Thursday, 26 July 2007

Wikipedia, community self-regulation and academic peer review

I've just been reading an interesting post by Seacat (Cass Nevada) demonstrating the machinations of the Wikipedia editing collective in relation to the entry on Enterprise 2.0, which has been through a long and intense process to ascertain whether the term really is "a dubious neologism".

Of Wikipedia, Seacat notes that
"The system works because it is incredibly porous. Input, output, the chorus of voices, the rag-tag team of determined editors, all keep the information and the channel incredibly vital and alive..."
Despite what I said about the term Enterprise 2.0 in a previous post, I feel for Andrew McAfee, who has experienced first hand the editing process for Wikipedia entries, which displays hugely energetic intellectual debate, and as he has recognised, isn't cuddly (see this Harvard Business School report for more on the whole episode).

George Siemans remarks on his blog that he has experienced a similar vetting process, this time by the academic community, who are making it difficult for students to reference his (in my opinion fabulous) book Knowing Knowledge.

He's been in conversation with Masters student who
"...stated that her panel felt that the theory of connectivism and the book Knowing Knowledge had not been subject to peer review."

No doubt I will suffer the same dilema as the aforementioned Masters student, as I have quoted widely from the book in my own dissertation, primarily in relation to the theory of Connectivism

I have no problem with this, as I feel I have a good case for including material not considered to have been peer reviewed, as I believe, as does George Siemans, that it is an outdated concept. I thoroughly agree the argument he makes in his post:

"Peer review plays an important role - it is intended to provide expert critical review of concepts and ideas to ensure quality and accuracy. I'm all for that. My primary concern rests with "privilege only" accepted view of peer review. The progressive advancement of educational attainment (see OECD's Education at a Glance 2006) indicates a society increasingly capable of engaging in complex dialogue. The throne of knowledge is now a seat available to many of society's members. As such, it's reasonable to assume that the opinions of even those peripherally engaged in a discipline can provide insight and value. I appreciate experts, excellence, and established processes. But I despair when the processes of validation inhibit, rather than advance, thinking and idea sharing in a discipline."

Referencing Knowing Knowledge and the theory of Connectivism might lose me marks but it's worth it to make the point. After all, I'm not studying to progress my academic career, but to improve practice in my chosen field.

I've also been warned against using definitions from Wikipedia, which is, as far as I'm concerned, a valid source for the current use of terminology around web 2.0 and associated concepts. Thanks again to George Siemans, who pointed out the rather wonderful Wikipedia page entitled Errors in the Encyclopædia Britannica that have been corrected in Wikipedia which says it all really...

As for the concept of peer review, maybe it's time the academic establishment recognised that communities of online users really do self regulate effectively and started to reconsider their "priviledged" stance...and if they could do it quickly, before my dissertation hand in date, that would be really great (I don't really wanted to be a martyr :-)


seacat said...

Thanks for the mention, Helen! I enjoy reading in your articles about the tension between "authorized/academic" material and community of user/practice output. Of course the academic leaning authorities will always be able to find a lot of examples where things "went terribly wrong," and for the near future, the community producers will be in the position of proving themselves. Interesting times.

Anonymous said...

wow. and i thought wiki was only to cram for essays...