise of academic skills. The problem with taking that approach, of course, is that each carefully crafted article by an enthusiastic student stands the chance of being deleted. This puts many people off ever trying again!
There should be a solution to this, perhaps WikiVet has it, that there should be a Wikipedia Playground, where editors in training can practise their skills, can write about things that interest them, and if the article reaches a "notable" standard, then it could be imported into "Big" Wikipedia. Maybe some spin off Wikis could arise, such a WikiFootballTeamPedia. There is another Wikipedia project called WikiVersity, which seems to be a bit of a mess at the moment, because there are not enough editors who are contributing and refining the site. It is meant to be a place where educators can contribute teaching resources for students to use online. The resource that I looked at was for a primary school child about crocodiles, which was an interesting encyclopedia (Wikipedia) style entry, but looked rather too much like a standard text book, and not as engaging as many other primary sources.
I enjoyed the general discussion about assessment and accreditation, which was sparked by a presentation from a Mozilla representative who are developing online badges where people can show their achievements. I was concerned that that style of accreditation satisfies the extrinsic motivation of "Collectors", but would alienate some individuals who learn in a different way. I suggested that achievement for it's own end (intrinsic motivation) is a more important competency to encourage, because that is what gives the world Independent Thinkers.
Overall, there were interesting people there, the food was good, the sun shone, and it was quite a success. Oh, I had one profound thought when I was writing this up. If all the Knowledge of the world is added to Wikipedia, when does it stop being an encyclopedia, and start becoming a Library?