All Posts Tagged With: "wikipedia"
Student articles contain errors
A recent dust-up between Wikipedia and Canada’s largest university raises questions about how collaborative the popular website that bills itself as “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” truly is.
The online information portal recently took a professor from the University of Toronto to task for one of his classroom assignments.
Steve Joordens urged the 1,900 students in his introductory psychology class to start adding content to relevant Wikipedia pages. The assignment was voluntary, and Joordens hoped the process would both enhance Wikipedia’s body of work on psychology while teaching students about the scientist’s responsibility to share knowledge.
But Joordens’s plan backfired when the relatively small contingent of volunteer editors that curate the website’s content began sounding alarm bells. They raised concerns about the sheer number of contributions pouring in from people who were not necessarily well-versed in the topic or adept at citing their research.
David Purdy is an instructor at King’s in Halifax
Like many great online discoveries, it was boredom that led David Purdy to Wikipedia in 2006. Six years later, fewer than 50 people have created more articles than him. Purdy, a Haligonian raised in Paradise, N.L., has more than 4,500 articles and 130,000 edits to his name.
Purdy was on an engineering work term in Calgary, Alta. when he first came across the free encyclopedia. “It was the peak of the oil boom and there were drive-by hirings,” he says. “My supervisor was constantly getting promoted and being replaced by someone else. No one really cared about the work term student,” he adds. “At the point where I was really bored out of my mind and could not find any work for anyone to give me to do, I discovered Wikipedia.”
After four years at Memorial University he transferred into English literature. “When [engineers] look at something they want to know how it works. When I look at things,” he says, “I’m more interested in the etymology of the words used to describe the thing or the history of the thing.”
Students should learn to build arguments, not write entries
All professors have to deal with what Noah Geisel has recently termed The Wikipedia Dilemma. With the online encyclopedia now the largest in the world, freely available, and ubiquitous on the web, the problem is evident. Should a prof forbid students from using Wikipedia or embrace it as a modern research tool without equal?
The case for Wikipedia is obvious: it’s easy to access, simple to use, and covers a far wider range of material than any other reference work. And though it may occassionally be subject to error, as all reference works are, its eminent editability keeps it relatively accurate and incredibly up to date. I once read an article about quicksand, and curious to know more about it, checked Wikipedia, only to find the article I had just read, an article that had been published that very day, cited among the sources.
It encourages research, citation, revision…
Wikipedia is an outcast on most university campuses. At the beginning of the semester, most professors mention that it’s banished from essays and assignments. If you dare to include a Wikipedia article on your reference list, you’re practically asking for a zero on your bibliography. In extreme cases, your professor might set your essay on fire and scatter the ashes across the Pacific Ocean. That’s because most profs regard Wikipedia’s crowdsourced articles as unreliable.
Despite the website’s reputation, some professors at schools like the University of Alberta are using Wikipedia as a teaching resource. Never mind using Wikipedia as a reference: these profs are actually replacing traditional essays with assignments where students write Wikipedia entries.
Study, research and procrastinate like never before!
There’s nothing worse than paying $100 for a book that’s going to make your life miserable (I’m thinking of you, Organic Chemistry). In some cases, you might think that you’re actually finding it interesting, but it’s probably Stockholm Syndrome. Once rescued from your hostage takers by the sweet December holiday break, you won’t want to see that book ever again.
That’s where sites like AbeBooks come in. You can buy used copies for a fraction of the regular price, or older editions that are even cheaper. In most cases, older editions are practically identical to new ones, except for a few diagrams. When you’re finished, sell the books back to the site.
Comedian says that dreams can change, but that’s OK
Conan O’Brien is just one of the many comedians who have given commencement speeches at U.S. schools this graduation season. His was arguably the funniest — and the most wise. Here’s a recording of Sunday’s speech to the Class of 2011 at Dartmouth College. Here’s how it started:
“Graduates, faculty, parents, relatives, undergraduates, and old people that just come to these things: Good morning and congratulations to the Dartmouth Class of 2011. Today, you have achieved something special, something only 92 percent of Americans your age will ever know: a college diploma. That’s right, with your college diploma you now have a crushing advantage over 8 percent of the workforce. I’m talking about dropout losers like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg…”
“When I got the call two months ago to be your speaker, I decided to prepare with the same intensity many of you have devoted to an important term paper. So late last night, I began. I drank two cans of Red Bull, snorted some Adderall, played a few hours of Call of Duty, and then opened my browser. I think Wikipedia put it best when they said “Dartmouth College is a private Ivy League University in Hanover, New Hampshire, United States.”
And, more seriously, he talks about how found success, by accepting that “dreams change.”
Your path at 22 will not necessarily be your path at 32 or 42. One’s dream is constantly evolving, rising and falling, changing course. This happens in every job, but because I have worked in comedy for twenty-five years, I can probably speak best about my own profession.
