An Argument for Knols Over Wikipedia and Citizendium

What do all these concepts have in common?

  • Constructivism
  • Constuctivist teaching methods
  • Problem-based learning
  • Learning theory
  • Active learning
  • Discovery learning
  • Inquiry learning
  • Inquiry-based science

They all point to Wikipedia when you search for them on Google. All these Wikipedia articles have been repeatedly edited by a well meaning person (David Lewis, see contributions here and here) who happens to be against them as valid methods or theories of instruction. He is in complete agreement with a critical article published by Clark, Kirshner, & Sweller last year that I covered earlier. That citation is now all over all those Wikipedia articles.

So here is some of the information on the above topics now on Wikipedia:

Constructivist learning activities are quite useful in settings where learners have some prior knowledge (as in graduate schools) but when dealing with novices (learners in a K-12 environment) these activities tend to be less useful.

It has been suggested that students who actively engage with the material, are more likely to recall information later (Bruner, 1961), but some have argued that this claim is not well supported by the literature (Mayer, 2004; Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006).
[from the top of

While some constructivists feel all learners learn better if they “learn by doing,” there is little empirical evidence to support this claim, quite the contrary in fact (Mayer, 2004; Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006).

inquiry-based science:

* cannot be used to teach students complicated theories and ideas, such as evolution, which were developed by scientists over many decades.

* fails to teach students essential facts and knowledge.

* many teachers are uncomfortable teaching using this technique.


While people can “learn by doing,” today a debate in the instructional community questions the effectiveness of this model of instruction (Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006).

Aren’t theories testable? So isn’t constructivism a philosophy of learning?
[implying constructivism isn’t even worthy to be called a theory,

Constructivist teaching techniques expect a learner to “learn by doing.” Personally it is unethical to “teach a kid to swim, by throwing them in the water.” What’s the difference????

David has every right to make these contributions to Wikipedia. But they seem problematic to me if Wikipedia is supposed to be a non-biased encyclopedia of all human knowledge more accurate than Britannica (which actually isn’t the case). I don’t think Citizendium is any better in this situation. Citizendium is a wiki that requires people to use real names and gives more editorial power to “experts” (which at this point means anyone in college). David more than qualifies as an expert by their criteria (he is getting a phd), and I’ve seen similar biased articles created on Citizendium by “experts.” “Experts” are also creating some of the same trivial content and lists over on Citizendium that are on Wikipedia, content which inherently doesn’t require any kind of expertise (for example: “list of famous canadians”).

The problem might be the “non-biased” part of these respective sites: what Wikipedia and Citizendium call the neutral point of view (NPOV). Google’s Knol project (as well as non-anonymous blogs and journal articles) instead always associates content with the person who created it. So you can have information that may be “non-neutral”, but there is always a link to the person, whose past and future writings you can follow. Knol authors can choose to license their content with an open license, from what I gather, although Google may not require authors to do so.

That’s not to say Google’s Knol project is without it’s potential issues as well though. Will they require real names? It doesn’t appear so although they cleverly marketed it with an example from a real expert. They will let people search and sort Knol pages by rating and by popularity, however, which might be a sufficient alternative means to make the site useful for finding quality information.

Another major issue though is one that permeates most of Google’s tools: the fact that they are not open source. Google isn’t likely to go out of business anytime soon, but they can still drop support for some service they are offering at any point in time (such as what they did with Google Answers). The lack of open source also means you have to live with the features (or lack thereof) and bugs in their tools (vendor lock-in). An example of lacking a feature is Google Trends, which shows you a graph of the number of searches for a term over time, but doesn’t provide any numbers in the y axis, so you have no idea of what the graph really means.

The Google Knol project, like other Google services, is also ad-driven. That’s nice for authors of Knols who can share in the ad revenue generated by their content, but it means many are going to be motivated by the ad revenue first and foremost (see numerous blog-spam sites out there, for example), and might be motivated enough to game the Google Knols ratings and rankings.

Posted in research
6 comments on “An Argument for Knols Over Wikipedia and Citizendium
  1. robmba says:

    Instead of jumping ship to a new knowledge project, would it be worth reviewing some of the wikipedia entries that need work and fixing them up? It’s simple enough to mark an article as having problems so that anyone visiting the page will know there is an issue with the content until it can be updated. There are also the talk pages to discuss what changes need to be made or explain why you made the changes you did. There seems to be a pretty healthy dialog going on right now behind the scenes.The concerns David raises are certainly worth discussing, whatever their validity in the end. (For disclosure here, I happen to be a fan of constructivism.)In one particular page you reference, the Constructivism (learning theory) page, there is a description of Constructivism, followed by sections that describe evidence supporting constructivism and criticisms of it. It seems that is a good way to do it, providing both pro and con arguments.As cool as Google’s knol looks, being able to see other stuff written by that person and to rate the article, a downside of it appears to be lack of ability to collaborate on an article.

