Wikiblitz: Student Perspective

We had a great conversation this morning on the students’ perspective on the Wikiblitz assignment. We began by going over the article, and noting all of the changes, deletions, additions, and omissions that had occurred in the five days since we last looked at the article. In the spirit of the Heavy Metal Umlaut video I used Jing to make a short video showing how the page evolved from its one-line birth in 2005, to what we see today.

I’m no filmmaker.

But it was instructive to see how the interests and early structure that emerged in the article’s first few months have set the skeleton for all subsequent revisions. Once a structure emerges, it seems it takes a lot of energy to over-rule it or otherwise make substantial changes. The article we blitzed is about a particular place, and we noted how political history about the place was quickly expunged (but leaving a section on first nations land claims in the area).

So – a class that earlier in November had a significant number of students who felt there was nothing wrong with Wikipedia as a resource for their university level work, still like it and will refer to it, but understand now how it generates knowledge and the limitations of that knowledge. And they all promise never to cite it as a basic resource ever again.

We shall see, eh? But in general, a good experience and one that the students enjoyed doing.

Some student observations:

‘The fact that many of the changes made by the class were reverted [by other Wikipedians] means that even an ‘any one can edit’ site like Wikipedia is in fact conservative and resistant to change. Why is that? Perhaps its because people take ownership of particular pages… I also thought it was quite amazing how the anti-vandalism bot reversed some of our changes…this feature designed to preserve the presentation of fact has the effect of preserving misinformation as well…’

“The fact that the people writing and editing Wikipedia pages could in fact be just like us – first years with little in-depth knowledge – is actually rather frightening…’

I tabulated the content of my students’ feedback:

Gist of comment # of mentions by students
ease of use 1
the way Wikipedia ‘self heals’ 3
lack of professionalism 3
content is contested 5
fact that it is ‘in public’ compels professionalism 1
authority lacking – these people could be just like us! 2
futility of trying to improve articles 2
where do wikipedians get their sources? 1