Skip to main content

Wanting to Share Visalia: Our Wiki Entry

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
August 19, 2006

Wanting to Share Visalia: Our Wiki Entry

Nobody seems to know how to say “Visalia” or “Tulare” when I travel. I explain where I am from by mentioning Fresno and Bakersfield, but it turns out most people have no real understanding of where those cities are, either.

“How close are you to Los Angeles or San Francisco?” people asked me at the “Computers and Writing” conference in Lubbock. The intention of the gathering was to share ways to better include technology in meaningful classroom assignments, so I turned on my laptop and headed for some familiar Web sites.

“It’s surrounded by farmland,” I tried to explain. “And on a clear day, you can see the Sierras.”

I turned to Google Earth to show satellite images of farmland. That still didn’t do the trick. The Texans wanted more information if I was going to claim some place in California was anything like Lubbock. “Just show me the entry on Wiki,” a Texas Tech professor suggested.

Also known as “Wiki” by fans, Wikipedia proudly calls itself “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” Therein lies the reason I ask my English students to avoid using Wiki: “anyone” doesn’t necessarily mean an expert edits each entry.

The most famous case of Wikipedia inaccuracy was when the article on John Seigenthaler, Sr., stated the former aid to Robert Kennedy was suspected of involvement in the assassination of president Kennedy. The article had been edited as a hoax, complete with claims that Seigenthaler had supported the Soviet Union. At the other extreme, the aids of many politicians, including Diane Feinstein’s staff, have been caught editing entries to be more favorable.

A review by the journal Nature found science articles on Wikipedia were no less accurate than articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica. As one scientist noted — the finding was less good news for Wiki than bad news for the encyclopedia publishers. Neither was an ideal source of information, which might change as more experts try to correct and expand Wiki entries.

Resorting to Wiki to explain Visalia and Tulare County was disappointing. It didn’t prove the temperatures were warm, like Lubbock, or that Visalia has a real “Western” heritage. While I didn’t notice any glaring errors, it was because there wasn’t that much information in the entry. The Wikipedia entry mentions Visalia’s population, Nathaniel Vise, and Kevin Costner’s tribute to the Visalia Oaks in the movie Bull Durham, but the article doesn’t really explain the essence of Tulare County or Visalia.

As I tried to explain that Visalia is a lot more interesting that the short Wiki entry suggests, I realized there are possible solutions. After all, I was at a conference on writing and the Internet. What I had thought was the weakness of Wiki was really its strength. Any local historians could rescue our entry in Wikipedia. Maybe some hero would step forward to tell the world our story. Local volunteers could add content to the entry on what makes us special today by adding information on the arts and local events.

I am now intrigued by the possibilities for student involvement. Instead of telling students to avoid Wiki, maybe we should be teaching them how to conduct research and improve Wiki entries.

For the Visalia and Tulare County entries, High school classes could work together to improve the content while learning about history, economics, geography, and more. Wiki entries for other cities discuss native wildlife, weather, and leading products. Imagine the excitement of students knowing their research was online for the world to see. We have many outstanding educators who can integrate writing assignments with Wiki, demonstrating to students that writing well matters when the whole world can read your words.

This project could go beyond Wiki and evolve into a virtual text on the Central Valley. Wiki encourages links to more detailed information. Other cities have links to complete online histories and even virtual slide shows. A main Tulare County history Web site could link to presentations on the various communities, which would include links to official city pages, non-profit organizations, and businesses. By starting with updates to the Wiki entries for our county and communities, students would be teaching others about our wonderful Central Valley.

I’m passionate about using the Web to promote Visalia, Tulare County, and the entire San Joaquin Valley. Tourists should be staying in our communities and enjoying our hospitality as they pass through to Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Conferences should be clamoring to meet somewhere so pleasant in the early spring months. And, yes, businesses should be thinking about how wonderful our location is, right in the heart of California.

The real selling point is that we could brag that our students wrote and edited these online resources. We can demonstrate what is possible with Wiki when it is used wisely in classrooms. Any business wondering about what type of graduates our schools produce would be impressed. Then, I’d have one more thing to brag about when I travel.,_California


Popular posts from this blog

Comic Sans Is (Generally) Lousy: Letters and Reading Challenges

Specimen of the typeface Comic Sans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Personally, I support everyone being able to type and read in whatever typefaces individuals prefer. If you like Comic Sans, then change the font while you type or read online content. If you like Helvetica, use that.

The digital world is not print. You can change typefaces. You can change their sizes. You can change colors. There is no reason to argue over what you use to type or to read as long as I can use typefaces that I like.

Now, as a design researcher? I'll tell you that type matters a lot to both the biological act of reading and the psychological act of constructing meaning. Statistically, there are "better" and "worse" type for conveying messages. There are also typefaces that are more legible and more readable. Sometimes, legibility does not help readability, either, as a type with overly distinct letters (legibility) can hinder word shapes and decoding (readability).

One of the co…

Let’s Make a Movie: Digital Filmmaking on a Budget

Film camera collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
June 5, 2015 Deadline
July 2015 Issue

Every weekend a small group of filmmakers I know make at least one three-minute movie and share the short film on their YouTube channel, 3X7 Films.

Inspired by the 48-Hour Film Project (, my colleagues started to joke about entering a 48-hour contest each month. Someone suggested that it might be possible to make a three-minute movie every week. Soon, 3X7 Films was launched as a Facebook group and members started to assemble teams to make movies.

The 48-Hour Film Project, also known as 48HFP, launched in 2001 by Mark Ruppert. He convinced some colleagues in Washington, D.C., that they could make a movie in 48 hours. The idea became a friendly competition. Fifteen years later, 48HFP is an international phenomenon, with competitions in cities around the world. Regional winners compete in national and international festivals.

On a Friday night, teams gathe…

Edutainment: Move Beyond Entertaining, to Learning

A drawing made in Tux Paint using various brushes and the Paint tool. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
November 2, 2015 Deadline
December 2015 Issue

Randomly clicking on letters, the young boy I was watching play an educational game “won” each level. He paid no attention to the letters themselves. His focus was on the dancing aliens at the end of each alphabet invasion.

Situations like this occur in classrooms and homes every day. Technology appeals to parents, politicians and some educators as a path towards more effective teaching. We often bring technology into our schools and homes, imagining the latest gadgets and software will magically transfer skills and information to our children.

This school year, I left teaching business communications to return to my doctoral specialty in education, technology and language development. As a board member of an autism-related charity, I speak to groups on how technology both helps and hinders special education. Busin…