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In her article, “Wikipedia, Once Shunned, Now Embraced in the Classroom,” Susan D’Agostino, and some of the professors she quotes, misunderstand Wikipedia, especially its fundamental limitations and fallacies. At the same time, at least as glaringly, they confuse “editing” with “revision.” 

The article’s title startled me: from “shunned” to “embraced.” Neither is accurate. The small number of cases, mainly in 2nd year medical school classes, does not establish “embrace,” and certainly not “trend.” 

More importantly, no one speaks the truth about Wikipedia: entries are not reviewed, they are unsigned or unattributed; there is not fact-checking or vetting. That is what invalidates the use of Wikipedia for any reputable or legitimate purpose, academic or more general. 

Nothing in D'Agostino’s commentary or any of the teachers she quotes actually and factually embraces that fundamental fact.  

Furthermore, the classroom exercises, as far as I can tell, aim much more at revising—correcting, verifying, authenticating, reconstructing, etc.—than at editing. Do we need to send the author and her quoted teachers dictionaries, thesauruses, or admission to a first-year rhetoric and composition course? My point, I emphasize, is not facetious. 

Does “editing” by undergraduates and students early in medical school meet the problems of Wikipedia or threaten to worsen them? Are these unschooled “editors” in any way prepared to conduct systematic checking, correction, and revision? Do they have the high level of intellectual and rhetorical supervision these tasks require? 

Finally, nothing in the classroom exercises described bears any relationship to “digital literacy.” 

--Harvey J. Graff
Professor Emeritus of English and History
Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies 
Ohio State University

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