Way back in the 1940s there was a very, very funny man named Jack Benny. He was a giant star, easily one of the greatest comedians of his generation. And a much younger man named Johnny Carson wanted very much to be Jack Benny. In some ways he was, but in many ways he wasn’t. He emulated Jack Benny, but his own quirks and mannerisms, along with a changing medium, pulled him in a different direction.
And yet his failure to completely become his hero made him the funniest person of his generation. David Letterman wanted to be Johnny Carson, and was not, and as a result my generation of comedians wanted to be David Letterman. And none of us are. My peers and I have all missed that mark in a thousand different ways. But the point is this : It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention.
So, at the age of 47, after 25 years of obsessively pursuing my dream, that dream changed. For decades, in show business, the ultimate goal of every comedian was to host The Tonight Show. It was the Holy Grail, and like many people I thought that achieving that goal would define me as successful. But that is not true. No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you. In 2000—in 2000—I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that. But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.
Website encourages research, editing and proper citation
Most English professors forbid their students from citing Wikipedia. The common concern is that the crowd-sourcing website allows anyone to post, so the information is less reliable that what’s found in peer-reviewed journals. But Brenna Gray, an English professor from Douglas College in suburban Vancouver, says that Wikipedia can help students become more accurate researchers — if they’re asked to contribute to the site. Her theory was that students who knew their posts would be made public would be more concerned about accuracy than students who were writing for their professor alone. She tested her theory by having students create Wikipedia posts about obscure Canadian writers. It seems to have worked. Students produced more accurate research projects than they normally would have written. That alone makes it a useful teaching tool, but Wikipedia also encourages research, citations and revision, which are all “ideals espoused by English instructors,” Gray said in a press release from the Congress for the Canadian Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Fredericton, where she presented her findings this week. Although her experiment was small, Gray says it should encourage more discussion about how professors can embrace a website that their students use so frequently outside of class.
The perfect cross between a final and a term project
Meaning, the kind of thing that’s left until the last second, on the same day your lab report and term paper are also due.
On one hand, anything is better than a final exam. On the other hand, you’re going to have to read a bunch of Wikipedia articles and then find some journal articles to cite in your references.
But there is a middle ground. Something that’s a perfect cross between a final exam and a term project.
Yup, I’m talking about a take home exam.
Unlike a term project, it doesn’t involve weeks of procrastination followed by a single night of stress-filled research. And unlike a final exam, you don’t have to mentally photocopy your textbook and then regurgitate everything within a two-hour time limit.
-Photo courtesy of Alex France
Within the bounds of what it’s appropriate for, it’s the best
As a child, if given the choice between spending time with a human or spending time with a book, 99 times out of 100 I would take the book, and the other one time it was probably only because my mother had physically taken my book away on that particular occasion. Books were my friends, and we were the very best of. In library contests where children had to move a paper totem along a wall advanced by minutes read, my little hot air balloon was often idling at the far end of the wall before half the others had even left the start gate.
In light of the hours upon hours I now find myself reading every single day, in retrospect, I kind of wish I had spent at least a little more time outside or developing the social skills that are probably going to atrophy over the next three years of law school.
Everyone tells you how much reading there is in first-year law school, but no one (read: me) really believes it until you get there. A few days before class started in September, some of the first-years were meeting up for lunch when our smart phones all went off with an e-mail from the Assistant Dean. It included, among other illuminating facts about first-year law, that we would probably be assigned 300 to 500 pages of reading a week.
“Okay, but not really,” we (again, read: me) said. “They’re probably just trying to scare us.”
Whether this tendency to believe things in the face of all evidence to the contrary will benefit or harm me in a legal career is yet to be seen. However, the Assistant Dean, unsurprisingly, was not lying. If anything, she was lowballing the estimate.
On any given night of the seven days of the week, I would say I have between two and five hours of reading. The real kick in the pants, too, is that all my amassed hours of childhood (and adulthood) reading has contributed very little to my ability to read what is assigned from law school. In fact, law school in large measure requires the same approaches that one used to learn to read the first time, like following the text with your finger to guide your eyes. The biggest thing, though, is having to pause three or four times a page to look up a phrase (frequently, and I would argue unnecessarily, in Latin) that you can’t quite figure out. And it is on this point that I would like to virtually kiss the feet of the originators of Wikipedia.
I will pause here to note that there are many objections to the use of Wikipedia in academic endeavours, and many of these are valid. I would never, nor would I ever advocate, relying on Wikipedia (or any other secondary source) as the first path of learning something. Nor would I ever cite Wikipedia in an assignment or even in class. My point is, there are limits to Wikipedia’s utility, but within the bounds of what it’s appropriate for, it’s the best.
