educationau seminar – Jimmy Wales and Mark Pesche

On the 23rd April I went to the educationau conference: Challenging how knowledge is created. The main speakers were Jimmy Wales (the guy that founded Wikipedia) and Mark Pesce (New Inventors and author of about 5 books on the future of technology). I found it to be a good and thought provoking day.

Jimmy Wales was very slick with his presentation. He spoke about Wikipedia/Wikia (the company that does everything else), the popularity, access by internet users, accuracy and the way that wikipedia should be used (e.g. as a reference tool to jump start further research, not as a primary reference). There is a good blog that goes into more detail into the content of his presentation: http://gwegner.edublogs.org/2007/04/23/educationau-jimmy-wales-seminar/

On a positive note, Jimmy Wales handled all of the questions asked, very well – in fact, he handled them like a guy who had answered them all 50 times already. On that point, I found him to be a little standoff-ish and disinterested (I am not sure of the etiquette of constantly emailing/txting while being introduced as the keynote speaker for the day). I guess that is to be expected from the guy who founded wikipedia (should that is in capital letters?). It would have been interesting if he shared a little of himself personally (I was wondering what spurred his loathe of Encyclopaedia Britannica, which came through very clearly). Generally, he was amiable and (as you would expect) very knowledgeable.

In the afternoon session, discussion moved from Wikipedia, to Wikis (and social technology) in general. Mark Pesche (is a writer, researcher, teacher and author of five books and numerous papers on the future of technology and also appears on the New Inventors on the ABC) presented and he was brilliant.

He looked at the concepts of; what is truth? who do you trust? And considered examples of other peer-produced encyclopaedias on a continuum of
Distributed authority – centralised authority
(e.g. Wikipedia) (e.g. Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Introducing the importance of peer produced knowledge, he made the point:

Elites know that knowledge is power
Special interests work to shape knowledge
Communities are becoming aware of latent in them

Therefore, what are the practical and philosophical challenges for peer produced knowledge sharing technology? This was the question we workshopped in small groups.

For me, this had many implications, most significantly implications of the constructivism in this quote:

All knowing is doing, and all doing is knowing – The tree of knowledge (humberto Maturana and Fransisco Verela)

If we are going to deconstruct what is truth? Who do you trust? I think it is equally important to consider; how do you construct what you trust? We read websites to see if we believe their information is true and accurate, consistent with our internal belief systems and etc. This is generally consistent with our concepts of centralised authorities. However, with peer-produced knowledge, we can’t hold any one person (or figure) accountable for inaccuracies. For many people in my group, this made them feel very uncomfortable with the ‘validity’ of peer-produced knowledge. Therefore (for many people):
Who do I trust = a centralised authority with accountability for knowledge production.

Melanie