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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Develop: When Does Collective Wisdom Make Sense?

Interesting article over at cnet news about the future of games called Future games to harness player’s collective wisdom. The article describes a talk given by alternate-reality game developer Jane McGonigal at the Game Developer's Conference in the serious games summit portion. She stated that she believed computer games can teach collective intelligence. She defines “collective intelligence” as many people coming together and using technology to solve problems or advance knowledge. Here is fellow blogger Barton's take on her presentation. (He also has blogged on other aspects of the conference as well, the lucky man is there.)

She gave several examples including Wikipedia which was interesting since that very day, faculty at Bloomsburg University were having an email discussion about the value of Wikipedia to students and for research.

The normal debate raged on, spurious information (especially since Essjay turned out not to be who he claimed)is contained in Wikipedia, it can’t be trusted, it is not a good source of information.

On the other side are people who claim that it is as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica. You know the story, a research study was done and published in the referred journal, Nature . The journal contained a study that revealed that Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia had approximately the same number of errors in a random sample of articles. Read Internet encyclopedias go head to head to learn more. Of course, Encyclopedia Britannica fired back stating that the study was fatally flawed.

To me, the accuracy debate is important but misses a serious advantage of Web 2.0 tools for gathering collective intelligence. As soon as Wikipedia knew what the errors were, they were fixed. For Britannica, the process takes much longer (trust me, as someone going through the process of writing a traditional paper-based book, the production process is painfully slow).

As instructional designers we need to consider when to use certain tools, when is the wisdom of crowds appropriate for a wiki-delivery mechanism and when is it appropriate to take the time to deliver well crafted e-learning? So here are some thoughts I have on the subject. (By the way, I am working on a wiki to accompany my book since the "publisher" ran out of room for the glossary.)

Considerations for choosing a wiki:
  • Large enough critical mass (need the "crowd" concept)
  • People feel free to contribute
  • Some structure is already in place (template for adding entries)
  • Speed of information is important (maybe even more important than accuracy)
  • Real-time collaboration is not necessary but serial collaboration is needed
  • Some level of expertise exists in different pockets within the "crowd'
Am I missing anything? Are these accurate?

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