I’d argue that Wikipedia’s main area of appropriate usage, in relation to law students, is its ability to put into plain language the dozens of new words or phrases we run up against when cracking into those 60-120 pages of nightly reading.
Real life example: Last week, for my property law class was assigned a really interesting case that had to do with the tort of conversion. As a precursor to reading, our professor suggested that we figure out what “conversion” was and my brain was all like “Duh. Conversion is either when you change one unit of measurement to another or that thing that Coach Taylor occasionally talks about on Friday Night Lights. Case closed.”
This is how the case defined conversion: “conversion-a tort that protects against interference with possessory and ownership interests in personal property.”
At which point my brain was like “No mention of measurement has been made, and it seems unlikely this is what Coach was imploring the Panthers to do. Harmonization of previous known definitions of conversion has failed. Wikipedia?”
Conversion is a common law tort. A conversion is a voluntary act by one person inconsistent with the ownership rights of another. It is a tort of strict liability. Its criminal counterpart is theft.
The two sentences are basically the same, but the one on Wikipedia managed to snap the legal meaning of “conversion” to the grid in my head by using plain language that the strict definition given in the case was not, and it did it in about three seconds. It’s pretty hard to argue against the utility of that. And it’s phenomenal how many of the terms and phrases I’m coming across for the first time have fully written and referenced Wikipedia entries.
How did people live before the Internet?
Photo by nojhan
The art of wasting Time
With midterms looming, here are the five best ways to procrastinate:
5) Clicking the “random article” button on Wikipedia. And then, when List of towns in Western Australia appears, you decide you’ll get back to work the instant you find a vaguely interesting-sounding article.
So you press the button again. Aircraft parts industry.
The game continues.
4) Create an account on a boring online game that you would never actually waste time on during summer vacation. And then when your virtual garden has accumulated 5,800 points and you can finally purchase some bonsai trees, it’s suddenly the night before your biochemistry midterm and there’s a whole chapter about amino acids to catch up on.
3) Arranging all the pencils on your desk into a to-scale TIE Fighter model. After a couple minutes of diligently working on your analysis paper, you suddenly realize: for every TIE Fighter, there must be an X-wing . . .
2) Remember that scene from the Bourne Supremacy, when Jason Bourne kills an assassin by smacking him with a rolled-up magazine? If you slow it down frame-by-frame, you can see that he was using an issue of Maclean’s. Seriously, take a look.
1) Writing a blog post about the five best ways to procrastinate.
-photo courtesy of Dvortygirl
Mainstream media discovers error only after prankster steps forward
I love this story. An Irish university student decided to test whether or not the media are upholding accuracy in the Web 2.0 era. So he posted false information on Wikipedia to see what would happen.
On March 28, French composer Maurice Jarre passed away in Los Angeles. Within hours, Shane Fitzgerald posted a series of fake quotes on Jarre’s Wikipedia page. (See Fitzgerald’s edits here)
Over the next 48 hours, the false information was deleted by Wikipedia editors, only to be re-posted twice by Fitzgerald.
The student now claims he meant no harm and was simply “testing” the media. However, if this were the case, why did he anonymously vandalize the Wikipedia page three times?
One of the quotes falsely attributed to Jarre was: “One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head and that only I can hear.”
Despite not being cited, this quote was picked up by media outlets around the world, including The Guardian. It was a golden quote. Here’s a man who just died talking about how he will be remembered. Every obituary writer should have known that the quote was too good to be true.
As any first-year university student knows, Wikipedia is not a source. It is a resource. I use Wikipedia to assist with research and background information all the time. All accurate information on Wikipedia is cited. It is those citations that are the online encyclopedia’s greatest service: it makes it easier to find primary sources.
There are lessons in this story for both university students and the mainstream media. The obvious lesson is that one should always dig to find the true source of information. Wikipedia should never be consulted as a primary source (unless, of course, the research paper is on Wikipedia itself).
There are troubling questions raised by this incident. How many times has the mainstream media already been duped by false information on Wikipedia? Has this occurred before where information on Wikipedia was cited by the mainstream media and then the mainstream media failed to ensure that this false information was “true?”
(Before someone gets all philosophical on me, I know the very concept of truth is a matter of academic debate.)
Remember, it was not the mainstream media that caught the error. The error only came to light after Fitzgerald came forward and publicly declared the quote to be false. Fitzgerald himself, as he pointed out, could have easily used the mainstream media’s use of the quote to convince people that Jarre really made the statement. Nobody would’ve been the wiser and Fitzgerald would be remember for something he didn’t state.
We live in a brave new world. The Internet and Wikipedia are both a blessing and a curse. I know, after having read this story, I’m going to be more vigilant about information I get from Wikipedia, and the mainstream media.
