I'm giving brief reports from the COLIS 2010 conference in London, UK. I will cover a study of Wikipedia editors and then (more briefly) a study on using Wikipedia editing as a task in schools. Helena Francke (Boras University) and Olof Sundin (Lund University) presented on Credibility in Wikipedia from the perspective of editors. They looked at questions about how credibility was discussed, what types of criteria partcipants consider (as Wikipedia editors) and how the editors themselves use Wikpedia. It was a qualitative study, interviewing 11 people who were experienced editors of Swedish Wikipedia. Since "Wikipedians" share a set of tools, language etc. and have common goals, they could be said to form a network of practice.
In terms of assessing entries, the author was very important, tending to assume that experienced known authors would be more trustworthy than new or unknown authors. The Editors also looked at the history and talk pages to guauge the discussion, to see whether some element was being disputed or changed a lot, or identify controversial issues.Subject knowledge is used to judge which topics are more likely to be subject to bias or inaccuracy. The Editors might compare with other versions of Wikipedia (e.g. English or German) "if there are enoiugh versions that include the same facts, I think you can probably trust them". Unsurprisingly, given the Wikipedia guidelines, citing sources was important too.
In terms of using Wikipedia themselves, the editors used them in ways that are similar to previous studies. For example they used it to get an overview (so absolute accuracy was not necessary), they tend not to use it when they need to be certain abut something and they compare sources to verify information.
However, the editors also use their "inside knowledge" and so again consider the credibility of the author (since they will know the authors from their editing activities) and use all the pages and features of Wikipedia to make their assessments as readers.
One conclusion that could come out of that (I think) is that being Wikipedia editors could make people make more critical and confident Wikipedia users. There are already examples of lecturers and teachers using this approach to educate their students (e.g. as described in http://information-literacy.blogspot.com/
There was also a paper in the information literacy research seminar from Eoro Sormunen, Leeni Lehtio and Heidi Hongisto on Collective authoring of wikipedia articles as a learning task in embedded information literacy instruction (at a school in Finland) . I won't say too much as the paper can be seen at in this location. The authors observed activities in the classroom, where students were set the task of collaborating on the production of Wikipedia articles. They were interested in the information literacy and inquiry based learning aspects. Analysis showed that issues to do with information seeking and use, and discussion about the work process, were the most problems or explained or discussed by the students.
There is also a paper on a first study:
Hongisto, H. & Sormunen, E. (2010) "The challenges of the first research paper – observing students and the teacher in the secondary school classroom." In: Lloyd & Talja (Eds.) Practising Information Literacy: Bringing Theories of Learning, Practice and Information Literacy Together. Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies, pp. 95-120
Photos by Sheila Webber: University College London (the conference venue), June 2010