Wikipedia: The difference between information acquisition and learning knowledge
First Monday

Wikipedia: The difference between information acquisition and learning knowledge by J. Evans Ochola, Dorothy M. Persson, Lisa A. Schumacher, and Mitchell D. Lingo

This paper attempts to define Wikipedia in an information literacy context by providing an analysis of learning knowledge and Wikipedia’s structure. The distribution of learning in the digital information age is a core topic for scholarly communication. It is highly relevant to students, citizens and instructors in their roles as users of content and as creators of content. Even though it appears to be far removed from traditional publishing in the print world, many students, citizens and instructors use digital information tools to share aspects of their works in a way that is defined as publishing. Understanding the difference between information acquisition and learning knowledge are essential in educational settings.


Learning knowledge
Holistic approach and legitimacy
Evaluation of Wikipedia
Challenges posed by constant change




This paper seeks to understand Wikipedia: the difference between information acquisition and learning knowledge. The American Library Association (ALA, 1989) defines information literacy as being able to ascertain what information is needed, understand how the information is prepared, find the best sources of information for a given need, identify those sources, assess the sources analytically, and share that information. Even though intuition is a common marvel, academicians have often been hesitant to identify it as a form of knowledge primarily because there is little way to conclude whether it does, in fact, provide knowledge as opposed to speculation.

In the past, when organizational theorists were referring to information in the institutions of higher learning, they were referring to both information and knowledge. Conversely, with the rebirth of the knowledge management issue, the definition of knowledge encompasses both terms. But, is knowledge a more encompassing term than information? Or are these two words inherently different and mutually exclusive concepts? Information literacy is important for institutions of higher learning because students, citizens, and instructors are surrounded by information in all formats. Not all information is generated the same way. Some information is respected, up-to-date, and trustworthy, while other information is out of date and misrepresentative. The amount of information available increases every second. The types of tools used to access, handle, and generate information continues to expand.

For the purpose of discussion, it is important to define information and learning knowledge. Information consists of facts and data organized to describe a specific situation. Knowledge is utilized to determine what a particular situation means. In other words, knowledge is employed to deduce information about the situation and to decide how to handle it. Knowledge entails facts, truths, perspectives, concepts and know-how. Knowledge is accrued and held over time to handle specific situations. To illustrate the difference between information and knowledge, let us use a scenario in an educational technology center (ETC). A student contacts an educational technology center lab assistant to update their electronic portfolio. The distinctions between information and knowledge for this interchange follow. Student: “My electronic portfolio is not opening, its URL is Why can’t I access my electronic portfolio?” The educational technology center lab assistant possesses the knowledge of how to operate the electronic portfolio, how to talk to students, how to verify that the student is an authorized individual, how to interpret the student’s request, how to interpret metadata, and how to explain it to the student.

In addition, the educational technology center lab assistant possesses other kinds of knowledge such as concepts about students, student URLs, and the source of the broken link. The educational technology center lab assistant obtains from the system information such as the holder’s name, needed login, and type of restrictions. My background is in social informatics, but I certainly do not know all of the science! My specialty is mobility rates using a causal model of turnover including the roles of technology in social and institutional change and the ways that the social organization of information are influenced by social forces and social practices. I have never had a course in engineering. How do I evaluate the competing claims of electronic engineers and mechanical engineers? So my willingness to believe what I am told about electric or mechanical engineering is in the expertise of the person making the statement.



Learning knowledge

Learning knowledge is an active process in which learners persistently make effort to make sense of new information. “Over time, this sense-making activity is made up of conscious attention, organizing and reorganizing ideas, assimilating or accommodating to new ideas, and constant reshuffling in efforts to connect ideas into coherent patterns” [1]. Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999) note that knowledge is constructed collectively within local and broader communities. Pedagogical knowledge is the processes and methods of teaching and learning and how it covers educational purposes, tenets, and objectives. This form of knowledge is involved in classroom management, lesson plan development, and assessment. It includes methods to be used in the classroom including the target audience and approaches for evaluating understanding. A teacher with deep pedagogical knowledge understands how students construct knowledge and acquire skills. As such, pedagogical knowledge requires an understanding of cognitive development, social development and how to apply them in a classroom. Similarly, gaining skills in information literacy increases the opportunities for student and citizen learning. As students and citizens become engaged in using variety of information sources they sharpen their critical thinking for further learning. Attaining competency in information literacy requires an understanding that this cluster of aptitudes is not irrelevant to the curriculum but is entwined within the curriculum’s content, structure, and sequence. Combining information literacy with curriculum content opens possibilities of using a variety of student-centered teaching methods. Kouwenhoven (2010) posits that the major objective of education and training has shifted from only the acquisition of knowledge to acquisition and application of the right knowledge. He further suggests that the development of knowledge is taking place in varied contexts with emphasis on production of knowledge in the context of application. The twenty-first century knowledge economy demands that learners gain skills and proficiencies to be able to function in their day-to-day lives.



