Wicked pedia?

Judy O’Connell’s recent post about students and Wikipedia reminded me that there was a very funny post about Wikipedia a few months ago, on the nswtl listserv, whereby someone had found, incidentally, that some fool had sabotaged the entry on the Newcastle (NSW) Earthquake… to say that it was started by someone stamping their foot in anger.

Of course, before the first post to the listserv was barely in people’s “In” boxes, someone else, a registered contributor to Wikipedia, had gone into the site to edit the entry back again. And then announced their restorative action on the listserv. Which caused more consternation because several teacher-librarians had already bookmarked (but not thought to “Save to file”) a copy of the sabotaged entry to use as an example when doing explicit teaching about online research.

Slam it all you like; Wikipedia is invaluable as an orientation tool. A living, breathing, evolving encyclopedia of everything, written by people who fancy themselves as experts in areas of trivia. (Sounds like me!)

I’ve been know to use the wiki when I hit a topic I know nothing about, and it usually gives me at least a feel for the type of more authoritative information that is likely to be out there, beyond the Wikipedia entry. Or whether it’s a more obscure topic. And when I’ve found topics that have rather lean (or totally wrong) information, and I know something about them, I’ve been known to add data myself: Number 96, The Magic Circle Club, Luna Park Sydney, Star Trek, Andorians… important stuff like that. 😉 Even cataloguers keep a watch on it.

Of course school and university students will be drawn to Wikipedia – like moths to a flame! The key is how we all, as researchers, use that information to keep on investigating!

Kindergarten weaves a wiki

Zebra with spots

Last November, I bit the bullet and leaped into the next era of ICT (information communications technology) and taught a dozen Kindergarten students (and myself, slightly one step ahead) how to design a wiki.Now, I’ve dabbled in adding and editing an existing wiki (eg. Wikipedia, Star Trek Memory Alpha and Memory Beta, etc), but this time I had to work out how to design one, and how to help the students to build up a narrative (in fable form, complete with a motto) – and post it to the wiki. Welcome, students, to the world of Web 2.0!

We’d already spent a few weeks researching and modelling the nature of fables (The hare and the tortoise, The fox and the grapes, et al) and normally I’d have done a group construction of a narrative on butcher’s paper, and edited it with a felt pen. Instead, we used a free wiki service – at pbwiki.com (Peanut butter wiki) and, within a few moments of launch of our first fable, our fledgling wiki web pages were being looked at by two different Internet surfers in California, USA. Amazing!

Young students are simply not scared to (literally) push that newest button in modern technology. The next day we had visitors from several parts of Europe, more Californians, interstate Australians and even “a visitor from parts unknown”, according to pbwiki.

A week later, Selwa Anthony, Australian literary agent extraordinaire, held her annual all-day seminar and gala dinner for her ever-growing network of amazing authors. Once again at the Novatel Hotel in Brighton-le-Sands, Succeed – It’s Great in 2008 was as stimulating as the first one I attended (way back in November 1993, Succeed Some More in ’94.) The seminars take their title from a little self-help book, Succeed with me, which Selwa once wrote with Jimmy Thomson – and it’s now available in audio by Bolinda Audio; we received a freebie in our goodie bag upon arrival!

Despite the fact that, so far, I haven’t earned Selwa any percentages, she keeps inviting me back. These seminars have certainly directed me into numerous opportunities over the years but so far nothing commercial enough that would earn Selwa her percentage. Yet. Selwa continues to have faith in me, but I always feel quite humble in the talented company of Selwa’s network.

Anyway, the first speaker was a no-show. So compere, Mark Macleod, offered up what he called “one-minute spots”, over the course of the day, to anyone wanting to share something special to the rest of the network. A few people availed themselves of the opportunity and, in the morning tea break, I was boasting to friend and author/journalist Sue Williams about my Kindergarten students’ recent work writing fables on the World Wide Web via a wiki.

Sue’s eyes lit up and she said, “Go and tell Mark you’ll do a one minute spot!”

The next thing I knew, I was sharing my young students’ work – from memory! – with the likes of Tara Moss, Kim Wilkins, Ian Irvine, new children’s author Amanda Holohan, and so many other Australian literary luminaries. It was a highly energizing experience, and it made sooooooo twitchy to get to the keyboard and write about the students’ (and my) successes. Maybe there’ll be a chance for a much longer session at the next seminar?

Check out the final drafts of the students’ wiki fables and accompanying artwork at: http://penrithpslibrary.pbwiki.com/.