  2. christytucker says:

    The thing is, I think David Lewis has every right to cite Kirshner, Sweller, and Clark. It’s a published article in a journal. I don’t agree with the views represented, but I’m OK with the ideas being part of the articles. I don’t think that NPOV means we suppress contradictory ideas, but that multiple perspectives are presented. NPOV doesn’t mean that no controversial opinions are expressed, but that there is some balance.Part of what needs to happen with these articles is that the evidence supporting constructivism needs to be beefed up.Of course, some of David’s changes are over the top. The Inquiry-based learning article mentioned Kirschner et all three times–that simply isn’t necessary. Make the point once and then drop it.David also doesn’t recognize that Wikipedia isn’t an appropriate place for his own original research, and he shouldn’t attribute his own opinions to Kirschner or others. Look at this from the Inquiry-based learning article (now edited out): “Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) suggest that fifty years of empirical data does not support those using inquiry-based instructional methods. They call for those using these techniques to explain their actions in terms of empirical data.” The first sentence is an accurate summary of Kirschner, but the second is David’s personal opinion. Kirschner et al make no such call in their article.So, have you gone into any of these articles to add some research on the other side to balance out David’s changes, or to correct the inaccuracies in what he’s done?

  3. Stephen Ewen says:

    Hi Doug. I’m not going to get into these battles of learning theories, being decidedly pedagogically eclectic myself.But I did wish to try to correct some clear misconceptions you exhibit about Citizendium.You stated,To begin with, you might want to have a look at < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Categories of CZ Editorship<>. Basically, for most disciplines, the qualifications are the same as for a tenure-track university position. Overall you appear to be seriously confusing <>authors<> and <>editors<> at Citizendium. Additionally, you appear to perhaps be unaware of the project’s system of < HREF="" REL="nofollow"><>approvedarticles<><>, like peer review, which articles you might have linked to as examples of the work <>actually done and/or approved by editors<>.Thanks for letting me make these corrections.

  4. Doug Holton says:

    Thanks for the feedback:robmba–From what I’ve read, Knols will allow multiple authors to work on an article. And you can remix (if the license allows) or paraphrase/cite other knols. But really maybe just good old fashioned blogs are good enough. Problem there is some people allow comments, some don’t, some are anonymous, some not, some mix personal/professional posts, etc., no way to “rate” a blog post, or see how popular a post is.christytucker wrote: “So, have you gone into any of these articles to add some research on the other side to balance out David’s changes, or to correct the inaccuracies in what he’s done?”I’m not really interested in wasting time playing the Wikipedia editing/reverting game ( I’ve started contributing to Citizendium and will continue, but we need a space for “non-neutral” original research too I think outside of Wikipedia/Citizendium.stephen–I’m aware of the distinction between authors and editors at Citizendium. I was just using this constructivism issue as an example of something that might not be hugely improved over at Citizendium than Wikipedia. “Experts” are just as ornery, contankerous, opinionated, ideological, and driven by our own agendas as everyone else. I did see Citizendium is adding support for “signed articles”, which would essentially be like knols (or journal articles), which can address this issue.

  5. Stephen Ewen says:

    Doug, I fail to see the inconsistency between academics who publish according to their agendas <>as well as<> pieces from a stance of neutrality. For example, I once taught an adult education class where a certain “student theme” emerged: the class of mostly young parents wanted to study corporeal discipline, i.e., spanking. I began by having them initially write their own position on the matter, and then guided them do lots of Net research on the matter. Shortly, I supplemented that by passionately presenting both main sides (and variants) of the debate in the strongest possible light, and then tore each side down from the perspectives of opponents. Then we did more guided inquiry. Fact is, they never found out what <>I<> believed about the matter until <>after<> they had completed their papers. Writing a solid and, yes, <>neutral<> encyclopedia article is like that. Both writing them and having them as readings is an invaluable part of the toolchest of educators.

  6. Dave Lewis says:

    Hello allA fellow editor at Wikipedia brought this blog to my attention. There were several lines of discussion within your blog, but I should stay on topic — the neutral point of view (NPOV).I’m not certain NPOV is always a good thing. Sometimes a controversial or unpopular perspective is what is in publics best interest (e.g. being against slavery). At least that’s my opinion.As you can tell I have strong opinions but felt my edits in Wikipedia were warranted. It is difficult to remain neutral sometimes especially when you have strong evidence to back up your ideas. Also It’s easy to be misinterpreted. (FYI You might be surprised to know that I’m actually for Constructivism under certain circumstances).

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