Holistic approach and legitimacy

An exploration of the dichotomy of students, citizens, and teachers as learners versus creators must be done holistically. Students are responsible for finding the best content within a plethora of options. Separating authentic from unauthentic sources is particularly valuable tool for pedagogical knowledge of critical thinking, which is, of course, at the core of learning. Despite doubts information professionals and some experts may have, many students, citizens, and teachers consult Wikipedia. How do information literacy specialists view Wikipedia? How do we discuss Wikipedia with our clientele? In the end, what can the answers to these questions tell us about pedagogical knowledge and Wikipedia? On one side, we have opponents who view Wikipedia users as oblivious of the need to use reliable sources when doing academic work. On the other side, we have ardent users who hold to this tool as the new digital information sphere.

A broad use of legitimacy in open-content systems opens up new ways of understanding governance in online groups. Wikipedia legitimacy is debated, but it is also contested. Much of the debate is about whether there should be experts contributing to the Wikipedia, and whether the resistance to personalities shows anti-elitism. But, deliberating and dealing with Wikipedia’s legitimacy create new meanings of legitimacy. In Wikipedia, the baseline for action is to avoid coercion and hierarchy by all means. Weber (1957) posited that legitimacy describes the willingness of people to accept authority and obey its resolutions. Acceptability is a crucial factor when discussing governance in collective works. The consent of the community members is the main source of obedience. Moreover, aside from the mere threat of backlash, ideology of open sources sees the voice of community members as vital. In the framework of Hirschman (1970), the combination of a strong exit and a strong voice places the need for legitimate decision–making at the center of open governance.

Given Wikipedia’s reputation as an information resource for many individuals, searches arouse heated debate among students, experts, teachers, and citizens. On one hand, Wikipedia exemplifies many of the traditional values cherished in institutions of higher learning. Wikipedia is non-profit, makes information broadly accessible, and inspires group effort and deliberation. Lankes (2008) analyzed Web credibility literature and found that it covered four areas: 1) the credibility of media channels; 2) information source; 3) how users’ media use influences perceived credibility; and, 4) the basic user characteristics. Lankes [2] expanded on this research, finding that online research results in “information self-sufficiency”. New pellucidity and expectations of participation is shifting credibility tools and techniques from traditional authority models to more of a reliability approach. Most people rely upon online sources as an effort to gain control and satisfaction over their research. It can be astoundingly transitory. As acknowledged by Knight and Pryke (2012), students are using Wikipedia to acquire knowledge. Barring students from doing so is impossible to enforce and is in fact even counter-productive. On the opposite side, Lim and Simon (2011) claim students are aware that Wikipedia is not totally reliable and use it as a starting point for more advanced research. Through Wikipedia, students can gain a broad conceptual understanding of the topic at hand. From that understanding, they can determine how to proceed to obtain more comprehensive research. Using the footnotes in Wikipedia can be very effective at understanding the credibility of the article in Wikipedia and where to find more in-depth information regarding a topic. Most university and college instructors tell students to cite their sources when writing papers. The first question from students following the instructions given for an upcoming paper assignment is almost always, “Does Wikipedia count?” The answer has most often been “No” as those in academia realize the credibility of Wikipedia is not as strong as peer-reviewed journals. However, there is a sense of conflict as some instructors tell students not to use Wikipedia but then later the same instructors find themselves doing a Google search and clicking on the Wikipedia link to find information.



Evaluation of Wikipedia

A discussion of the difference between information acquisition and learning knowledge must include an evaluation of facts in Wikipedia. Three premises explain Wikipedia’s survival and are useful for future research. The common thread in these premises is that Wikipedia emboldens community self-examination. Members watch each other’s contributions. First, the community is responsible to maintain the accuracy when vandalism occurs. Second, other non-content spaces help in removing meta-level discussions from the main encyclopedia. Finally, group consensus is to be desired and provides both common ground and rough guidelines for resolving inaccuracy.

