Physiopedia: awesome physiotherapy reference site

I came across Physiopedia when the site creator, Rachael Lowe, followed me on Twitter.  Physiopedia is a free (to access, not edit) physiotherapy reference that has a great emphasis on being evidence based.  You must be a registered physiotherapist to get an account that enables you to contribute, which is how the site maintains quality control.  A quick overview of the articles reveals that this is indeed a high quality resource for physiotherapy clinicians, educators and students.  Perhaps the best thing about each article is not only the concise information it presents, but the reference list it provides for each article, pointing the reader to original resources.  It’s a very impressive effort.

You may wonder why I’m mentioning Physiopedia since my own site, OpenPhysio, is an attempt to be the same thing…a free physiotherapy resource for clinicians, educators and students.  There are however, some differences that I think are worth pointing out, the main one of which is the issue of licensing.  All the content published on OpenPhysio is specifically released under this Creative Commons license, which allows anyone to take that content and share, distribute and adapt the work, so long as they provide attribution to the original source, don’t make any money from it, and agree to share it under the same conditions.  I think this is an important distinction that in itself, is enough to differentiate the two projects.  Not that Physiopedia is using some heinous license, it’s just that it’s not specifically open.  The other thing that stands out immediately is the clean aesthetic and writing style of Physiopedia.

I think that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on OpenPhysio if it’s going to participate in a field with such high quality content, but that’s the whole point isn’t it?  As long as there are people pushing this agenda, the future of free and open content is looking good.  At the end of the day, the more information that’s available for physiotherapists and students, the stronger we’ll become as a profession.

Note (06/04/09): I just received an email from Rachael stating that Physiopedia used the GFDL, a great license for promoting open content.

Reference extract: credibility in academic searching?

I’ve spoken before about the need to teach students how to search, not just by typing keywords into Google, but by being able to validate the search results in terms of credibility.  Reference extract is a new project seeking to do just that, provide credible search results by using librarians (of the human variety) to provide links to credible articles online.

Context, as well as credibility, is important in search.  The example given in the project proposal involves an 8 year old asking for information about black holes.  Google won’t be able to select contextually relevant information, but a librarian will because the librarian is aware of the needs of the user.  This is obviously a simplified example but illustrates the point that semantics and meaning matter in search, and keywords aren’t a particularly useful means of figuring that out.

The project is only in a planning stage but I’m quite excited to see where it goes.

Here’s a link to the home page:
http://referencextract.org/

…and the project proposal:
http://referencextract.org/?page_id=3&page=2

Wikipedia as a reference (part II)

A few months ago I mentioned the fact that the use of Wikipedia as a source of credible information for students is something we should encourage.  Whether we like it or not, we need to acknowledge that students are using Wikipedia, as well as other online sources that aren’t nearly as credible.  Rather than ban
it outright, which would be like trying to fight the tide, we
should teach students to use online resources responsibly and critically.

Here are a few guidelines that may help students get the most benefit from articles on Wikipedia.

1. Citation link
Students will cite online sources but often will format the citation poorly. In the left hand navigation column (the “Toolbox” box) of the relevant article on Wikipedia, you’ll see a link titled “Cite this page”.  Clicking it will provide you with a correctly formatted citation for that article in several different styles (e.g. APA, Chicago, etc.).  It also includes a great explanation of why you shouldn’t be using an encyclopedia
as a primary reference.

2. Reference lists
Most good articles will have comprehensive in-text citations and complete reference lists at the end. Encourage students to use these and other cues to establish the credibility of an article.

3. Add and improve
Students should be encouraged to add to and improve the content available on Wikipedia. If they see information they know to be incorrect, advise them on how to correct it, checking grammar and spelling and adding references to back up their contention.

4. Follow up on external links
Encourage students to follow up on the list of external links and references at the end of each article. That way, they may begin to understand the academic discourse that leads to the clarification and discussion of ideas in a specific field, as well as read the original sources of information.

By discussing these issues with students and providing them with the tools to critically analyse and evaluate the usefulness of content, they may learn how to distinguish between high quality, credible articles, and those which should just be used to provide background information.

Edit (25/09/08): Here’s a link to an article discussing a “study” of the use of Wikipedia by students.  It’s interesting because of the subject but also because it gives some insight into the research method used to come up with the data:

http://www.academiccommons.org/commons/essay/who-uses-wikipedia-according-powerset

Knol: a unit of knowledge

Knol, described as “a unit of knowledge” by the project’s creators, is a new initiative by Google that allows anyone to write an article, called a “knol”, about any topic. It’s a bit like Wikipedia in that respect but is limited to discrete articles with no links between them. Authors can also decide how much freedom to give users in terms of editing, either allowing anyone in the public, only knol collaborators, or no-one at all to edit their knols.

The bulk of the knols written so far seem to be focussed on health and medicine and have been written by specialists in that particular field. After a brief review of some knols, I felt that they seem to be of a higher general standard than those of similar topics in Wikipedia. One of the advantages of knols is that there’s a structure and flow to the article that may come from having been written by one author and that unfortunately is lacking in some Wikipedia articles that often suffer from having been tacked together by many editors.

Of course, a potential disadvantage of having only one author may be a lack of either depth or breadth to the article, as well as raising questions regarding the credibility of the author. Having said that, many knols have complete reference lists and in-text citations that seem to offer reassurance in terms of the accuracy of the knol content.

I’d suggest including Knol as a useful point of reference when beginning to research a topic. It’ll not only give you a good overview of that particular subject, but will also point you in the direction of other sources.

Links:
http://knol.google.com/k/knol and Wikipedia article on Knol