Wikipedia

I found this week’s readings very interesting and a good reinforcement of the issue of truthfulness and accuracy of information on the internet.   While the class projects that created the hoaxes were interesting (and very amusing), I think the assignments to add to or create Wikipedia articles were actually very good exercises.  It was interesting to find out that the students were very concerned about getting their facts right and using good, reliable sources.  And was  very helpful  in developing better research and computer skills especially in learning to recognize reliable sources and weeding out the unreliable ones.

The series of blog posts by Mills Kelly and his Lying about the Past classes and the hoaxes they created were very interesting but in a different way.  I found the whole concept to be pretty amusing and I appreciate the effort put into executing them.  Mostly though, I am glad that there was so much discussion in his classes about the ethics of what they were doing.   I think the first hoax with the false Wikipedia article probably did tiptoe of the edge of what was ethical but since there was a time limit established and they were going to reveal the hoax I thought that brought the whole exercise back into the acceptable range.    In reading some of the comments by people who were taken in, their arguments rather quickly turned to how they felt their trust had been “betrayed”.  I think they were grasping at any excuse that would take the focus off the fact that they didn’t do their due diligence and check the facts.    Having worked in a historical house museum, I found that people really like rather sensational stories about the past and are really reluctant to have popular beliefs debunked.   And with pirates being so popular (then and now), it must have been exciting to some to have a new pirate story uncovered and really disappointing to have it all be a hoax.  The desire for something to be the truth often outweighs common sense.  I liked that the second and third hoaxes were conducted in a somewhat different manner and especially that they decided to created only true Wikipedia articles.   To have the users of Reddit debunk the serial killer story so quickly shows that people had learned to dig deeper with Wikipedia and verify the sources rather than be drawn in by the articles.

The lesson to be learned from all this though is to do your research, make sure of your sources and check the facts!!!

As for Miles Kelly making the decision to stop offering the class, I agree with him.  The exercise is a good one and it got his students excited and involved with history.  It also got people talking about history in a new way and that I think is a good thing.

As far as Wikipedia goes, I do use it.  I often use it to look up something quickly for my own personal use.   For school work and my museum work, I turn to  Wikipedia sometimes as a starting point for finding sources especially on a topic that I don’t know much about.  Sometimes when I’m having trouble finding information, I check Wikipedia to see if there are other sources that I may have missed.  If there isn’t an article or if the article is really short, then I know that I’m probably not going to find any more resources (at least on the internet).  I’m not really sure that much else can be done with it, without having to submit all articles/changes to some sort of review before they are added.  For me, the bottom line is that for a FREE and open  resource it’s pretty good and often quite helpful.

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One thought on “Wikipedia

  1. I completely agree with you on Prof. Kelly. It was an amazing exercise for the students to see just how a wikipedia entry is added. They got to watch it be edited and verified in front of their very eyes. This allowed the students to get a small taste of what it is like doing historical research and publishing articles about a historical topic. Creating the hoax was a great way to not only show the students how falsities can slip through the cracks but also how they can be caught and the backlash involved when you are discovered. The internet is a scary place, one that contains lies and will let you know when it disapproves of your findings or creations.
    I also agree with the idea of Prof. Kelly stopping the class. He did want he wanted to do i.e. draw attention to Wikipedia and the internet in general. I also applaud him for moving on from it and searching for the next big flaw in our system and exploit it so that we can learn from our mistakes.

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