Wikipedia has open and collaborative editing, and assessments of its reliability usually include examinations of how quickly false or misleading information is removed. A study conducted by Viégas, et al. (2004) found that vandalism is usually repaired quickly, so quickly that most users will never see its effects. The study concluded that Wikipedia had surprisingly effective self-healing capabilities and that 42 percent of damage is repaired almost immediately. The central part of the Wikipedia system is the ability of users to edit or amend entries in the list. To Wikipedia’s credit, it has a system of allowing other people to change the vandalism rather quickly. A rigid policy would reduce the risk of harm but would likely turn away spontaneous guests.

Wikipedia’s method of adding information risks conflating facts with popular opinion. Microsoft, one of the early leaders of both CD-ROM and Web encyclopedias, removed its products from the market. Microsoft announced the discontinuation of both CD-ROM and Web versions of Encarta. Many schools have prohibited citing Wikipedia as a source in research papers, and Wikipedia fully agrees with this policy. After Middlebury College’s ban, Wikipedia’s Sandra Ordonez told that Wikipedia can be a place to start research and secure a global perspective on a given topic. Wikipedia recommends that students verify information found in Wikipedia against other sources (Jaschik, 2007). Students face an avalanche of information, some of poor quality. Therefore a good method would be to teach students how to triangulate a source like Wikipedia, so that students use other sources to tell whether a given entry is trusted. The end goal is to arm students with critical thinking skills to judge information sources.

Wikipedia is one of those innovations that scholars from all disciplines wrestle with as they attempt to assess and utilize information. For academicians in the information age, it is an absolute priority to help individuals work towards achieving information literacy and critical thinking skills. In this context, Wikipedia embodies both challenges and opportunities. The free encyclopedia edited by anyone represents a revolution in electronic resources that was completely unimaginable just 15 years ago. The following discussion is an attempt to define Wikipedia in an information literacy context by providing an analysis of Wikipedia’s structure and a brief survey of related research and responses from the information science field. Finally, and most importantly, suggestions are given on how to incorporate Wikipedia into professional and information literacy instruction.



Challenges posed by constant change

In order to truly understand the ramifications of Wikipedia on information literacy and related pedagogy, it is necessary to provide a brief history and analysis of the encyclopedia itself. Wikipedia started out in 2000, under the name Nupedia, and was designed to be a free online encyclopedia with articles solicited from professionals (Schiff, 2006). Nupedia floundered in its first year of existence, gaining little content and even less interest. Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, the project’s founders, decided to experiment with something dramatically different and employ wiki software within their site (Schiff, 2006). Created by Ward Cunningham in 1995, it is basically “a collection of hypertext documents that can directly be edited by anyone” (Voß, 2005). By 2002, Wales and Sanger decided to scrap the Nupedia project altogether and focus on the increasingly popular Wikipedia, a site relying solely on wiki-generated content (Voß, 2005). The site’s content and popularity increased exponentially over the next few years, getting 20,000 new articles within the first year alone (Schiff, 2006). By 2005, the site had 750,000 articles in English (Denning, et al., 2005). Its English version is currently up to an astonishing 2.8 million articles.

When dealing with a project so massive, comprehending the size, scale, and pervasiveness can be quite difficult. The site is by far the world’s largest open content project, and there are few comparable entities (Voß, 2005). It ranks comfortably within the top ten visited sites on the Internet, and for many users is a default stop for reference needs (Priedhorsky, et al., 2007). For students, in particular, Wikipedia has become a “go-to” resource and is often considered to be both authoritative and comprehensive (Jennings, 2008). Students often rely on search engines as a starting point for research, and page rank often places Wikipedia articles near the top (Jennings, 2008). By comparison, the Encyclopedia Britannica, long considered the gold standard for reference works has only 120,000 articles in its electronic edition, and far fewer in print versions (Schiff, 2006). This number accounts for only about five percent of the articles on Wikipedia, meaning that the overwhelming majority of topics covered on Wikipedia are not included in traditional encyclopedias, at least not to the extent that they receive their own entries. Simply stated, Wikipedia is the dominant information resource of our time.