Fake (and cheesy) quote added to online database, reprinted across the globe
DUBLIN — When Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald posted a poetic but phoney quote on Wikipedia, he was testing how our globalized, increasingly Internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news.
His report card: Wikipedia passed. Journalism flunked.
The sociology major’s obituary-friendly quote – which he added to the Wikipedia page of Maurice Jarre hours after the French composer’s death March 28 – flew straight on to dozens of U.S. blogs and newspaper websites in Britain, Australia and India.
They used the fabricated material, Fitzgerald said, even though administrators at the free online encyclopedia twice caught the quote’s lack of attribution and removed it.
A full month went by and nobody noticed the editorial fraud. So Fitzgerald told several media outlets they’d swallowed his baloney whole.
“I was really shocked at the results from the experiment,” Fitzgerald, 22, said Monday in an interview a week after one newspaper at fault, The Guardian of Britain, became the first to admit its obituary writer lifted material straight from Wikipedia.
“I am 100 per cent convinced that if I hadn’t come forward, that quote would have gone down in history as something Maurice Jarre said, instead of something I made up,” he said. “It would have become another example where, once anything is printed enough times in the media without challenge, it becomes fact.”
So far, The Guardian is the only publication to make a public mea culpa, while others have eliminated or amended their online obituaries without any reference to the original version – or in a few cases, still are citing Fitzgerald’s florid prose weeks after he pointed out its true origin.
“One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack,” Fitzgerald’s fake Jarre quote read. “Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head that only I can hear.”
Latin American literature prof gives students an “A-plus” if they create Wikipedia feature article
The more popular Wikipedia seemed to get, the more Monica Freudenreich was told by her professors at the University of British Columbia to stay as far away from it as possible.
The ever-growing online encyclopedia’s strategy of letting anyone with an Internet connection edit and revise articles, the argument usually goes, makes it unreliable, nonacademic — and off limits for student researchers.
But then Freudenreich, 21, was given a surprising assignment by her Latin American literature professor: instead of writing term papers, the class would be writing Wikipedia articles.
“I guess I was more intrigued by it,” said Freudenreich, who is entering her fourth year in international relations and Latin American studies.
“I’ve heard in the past that you could write whatever you wanted on Wikipedia, but I didn’t really have any idea how it works. I was a little nervous about it.”
The semester-long assignment, which wrapped up in the spring, saw the class split into a dozen groups, with each group assigned an article about a particular Latin American author or book.
Some of the topics already had corresponding Wikipedia entries, while others were created from scratch.
The goal was to have each entry labelled a “featured article” on the site, a designation reserved for the most rigorously researched pages that follow Wikipedia’s standards for unbiased, well-cited and well-written material.
Creating a featured article earned groups a mark of A+.
Freudenreich’s group was assigned an article for the Spanish novel “El Señor Presidente.”
It began with a single sentence when the page was created in January: “‘El Señor Presidente’ is the title of a novel by Miguel Angel Asturias.”
Four months later, it had been edited and revised more than 1,000 times. It had grown to 8,000 words with more than 100 citations — no easy task for a topic that was relatively obscure to begin with.
“It just required a lot of research. I think I talked to the research librarian about four times,” says Freudenreich.
“With it being a Latin American studies class, a lot of the content on these novels is in Spanish.”
Freudenreich’s entry was the first to become a featured article, which placed her in one of three groups to walk away with top marks.
Her professor, Jon Beasley-Murray, said the experiment was designed to force the class to explore the inner workings of Wikipedia, which has become ubiquitous on the Internet and has crept into students’ work.
“They’ve all used Wikipedia, but none of them had ever added anything, even though that’s partly the point of Wikipedia,” he says.
“Part of my thinking was that to really understand this site — one of the most popular sites there is — the best way to see how it works is to actually take part.”
Beasley-Murray, who plans to repeat the assignment when he teaches the class again in the fall, said the students learned the strengths and weaknesses of Wikipedia articles — and, more importantly, how to sort the good from the bad.
He notes that of Wikipedia’s 2.4 million articles, only 2,000 are so-called featured articles — less than 0.1 per cent.
A group of experienced Wikipedia editors took an interest in the project early on and began helping the students with their articles.
These anonymous editors would demand better citations and critique the writing. If the pages were vandalized or defaced, other Wikipedia editors would help undo the changes.
Beasley-Murray still plans to tell students not to cite Wikipedia in work they hand in, but he said the site can provide valuable starting points if articles are properly cited.
Freudenreich says that’s exactly how she now sees Wikipedia — not a reliable source of information in itself, but rather a tool that can point her in the right direction.
“Maybe you don’t quote right off Wikipedia, but it’s a great … list of academic sources that you can go and see. It cuts down the search process,” she said.
“For featured articles or good articles, everything that’s been reviewed by other people out there, they set the bar really high — higher than a professor would, I’d say.”
- The Canadian Press