Last November I was invited to speak at a meeting of the UK arm of the Wikipedia Education Program who support the integration of Wikipedia into mainstream education. Much of their focus is on providing advice and resources around contributing to Wikipedia as an alternative to writing essays or reports.

My talk was titled “What’s left to teach now that Wikipedia has done everyone’s homework?”. The basic premise being that if the answer to your homework/assignment is a Wikipedia article then you need to change the way you teach.

I was invited to reprise an updated version of that talk at the international Wikipedia conference (59 countries represented) in London this August. (A huge thanks to Peter Sigrist who wrote an excellent and detailed account of my talk

For me this was hugely exciting and a little daunting. Wikipedia is, in my opinion, the most popular and valuable educational platform since the invention of the printing press so I wanted to contribute to the best of my ability. On the day I discovered that the venue (the Barbican) provided its main-stage speakers with dressing rooms which was a new, and slightly strange, experience. I also knew that I was on the programme with Wikipedia’s Senior Designer Brandon Harris (@jorm) and all round nice-guy genius Jack Andraca (@jackandraca) – not easy people to keep up with (but extremely inspiring).

During the conference it became clear that the Wikipedians are generally so focused on what Martin Poulter described as the ‘axiomatic’ vision of “…a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” that they rarely consider the impact Wikipedia is having on a range of institutions and professions.  I hope that my talk went some way towards addressing this in regard to education.

The main concept I added to the talk for Wikimania was about ‘Loss of ontology’. The idea that our ability to efficiently search for pinpoint answers means that we don’t build the kind of ‘knowledge maps’ we used to when we had to seek out sections of specific books or journals etc. Given this if our pedagogy is still based on discovering answers then the existence of platforms like Wikipedia might mean our students aren’t learning as much as we hope. This, I pointed out, is a fault in our teaching methods which often don’t properly account for the Web and not a reason to attempt to ‘ban’ or besmirch Wikipedia.

The phrases from my talk which appear to have been most Tweeted were:

“The problem with Wikipedia is not that it’s inaccurate it’s that it’s too good” (i.e. you can find a decent answer without having to ‘think’)


“Wikipedia isn’t a threat to education, it’s a gift”.  (assuming we move from a pedagogy of answers to a pedagogy of questions – teaching students how to critique and edit Wikipedia is one way we can make this move.)

Resources I menioned during the talk can be found here:


40 thoughts on “Some real data on Web 2.0 use

  1. I’ve just had a quick look at your results – some things I’ve found interesting (such as the fact that post-docs were the most likely to be using Wikipedia!)

    I do have a few questions – in particular about services that you’ve not listed. For example, you’d got YouTube but not Google Video (I’ve personally found that the educational range at Google is better, or at least easier to find), you’ve also got MySpace but not Live Journal (or Elgg).
    Did you give people the option to add extra systems – either for the categories you had (Social networking) or for others (e.g. Gliffy for creating diagrams?)

    It’s useful to have this data though, as I’ve found that I have to get most of the data about what people are using from Pew Internet & that’s US based.

  2. They are very interesting data, Dave. It would be really interesting to show the aggregated data for every service not filtered by age, because I think that this data point to a profile of very intensive Internet user that ran across all ranges of ages. In some way, you take the orientation of respondent towards technology when you mention in the report that “the majority of respondents probably had some interest in leaning online to have initially discovered the page.”

    And a second question, would it be possible to elaborate data on how many people use one, two, three, etc of these services?

    Really good work. Thank you for sharing

  3. Useless questions = useless answers, or nothing we couldn’t have predicted about present and future usage patterns through the age groups. Many different spellings of “calendar” suggest the authors were in such a rush to get this to press, they couldn’t be bothered with spell-checking or proof-reading. B-, must try harder.

  4. Interesting- I note that my age group is left out of the anaylses (65+), and in my experience such pre-boomers are very high users of web2 and the intenet as a whole..and the younger ggrouops *40-65) less so.. at least the latetr seesm to show up!

  5. Thanks for this survey, it was very insightful. The growth of social networking over such a short period of time is really phenominal. I wonder when web 3.0 will start…

  6. I’ve been experimenting with various collaboration & document sharing tools and have discovered an excellent site. It is a very user friendly, web-based application that is well worth taking the time to explore. Take a few minutes and look at The tutorials are excellent & you don’t need to be a Rocket Scientist to figure out how to use it. It even offers a free version so you can try it on for size.

  7. I would be really interested in seeing a copy of the final report but the link provided does not work. Please could you send me a copy as it may well support my dissertation.

  8. nteresting- I note that my age group is left out of the anaylses (65+), and in my experience such pre-boomers are very high users of web2 and the intenet as a whole..and the younger ggrouops *40-65) less so.. at least the latetr seesm to show up!

  9. Pingback: Eso de la Web 2.0

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