Clearly, a resource this massive has a profound impact on how people gather information, and this means new research approaches are necessary. Before pursuing new research approaches, the practices and beliefs embedded within the interface of wiki software must be fully understood. As stated earlier, wiki software is basically a system that allows anyone to create and edit pages. The software is open source under GNU free documentation licenses and can be downloaded and used for any project; Wikipedia just happens to be the most famous incarnation (Voß, 2005). The basic unit of Wikipedia is an article containing hyperlinks, sources, and discussion, all created by volunteer users. Every version of an article is recorded under the history page, and every edit, no matter how small, is documented and traceable (Voß, 2005). Talk pages are also provided for contributors to discuss controversial entries and decide on what actually belongs in the articles. Under ideal circumstances this wiki software, “delivers a collaborative environment which motivates contributors to iterate constantly on articles’ contents, in order to improve their quality” (Lopes and Carriço, 2008). One interesting component of Wikipedia’s setup is that it gives no consideration to credentials or expertise. In fact, Wikipedia software can be described as, a system that does not [even] favor the Ph.D. over the well-read individual (Schiff, 2006). Important to note is that while editing an article, contributors work within a 25-line box, which presumably has an effect on the style and quality of the articles. At this small size, one could argue that the wiki software is emphasizing small edits and corrections and discouraging sweeping re-writes and full edits. This aspect of the interface also lends itself to something known as the first-mover advantage where the initial contributor to an article often sets the tone (Schiff, 2006). As a means of quality control, Wikipedia employs editing bots to instantly recognize and correct common errors and acts of vandalism (Priedhorsky, et al., 2007). Human volunteers determined reliable by Wikipedia are labeled “admins” and assigned a certain group of pages to monitor for vandalism or edits breaking protocol. These admins choose what amount of personal information to disclose, and can even remain completely anonymous. The only main rules contributors must follow is that they provide a neutral point of view and give citations. Other important characteristics that distinguish a wiki from traditional information resources are modification of existing functionality and currency (Schiff, 2006). Wikipedia is essentially limitless in size and can be updated constantly, allowing for current events to be published and written about immediately. This is something traditionally published print resources and peer-reviewed journals simply cannot do.

With an understanding of Wikipedia’s history, scale and interface, the next important aspect to consider is the site’s quality, accuracy and validity. Many studies have been conducted within and outside the library and information science field attempting to determine Wikipedia’s accuracy. Results vary depending on methods and sampling. Hypothetically, if these studies determine Wikipedia to be completely unreliable, the resource would be counterproductive for educational purposes, and the only relevant discussion within an information literacy context would be how to avoid the site altogether. However, studies show that this is not the case. While far from perfect, the relative accuracy of Wikipedia has been confirmed several times. A 2005 study conducted by Nature determined Wikipedia to be comparable in accuracy to the Encyclopedia Britannica by showing that both averaged about three to four mistakes per article (Schiff, 2006). A later study by Rector (2008) confirmed these results by determining Wikipedia to be 80 percent accurate and 90.7 percent verifiable. Rector admits that her findings are limited in scope and too broad to make generalizations. Nonetheless, compared to peer resources like Encyclopedia Britannica and the Dictionary of American History, Wikipedia was found to be only slightly less accurate (Rector, 2008). The same study also found shorter Wikipedia entries to be of a higher quality, since oftentimes they have one primary contributor and flow seamlessly. Wikipedia details their guiding principles as five pillars which include 1) Wikipedia is an encyclopedia; 2) Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view; 3) Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, modify, and distribute; 4) Editors should interact with one another in a respectful and civil manner; and, 5) Wikipedia does not have firm rules.

One cannot help but be inundated by the numerous products that Encyclopedia Britannica is marketing on their Web site. From apps for iPads to the kid’s online versions the encyclopedia’s Web site works to detail the ways in which it is no longer a thick, multivolume collection on the shelf, as it had been since 1768. A careful analysis of the Britannica site reveals how editors are working to change parallel to the ways that learning has changed with technology.

