Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Intel Related Articles On Wikipedia (Wikipedia)

One of the assignments I give the grad students in my Intelligence Communications class is to write a Wikipedia article on something that is both "intelligence related" and that has not been covered before on Wikipedia. Last year's class generated a good crop of articles and this year's class -- while extending the definition of "intelligence-related" somewhat -- is no different. The articles recently posted include:

There are several learning objectives I try to address with this assignment. First, I want the students to learn how to evaluate tertiary source articles. I think the best way to learn what goes into such an article and what stays out of it is to actually write one themseleves. I think it gives a greater appreciation for the uses and limits of tertiary sources.

Second, I want them to experience a "critical audience". Students rarely have to attempt to please anyone other than a professor and they soon learn to game the prof (no tut-tutting from the cheap seats; we have all been there...). Wikipedia, in my experience, actually has an intelligent and varied group of editors who often critically review (in the discussion tab) articles.

Some of the criticism is warranted and some is downright wrong. Learning how to distinguish the two is an important skill in my estimation. Even when these editors don't engage a particular article, the mere possibility that they might tends to raise the bar in ways that provide for a unique learning experience.

Third, I have often thought that the quantity of intelligence related material on Wikipedia is fairly low. What is there is often good but there seems (to me) to be big holes where you would expect someone to have written at least something on the topic.

Filling some of these holes (remember, I only allow students to cover topics about which nothing has been written), seems to be a good way for graduate students to add something useful (even if it is only an outline) to their discipline and to the resource which Wikipedia has become.

Finally, most of our students go on to work inside the US national security community somewhere and I am well-aware that Intellipedia uses the same platform (MediaWiki) as Wikipedia. It seems to make sense, from an educational standpoint, that our students learn how to use that software before they get into the community.


Anonymous said...

I don't get it, I thought we were wikipedia?!

Thomas Hobbes said...

Good stuff. I agree with your reasoning on all fronts, in particular your desire giving them experience with using Wikipedia-based software. When I worked at the intel production facility in Dayton, Ohio, I was designated the Intellipedia Guy for my office. I had no experience with it, so it was a lot of trail and error. I had written for a critical audience before, but some exposure to the wickets of Wikis would have come in handy.