Tag Archives: Google search

Wikipedia “Success” and Smart Searching

Some thoughts and questions about Zittrain and Grimmelmann:

This may seem like a strange thing to say, considering the topic of this week’s readings, but I was struck–as I often have been this semester—by how much optimism there is in writing about technology. For all that Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It raises the alarm about the “perfect enforcement” and declines in “generativity,” it also devotes a lot of space to prescriptions and solutions. Given our experiences in this course, I was particularly interested in his ideas in chapter 6, “The Lessons of Wikipedia.” Zittrain is frank about the problems and failures of Wikipedia’s strange structure and operation but he pronounces it overall a “success story,” defining that success by “the survival-even growth-of a core of editors who subscribe to and enforce its ethos, amid an influx of users who know nothing of that ethos” (142). I see his point; Wikipedia is a widely used resource, people know about it and trust it, and it doesn’t often have serious (publicly known) lapses in accuracy. But having recently interacted with the site as an editor for the first time, I feel less inclined to accept Zittrain’s sanguine attitude. My own experience was pretty uneventful but the negative experiences that some of you had with other editors stuck with me. How does our experience as a class match up with Zittrain’s evaluation of Wikipedia?

I found Grimmelmann’s article interesting from a pedagogical perspective because one of the activities that I have integrated in my classes is using Google image searches to help students understand the physical worlds of the plays that we are reading. Students tend to be cavalier about search terms, which often produces results that are totally inappropriate to a play’s geographic or temporal setting. A favorite example of mine is the students who displayed a Greek Orthodox priest for the character of Teiresias, a prophet, in the ancient Greek tragedy Oedipus the King. It only took one question from me–“What is that person wearing around his neck that might suggest that this image is not appropriate for this play?”– for them to realize that they hadn’t been careful enough in their word choice. (The answer, if you can’t immediately call up a mental picture, is a cross. Not an accessory for anyone in 429 BC, the approximate date that the play was written, nor for someone who explicitly worships Apollo.) My students are not stupid, nor are they lazy. Instead it seems to me that they haven’t been taught to think critically about internet searching. I’ve tried to get them to be more critical by asking questions about their results and trying to guide them toward better search terms. Are there ways that any of you have found to engage your students with more thoughtful, critical uses of the internet?