The Tab Meets: Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales talks to TOM BALDERSTONE about the role of Wikipedia in education and the role of educators in Wikipedia.

academic britannica education Encyclopaedia Jimmy Wales reference Wikipedia

If there’s one website out there that you owe your education to, it’s Wikipedia. The global phenomenon has helped, and no doubt is in the midst of helping countless students write essays and cram for exams.

And when we think of Wikipedia, our thoughts are never far from its charismatic leader, Jimmy Wales.

Mr. Wikipedia himself last week attended a debate at the Union Society where he discussed the possibility of a gift based economy, alongside teammate and recent business partner Lily Cole.

As Colin Rothwell pointed out in his article Wicked-pedia, haters hate on Wikipedia because they claim it to be something more than it is. School teachers and supervisors alike assume it is arrogantly trying to replace academic resources with a pithy approach to academia. It’s not.

I sat down with Jimbo and his hypnotic blue eyes to discuss his baby, Wikipedia, its role in educating the populace and where he sees education going in the future.

Mr Suave (Photo Credit Thurstan Redding)

Mr Suave (Credit: Thurstan Redding)

I read on Wikipedia that Nature once claimed that some parts of your site were as well written as The Encyclopaedia Britannica. Do you ever see Wikipedia overtaking traditional publications like this?

I think that now the best opportunity for traditional publications like that to continue to exist are in specialist encyclopaedias – only on a specialised topic for a specialised audience. That’s a lot harder for an open community to do, obviously, but in terms of the general interest with encyclopaedias, I really wouldn’t want to compete with Wikipedia – it would be very difficult.

So, do you ever see Wikipedia as being treated as a legitimate academic resource? Will people ever be able to quote Wikipedia in their university work?

No… and that’s not a statement about quality! It’s a statement about what I think the role of Wikipedia should be.

I don’t think people at university level or higher should study The (Encyclopaedia) Britannica for example – it’s not what an encyclopaedia is for; it’s to help you get into something, it’s not something you’d want to cite, and that’s the same with Wikipedia.

I also read on Wikipedia that you once identified yourself as ‘anti-credentialist’, do you see traditional institutes like Cambridge as being past it? Is there still a future in the university degree?

I think that places like Cambridge aren’t COMPLETELY outdated, but they will have to change as we see new modes of learning, as we see the rise of massive online courses…there’s a lot of things going on in education.

I don’t believe that, but I don’t think we have to put up with professors who aren’t good at teaching and only research. Some are good at both, but we have the room now to take the best efforts of the best professors who can really engage people’s minds, and really use technology to help them reach a bigger audience. And to take those better at research to do research.

That's all folks...(photo credit Thurstan Redding)

That’s all folks…(Credit: Thurstan Redding)

Wikipedia is fast becoming a way of life for many of us. Thankfully, the man behind it is as equally inspiring and insightful as many of its entries.