Despite the established semi-accuracy of Wikipedia, the site is not without its controversies. But before citing research from the information science community critical of Wikipedia’s design and quality, it is important to also understand the limitations of research on accuracy. According to literature reviews, so far, research had been fairly limited in scope, with only small samples and comparisons among just a few resources. Surprisingly, there has not really been an attempt yet to compare a large, comprehensive and random sample of entries. More research is needed. The problem with these studies is that they are looking at fairly straightforward scientific and/or historical topics. These are areas with respectable amounts of pre-existing research and presumably a field of scholars and experts who would have interest in contributing to and editing Wikipedia pages. A more appropriate summary of these findings is that on encyclopedic topics, Wikipedia is found to be fairly accurate, but even these findings are generalizations based on only a few entries. Rector admits that more research must be undertaken to analyze Wikipedia entries in other disciplines in order to judge the source’s accuracy and overall quality. It is important to keep in mind that Wikipedia now has almost three million articles in English. This brings into question the accuracy of the more esoteric entries where there are no parallel entries in formal reference sources and little academic interest. One can assume some of these pages are not actively edited or monitored and therefore lack citations. Thus far there has not been any research on the accuracy of these more obscure pages, probably because it would be difficult to do, and there would not be other sources for comparison. To truly make any generalizations about accuracy in Wikipedia, long-tail entries that make up the bulk of the site must be considered. On the demand side, factors that lead to the long tail can be amplified by hyperlinked recommendations across products.

Beyond the accuracy of Wikipedia, there are many more concerns that have emerged in related literature from the information science community. Denning, et al. (2005) highlighted the risks associated with using Wikipedia: disputable accuracy and misinformation as well as unclear motives of contributors and editors. While some of the points may seem overstated, many of these risks are confirmed in other research as being real problems. For example, one study revealed that among article editors, “1/10 of one percent of editors contributed nearly half of the value, measured by word read” (Priedhorsky, et al., 2007). This means that despite its egalitarian principles, Wikipedia entries are still monitored and edited by a very small number of people. As a result, the site sometimes displays clearly American or Euro-centric biases, with the stereotypical contributor being an affluent white male. Certainly, the motives of this relatively small number of editors are not always altruistic. Public figures, politicians, and even founder Jimmy Wales have all been caught editing and “airbrushing” their own Wikipedia pages (Schiff, 2006). Despite the best efforts of contributors and bots, the system also opens itself up to acts of vandalism and abuse. While 42 percent of damage is repaired almost immediately, before it can confuse, offend, or mislead anyone, there are still hundreds of millions of damaged views (Priedhorsky, et al., 2007). According to the study, the chances of coming across a damaged page increased exponentially from 2003–2006 (Priedhorsky, et al., 2007). The quality of writing on Wikipedia is also inconsistent, with some articles being cohesive, cited, and easy to follow, while others are virtually indecipherable, fragmented, and sourceless. This is especially the case with longer entries that tend to be “disjointed and show variation in voice from the numerous contributors” [3]. Wikipedia has a system of warnings and cleanup, but flagged articles still remain visible. Another study determined that even articles with properly cited sources lack complete verifiability due to problems with accessibility of referenced Web pages (Lopes and Carriço, 2008). Without being able to actually view the sources of an article, it is difficult to truly gauge accuracy.

Beyond these studies, there is also greater resistance toward Wikipedia’s policy of ignoring credentials. There are complaints that contributors are self-appointed pundits who have no scientific competence whatsoever casting aspersions upon precise and pertinent remarks by expert in the field (Beasley-Murray, 2008). Surprisingly, these types of reactionary and non-constructive statements are fairly common among Wikipedia’s outspoken critics. But despite its weaknesses, many scholars, students, citizens and information literacy professionals still see Wikipedia in an educational and academic context and work towards improving it, instead of simply dismissing the resource altogether.




Based on its size, popularity, pervasiveness, complexity and relative accuracy, Wikipedia is a force to be reckoned with within the realm of information literacy. To what extent can Wikipedia be trusted? The academic community should become more visibly active with Wikipedia. According to a poll released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, more than a third of American adult Internet users (36 percent) regularly consult the citizen-generated online encyclopedia Wikipedia. On a typical day in May 2010, 53 percent of online Americans consulted Wikipedia, up from 36 percent in February 2007. It is particularly popular with the well-educated and current college-age students [4]. Wikipedia’s formula of collaborative writing and editing has been so successful that Encyclopedia Britannica announced that it would be accepting additions and edits to the Web version from the public [5]. Encyclopedia Britannica features about 125,000 articles and costs US$69.95 per year. Unlike Wikipedia, it is written by known authors, either on-staff editors or outside experts. In 2005, Nature published a study showing that in 42 randomly selected science articles, 162 mistakes appeared in Wikipedia compared to 123 in Encyclopedia Britannica. The volunteers who write articles sometimes take excessive ownership of what they have contributed, deleting changes, including corrections made by others, despite the collaborative ideals behind the effort. Like much of the Web, “the egalitarian nature of Wikipedia favors the loudest voices over the most learned or informative” [6].

