Getting my feet wet the Wikipedia Way
For my first attempts at contributing to Wikipedia, I edited the Rachael Ray page and the Seton Hill University page. If you click on the preceding links, you can view the pages as I left them, after my changes. To the Rachael Ray page, I added a section on "Charity Work" and information on her non-profit organization, Yum-o! On the Seton Hill page, I added the Undergraduate section. To compare my changes to their preceding versions, please see the old Rachael Ray page and the old SHU page.
My changes have yet to generate any reaction from the Wikipedia community, but I'm not too surprised because I didn't add anything all that earth-shattering to either page. But still, I was a little intimidated by this process. I had a difficult time finding a subject that I "knew enough" to contribute to Wikipedia. And I was always second guessing myself if I was undermining any of the Wikipedia policies on credible information and unbiased perspective. But, I suppose that's why sections like "history" and "discussion" are there, so those contributors who are trying to genuinely contribute to Wikipedia can learn and grow. I don't think I could have ever gone in 100% confident in my writing for Wikipedia by only reading their policies and guidelines; I think it is something you have to try for yourself.
So after testing things out for myself, I think others in academia could have something to take away from the process. I think professors and high school teachers especially should do an activity like this with their students. There is no sense in avoiding Wikipedia like the plague and telling others to do so; regardless of your opinions on its credibility, I don't think Wikipedia is going anywhere anytime soon. As long as it’s out there students are going to use it in some manner or another. So I think teachers should encourage their students to interact with Wikipedia by testing it and adding to it themselves; that way, they can learn what effort goes into viable information and what the difference between reliable and unreliable information looks like, both on Wikipedia and any internet source. And as the internet continues to grow and become an almost indistinguishable part of our culture and society, it's important to do this at as young an age as possible; I think I could have gotten more out of this activity if I did it in high school, rather than having my teachers tell me to never, ever use Wikipedia. Ever.
In any case, I was still able to take some important ideas away from my interaction with Wikipedia. I was able to see the inside infrastructure of Wikipedia, and like I said above, it's clear that it is a source with staying power, not an internet fad that will fade with time. It should be used, but used wisely. And from my experiences editing a page, I realized that maybe every mistake out there isn't malicious (although a lot are, I'm sure). Wikipedia should be embraced, albeit cautiously, and perhaps with a focus on its interactivity, not its role as a one-way, cut-copy-paste information source.
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