Becoming part of Wikipedia

David Wiley suggested that my New Media classmates and I try improving a Wikipedia article.  At first I couldn’t think of a topic that I wanted to write about that would be appropriate for an entry in an encyclopedia (I like being able to insert my own opinion).  After some thought, I decided to see what had been written for the Wikipedia entry on Teach for America.  I read the article several times trying to think of salient facts that had been left out.  Most of the things that I thought had been left out were actually there once I read a little more carefully.  However, I did discover a place where the article said “citation needed”.  The statement needing a citation didn’t seem very important to me (my apologies to the original author) and so I decided to replace it.

The original statement was a statement describing opinions that people had proposed as possible explanations for 10-15 attrition among Teach for America Corps Members.  I replaced it with facts about the national rates for teacher attrition. I thought that this additional information would add  perspective for the numbers given for Teach for America.  Here is my sentence:

Nationally, 16.8 percent of teachers leave their positions each year. In the urban areas where most Teach for America corps members serve the teacher turnover rate is above 20 percent.

I’m curious to see how long my my little edit lasts.  I spent some time looking for a reliable source for those facts and found them in a report by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.  I also looked at numbers from a Department of Education report.  The numbers were basically the same, but in different formats (the Department of Education report provided separate numbers for teachers who left the profession and those who simply changed positions; when you add them together you get the turnover rates that NCTAF was talking about).  I chose the NCTAF format because the commission’s format seemed more comparable to the numbers already quoted in the Wikipedia entry.  Because I knew others would be editing my work, I took extra time to try to get my facts straight, but didn’t bother to look up the proper citation formats for Wikipedia.  I just looked at the markup for other citations on the page and tried to imitate it.  I figured if I had it wrong, someone else would come around and fix it.

I noticed that the editor for the Wikipedia is kind of ugly, definitely not WYSIWYG.  I also noticed that when I took the time to create an account before editing, I was taken to a page giving information on Wikipedia standards, etc.  I’d read some of it before, but I didn’t read it this time.  I was annoyed that I couldn’t easily navigate back to the page that I wanted to edit.  It was probably Wikipedia’s way of making sure new editors read the rules.

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About Kimberly McCollum

I'm a former middle and high school science teacher and current stay at home mom.
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4 Responses to Becoming part of Wikipedia

  1. sarajoypond says:

    What an interesting paradox! I found the same thing. I was quite a bit more rigorous in my fact-checking for this article than for those I write on my own, yet I too didn’t both much with the formatting “details” given all the assurances I’d seen from within that community that there were droves of code-geeks just waiting to swoop down and clean up my hideously inelegant code.
    Now if only we could build the equivalent for fixing up APA in dissertations! 🙂

  2. I appreciate the depth of the research you did on educational uses of wikis! I have (by default) ‘volunteered’ to write the chapter on this topic, so I am sure that your work will be very helpful! Thanks, Kim!

  3. David Wiley says:

    Kim, can you imagine a time – outside an assignment – when you would invest this level effort to improve an open article? Was this your first time ever contributing to Wikipedia (sounds like it)?

    Also, the sentiment of “I figured if I had it wrong, someone else would come around and fix it” is pretty liberating, yes? Or will it lead to making people lazy?

  4. @SaraJoy – I wonder how much effect Wikipedia had on my commitment to proper citation. I’ve always been more rigorous about “fact-checking” than I have about what I consider “formatting”. I’ve had to use so many different citation formats in my academic life that I can’t keep them straight. I only care when someone else (usually a professor) forces me to care.

    @ Linda – You’re welcome. I’m glad you found my work helpful.

    @David – This was my first time contributing to Wikipedia. I can easily imagine a time when I would invest this level of effort to improve an open article. A friend of mine, or trusted contact, would simply have to ask me to contribute and I would make an effort. However, I am unlikely to contribute much effort to open projects if I have no connection to anyone else working on the project. I’ve got enough of my own projects.

    The attitude of “if I had it wrong, someone else would come around and fix it” did make me lazy . . . didn’t it?

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