[Guest Blogger Stewart Mader, Atlassian - makers of Confluence and Jira. His blog can be found here.]
The politics lecturer at the University of East Anglia is undertaking a serious study of Wikipedia and wiki technology as educational tools. Her postgraduate students are editing Wikipedia articles related to issues they've discussed in class, and each student will write a new article as capstone assignment for the course. Dr. Pratt says, “From my own teaching experience and anecdotal evidence of colleagues, Wikipedia is often used by students as a source of information in researching for their essays, much to the dismay of teachers who are sceptical about the validity of the information found on the site. Some students cite it in their bibliographies at the end of their essays, some of them don’t, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t used it. But Wikipedia, as a fully editable site, has also been hailed as an effective learning tool for encouraging students to develop critical thinking and research and writing skills, as well as enabling collaboration.”
What's interesting to me is that instead of approaching this with an open mind, some academics have already shunned her work. Thom Brooks, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle, says on his blog, "People looking at other people's work is not peer review. Peer review is assessment by those with expertise in the relevant field, something especially lacking with Wikipedia."
The saddest thing about this statement is that peer review, at its core, is people looking at other people's work! One of the biggest problems I've seen in almost a decade in academia is that too many academics regard anyone without a Ph.D. as inferior and unable to understand their work, then groan about how they can't get research funding, etc. It's because they can't explain what they do to a lay person! Maybe a little more peer review by regular people might make academic work more palatable and understandable. I personally think that peer review would be much more valuable if every peer review included at least one person who's not an expert in the particular topic. Maybe that's why I like the wiki model so much.