Mistakes can appear on Wikipedia by intentionally vandalizing a page in front of the student, or by showing students how easily they too can add false information (Jennings, 2008). Of course these types of demonstrations should be done using the preview feature and be immediately corrected. Another important thing to teach students is that Wikipedia should never be a stopping point for academic research. It should only be used as a starting point (Rosenzweig, 2006). Obviously the site is incredibly useful in providing basic background knowledge on a given topic, and in early stages of research the hyperlinked document structures are useful for brainstorming and finding keywords. But students should be able to distinguish the difference between actual research and the summarizing that goes on in Wikipedia or any other encyclopedia for that manner. One easy way for students to move beyond Wikipedia is to actually read the articles cited by an entry. This can lead students to higher level research and also illustrate some of the misinterpretations and biases that emerge in Wikipedia. The hyperlinked keywords found in Wikipedia entries can be highly useful for searches in academic databases and traditional, peer-reviewed journals (Jennings, 2008).

Beyond individual scholars, there are also ways in which institutions can positively engage with Wikipedia to improve the site and educate users. Obviously, the more involved academia is with Wikipedia, the quality of discourse and writing will be elevated as well. Given the site’s popularity and accessibility, it is completely counterproductive for universities and scholars to dismiss it. Simply put, “it is time for the academic world to recognize Wikipedia for what it has become: a global library open to anyone with an Internet connection and a pressing curiosity” [7]. Contrary to what some scholars think, working within Wikipedia does not necessarily compromise quality. After employing Wikipedia into class assignments and regularly contributing, Professor Beasly-Murray of the University of British Columbia found, “the more universities engage with Wikipedia, and the more they realized that they can do so without necessarily dropping the high standards of research and academic rigor that it is also their duty to safeguard, the more they benefit not only their own students, but also their public good” [8]. As more scholars and institutions begin to contribute, Wikipedia’s quality and authority will likely improve. Some even “propose that all academics with research specialties, no matter how arcane (and nothing is too obscure for Wikipedia), enroll as identifiable editors of Wikipedia” (Wilson, 2008). Such participation will help alleviate some of the concerns surrounding anonymous contributions and also make clarifications on edits easier to come by. As per Wikipedia’s policy, non-scholars will always have as much editing power as tenured faculty, but certainly the level of discussion and writing will improve if more experts come to the table.

In many ways, Wikipedia bears resemblance to feminist pedagogy in teaching and learning, as explained by Maher and Tetreault (1992) in four key points. Feminist pedagogy has evolved from many sources. The first point of mastery allows learners to gain mastery on their own terms instead of relying on the traditional ways, based on the terms of one sole authority. Wikipedia allows learners to gain information about a topic by using the Web surfing mentality to read about a given subject and then use hyperlinks to discover other resources to understand a given topic on their terms, not through just one single master set of knowledge. In this way, knowledge is socially constructed, collaborative and peer-driven. The second point of feminist pedagogy includes the importance of the voice of the learner in the construction of knowledge. Wikipedia clearly details this aspect through instruction literally fearless of alteration, even bold to make changes repeatedly. The third theme of feminist pedagogy refers to shifting authority from one to many. Wikipedia clearly has a board of editors but relies heavily on users to produce the majority of information with the editors available to ensure validity among entries. In comparison, Encyclopedia Britannica argues for their authority through their Board of Directors which includes Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and a rich variety of faculty at illustrious institutions. The power of Wikipedia is that it is free in the hands of the thousands of users. With Encyclopedia Britannica, information is pay-to-access and strongly authoritative. Fourthly, as each learner processes information at their own pace, a learner can better conceptualize and understand each issue. Like the third point, a focus on the learner and the way that the learner processes knowledge is illustrated through the ability for a user of Wikipedia to edit each entry and follow links to further gain background information on any issue.




