Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A historian "Wiki-victim" on "How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wiki(pedia)"

Historian Christopher Miller, a self-described "Wiki-victim," has a thoughtful essay on the way he helped his students come to terms with both the promise and limits of Wikipedia in an essay Strange Facts in the History Classroom: Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wiki(pedia) in the current issue of the American Historical Association's Perspectives.

On the way he became a Wiki-victim:
I have a confession to make—I am a "Wiki-victim." In the course of researching for a biweekly local history column that I write, I turned to Wikipedia for a quick answer to a question I had. As it turned out, the information was incorrect, and that error made its way into print—much to my embarrassment. The error was a simple transposition of one word, but in the specific context I was writing, that small error took on a completely different significance. I had as much reason as any one of my students to doubt the validity of Wikipedia as a source.

On the Wiki-controversy, Miller writes:
What is most troubling about the "anti-Wiki" movement is that it tends to single out Wikipedia for being an online source rather than for being an encyclopedia. [NOTE: this blog's objections to reliance on Wikipedia in legal scholarship and judicial opinions (here and here) has been based on just that: Wikipedia is an encyclopedia.] It had been my policy in the past simply to assume that encyclopedias were out of bounds in college-level work no matter what their origin. But noting the uproar about Wiki's reliability made me rethink that attitude. In June 2006, T. Mills Kelly of the blog Edwired asked, apropos of the growing controversy about (and usage of) Wikipedia: "So, what's a history teacher to do? The same things we've always done with new resources. We have to design learning opportunities for our students that help them to see the strengths and weaknesses of any resource."

Miller's response was to develop a thoughtful lesson plan for his students, described here. I would feel so much more comfortable with judges' reliance on historical sources of all kinds if only Miller were invited to judicial conferences to impart the critical reading of all sources that he has engendered in his history students. As for Wikipedia for judges and scholars: it's an encyclopedia. Go to the library and get the book cited in the bibliography. That's what goes in your footnote.