19.510 the moral of Wikipedia's story?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 08:13:15 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 510.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 07:44:55 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: Wikipedia's lesson

It seems to me that the most valuable lesson to come from the recent
troubles with Wikipedia is not to move back into the gated community
of proper vetted reference books (such as those that surround me as I
write) but to deal with the pedagogical problem of critical
reasoning. If, as Geoffrey Nunberg argues, authority in the online
medium is primarily reflexive, made separately on the spot by the
author of each page, then its validation is done on the spot, by the
reader, to a degree to which most of us have not been accustomed. The
Web is not a library, but most if not all of us use it as if it were
one. Indeed, it might be better to talk about how the Web is
transforming our idea of the library than to ghettoize it (as if we
could). The reality is that it's to the Web that students now go,
always first and very often only. Lecturers too, if the truth be known.

I'm bothered by the terminology of "evaluating" Web-sites, as it
suggests (to me only?) that a secure value-judgement can be made, one
that is shared by us all, and that having been made, it settles the
problem we face in the particular instance. I'd rather talk about
determining what sort of knowledge a page has on offer: knowledge of
what, exactly, and to what degree of reliability. I want to deal
head-on with what students are in fact doing, and get them to be
better at it, rather than to thunder at them for avoiding the
library. I want to use the present situation for all it's worth, to
exploit the valuable opportunity it presents to get at the problem of
critical reasoning.

Many libraries have online guides. Some of these are very useful.
There's an abundance of guides to "critical thinking" (the usual
phrase), e.g. Alec Fisher's Critical Thinking: An Introduction
(Cambridge, 2001), Tim van Gelder's Critical Thinking on the Web
(http://www.austhink.org/critical/) or Richard Paul's and Linda
Elder's Critical Thinking Community site
(http://www.criticalthinking.org/), which leads you to their little
books, e.g. The Minature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and
Tools -- the Strunk and White of the business. Any more to be recommended?

Sorting Web-sites and honing critical thinking skills interestingly
blend into the question of how to do research, for which I still use
Wayne Booth et al, The Craft of Research. I suspect that there's a
good book at the intersection of these problems. Does it exist?


Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Thu Dec 15 2005 - 03:34:47 EST

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