The challenges posed by the difference between information acquisitions and learning knowledge can be quite daunting. Often, it is rather difficult for instructors to keep up with new resources that are emerging online and more difficult to instruct students and others how to utilize these new resources. Evidently, Wikipedia is one resource that deserves the attention of information professionals for years to come. If the developments in new literacy studies have taught us anything, it is that literacy, pedagogical knowledge, and Wikipedia can no longer be put in a box and defined operationally. It is instead a fluid type of knowledge that empowers the individual within a specific culture or context. Information literacy represents just one of these new literacies, but in the information age, it is difficult to think of a more important one. Teaching information literacy, pedagogical knowledge, and Wikipedia are essential for instructional and information scientists in educational settings. Engagement with Wikipedia at an institutional level is necessary to improve its overall quality.

We need to embrace an expanded definition of information literacy to allow students and others to engage with information and develop critical thinking and life-long learning skills. The outcome should be students and adults with the ability to combine many types of information available while seeking facts, to think critically to evaluate the merit and reliability of a given source, and to understand how those qualities affect the quality of information in a source.

The distribution of learning in the digital information age is a core topic for scholarly communication to students, citizens, and instructors. It is highly relevant to students, citizens, and instructors in their roles as users and creators of content. Many students, citizens, and instructors use digital information tools to share aspects of their works in ways that may be defined as publishing, even though it appears to be far removed from traditional publishing in print form. The entire business model of publishing has changed. Furthermore, students, citizens, and instructors are more likely now and in the future to experience content of all kinds as digital, easily obtainable, reusable, and shareable. All are content users and creators, shifting between those roles in many aspects of their work. As an essential part of information literacy, pedagogical knowledge, and Wikipedia, educators need to ask and understand questions that span the traditional scholarly publishing environment and touch on new ways of approaching learning.

Open source in a sense has altered content and teaching in new ways. Technology has been both an unsettling and empowering force in academic and educational publishing, challenging conventional meanings of scholarship, ownership, and authorship. The traditional perception in academia is that traditional peer-reviewed publication is the ultimate and preferred vehicle for scholarship. Wikipedia has created an environment that questions how scholarship was created, who created it and who owns it. Open content brings together a wide range of resources, some outside the traditional boundaries of scholarship, ready to help develop information fluency among students, citizens, and instructors.

What kinds of individuals contribute to Wikipedia? Forte and Bruckman (2005) found that these individuals were interested in improving entries and helping others better understand information on a given topic, much like scholars contribute to the literature of their respective fields. Collaboration in Wikipedia is much like the efforts of a group of scholars editing and reviewing the content for a peer-reviewed academic journal. The biggest difference may only be that authors are not explicitly identified. The earliest iteration of Wikipedia, Nupedia, required a peer-reviewed process that actually contributed to its failure (Sanger, 2006). Wikipedia was created as a way of accruing information in a far more efficient fashion.

Wikipedia’s processing of information provides a reliable and rapid technique that, for the most part, successfully yields significant resources for both student and scholar alike. However, like any information resource, Wikipedia’s content needs to be verified and tested against other available resources if they are readily available. Future increased participation of the scholarly community in Wikipedia will not only improve this resource but affect alternative resources in both the digital and print worlds. End of article


About the authors

J. Evans Ochola is Instructional Designer in the College of Education and a lecturer in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Iowa.
E-mail: evans-ochola [at] uiowa [dot] edu

Dorothy M. Persson is Adjunct Assistant Professor/Librarian at the University of Iowa.
E-mail: dorothy-persson [at] uiowa [dot] edu

Lisa A. Schumacher is an Assistant Professor of Recreation Therapy at Western Illinois University.
E-mail: lisa [dot] a [dot] p [dot] schumacher [at] gmail [dot] com

Mitchell D. Lingo is a Ph.D. student in Educational Policy and Leadership Studies with an emphasis in Schools, Culture, and Society at the University of Iowa.
E-mail: michell-lingo [at] uiowa [dot] edu



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Editorial history

Received 30 September 2013; revised 13 July 2015; accepted 15 October 2015.

Creative Commons License“Wikipedia: The difference between information acquisition and learning knowledge” by J. Evans Ochola, Dorothy M. Persson, Lisa A. Schumacher, and Mitchell D. Lingo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Wikipedia: The difference between information acquisition and learning knowledge
by J. Evans Ochola, Dorothy M. Persson, Lisa A. Schumacher, and Mitchell D. Lingo.
First Monday, Volume 20, Number 12 - 7 December 2015

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

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