It seems many in the academic community are coming out publicly against Wikipedia — which in my opinion is one of the coolest things available on the Internet.
The argument seems to be that having information available online, vs. only through higher learning institutions such as universities and libraries, somehow diminishes the education you receive when using the Internet method. Or, in other words, getting educated via the Internet will necessarily yield an inferior education.
Perhaps it’s because I just read the latest Dan Brown book, but I can’t help but see a similarity between this idea and one of the main tenets of the Catholic church. The notion of, “You can only get true education by going through our universities.” is strikingly similar to, “You can only be truly saved by going throug our churches.” Naturally, both sentiments are disturbing to me.
I think it’s time, at least in the case of education in the Internet culture, for institutions such as Universities to realize a simple fact. Universites were centers for learning in the past for a very simple reason — you couldn’t get that concentration of information anywhere else. This is not so much the case anymore. I wouldn’t say the Internet easily yields an Ivy Leauge education yet, but this isn’t for lack of information; it’s due to the environmental differences and strict rules imposed on students at Harvard vs. at ones computer desk at home. So in that sense I agree with the argument being made by the academics; the environment in a good university is still more conducive to learning than the average household.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only avenue they are attacking; they are going after the very quality of the information being offered by these newer mediums. The main reason for this is as old as dirt–ego, and fear of becoming obsolete.
Below, Clay Shirky (an academic himself) puts it quite nicely: (excerpt from Boing Boing)
Of course librarians, teachers, and academics don’t like the Wikipedia. It works without privelege, which is inimical to the way those professions operate. This is not some easily fixed cosmetic flaw, it is the Wikipedia’s driving force. You can see the reactionary core of the academy playing out in the horror around Google digitizing books held at Harvard and the Library of Congress — the NY Times published a number of letters by people insisting that real scholarship would still only be possible when done in real libraries. The physical book, the hushed tones, the monastic dedication, and (unspoken) the barriers to use, these are all essential characteristics of the academy today. It’s not that it doesn’t matter what academics think of the Wikipedia — it would obviously be better to have as many smart people using it as possible. The problem is that the only thing that would make the academics happy would be to shoehorn it into the kind of filter, then publish model that is broken, and would make the Wikipedia broken as well.