Wikipedia founder speaks on campus


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Audiences chuckled Tuesday evening when the cofounder of Wikipedia asked if they had ever accessed the website before. Almost all raised their hands.

The open access reference work is admittedly used throughout higher education by both professors and students, and it has made its mark in academia.

“People are now able to get access to information on the whole history of the world,” said Jimmy Wales, the cofounder of Wikipedia.

After its launch in 2001, many academics disregarded the website’s credibility because anyone can submit information and edit articles.

“I used to say never go there, but now it’s sort of one of the tools I teach with when doing research,” said Tim Havens, a UI associate professor of communication studies.

( Daily Iowan video feature )

Video in QuickTime format, click here for free player download

It has also changed the way educators teach, said UI history Associate Professor Marshall Poe.

“It used to be the case that in order to find a fact, it was buried in a book and was hard to get. You could not access it very easily,” he said. “We don’t have to do that anymore because anybody with a computer, with Internet connection and a knowledge of what search engines work … can find information quickly.”

Poe said the website has also spawned other academic search engines like Citizendium.

However, some educators still tread cautiously because the information can be easily altered.

“You never turn your back on information but remember it might be misinformation,” said Don Wyatt, a professor of history at Middlebury College in Vermont. “If you approach it with that sort of caveat in mind, you’re going to be in a better position.”

The college installed a policy in 2007 banning citing any open source references such as Wikipedia.
The policy defends research against people such as UI junior Jeff Hunt, who took on an elaborate effort his senior year in high school to sabotage Wikipedia entries. He wrote that Adolf Hitler invented sunglasses on the German dictator’s page and listed him as the inventor on a page for sunglasses.

“We personally thought it was hilarious,” Hunt said.

Other students turn to Wikipedia because of its convenience.

“It’s really easy to find information quickly because of its organization,” said Danny Vial, a UI engineering major who attended the lecture Tuesday.

And the website founder said he is equally cautious of using Wikipedia as a serious source.

Wales said the website was not intended for use as a source for in-depth research, and it should only be seen as background information.

Over the years, however, as the website grew in popularity, it has been able to take measures to better monitor the accuracy of its information.

During the lecture, Wales showed a Twitter entry posted by a teacher who asked her students if they knew what an encyclopedia was. They thought she meant Wikipedia. Wales said such examples demonstrate the website’s influence.

Wales also discussed the future “wiki” plans, including pop-culture sites.

“This idea of a participating culture doesn’t have to end with Wikipedia,” Wales said.

> Share your thoughts! Click here to write a Letter to the Editor.

comments powered by Disqus

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.