Wikipedia has its champions and its critics. But above all, the free online, user-generated “encyclopedia” has users. According to Wikipedia’s online entry about itself, “As of April 2008, Wikipedia attracts 683 million visitors annually reading over 10 million articles in 253 languages.” As of July 9, the English Wikipedia edition boasted more than 2,448,000 articles, many “written collaboratively by volunteers around the world.” Wikipedia, founded in 2001, ranks as one of the top 10 most-visited websites in the world.
“Wikipedia is 1,000 percent more accessible than an actual encyclopedia and about 90 percent as accurate,” says Tim Baker, succinctly explaining both the kudos and the criticism heaped on this Internet phenomenon. A school counselor in Levy County, Fla., and a recent doctoral graduate of counselor education from the University of Florida, Baker has been steadily developing a counseling-centric wiki — aptly named the Wiki of Counseling — since the summer of 2007. He began soliciting select manuscripts in January and hopes to make the site accessible to the public later this year.
“The aim in developing this new counseling-focused technology is to take advantage of the best features a wiki has to offer while working to overcome some of the problems that can come with that format,” he says. “I want to combine the flexibility of the Internet with the credibility of a traditional print source.”
Baker launched his project not because he thought it was fashionable but because he believed a genuine need existed. “The goal of the Wiki of Counseling is to develop a knowledge base, accessible to the public, of high-quality articles discussing counseling topics,” says Baker, a member of the American Counseling Association, the American School Counselor Association and the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision. “There’s a need for all populations that counselors serve to have credible information about counselors, and we need this information to be easy to understand and readily accessible — kind of a one-stop shop for counseling knowledge.”
Part of the impetus for creating the Wiki of Counseling is to establish a clearer public identity for the profession and to counter misconceptions and “junk science” proliferated elsewhere on the Internet, says Baker, who chaired the 2007-2008 ACA Cybertechnology Committee. “I’m concerned that the counseling profession is credited with both the good and the bad experiences people have with therapy because, from the public point of view, counseling is amorphous,” he says.
Baker points out that many of the opinions tossed around cyberspace — often on blogs or other public forums — lump professions such as psychiatry, psychology and counseling together, and don’t necessarily cast them in a favorable light, particularly when it comes to controversial topics such as psychotropic medications. Likewise, Baker notes that the Internet rarely mentions postmodern counseling paradigms as alternatives to medical intervention.
“I’m not saying that the world will end if we don’t, but whenever we (counselors) fail to tell our story, there’s always a chance that someone else will tell it for us, and I don’t think that’s good,” he says. “If we don’t communicate our values, who will communicate them for us? The Wiki of Counseling should represent the best that we have to offer.”
Accessibility, the very thing that makes Wikipedia so appealing, is also at the heart of most of the hand-wringing concerning the online reference site. Anyone with Internet access can contribute a topical entry or revise existing entries on Wikipedia. The problem for readers, of course, is judging whether the information being provided is credible. Wikipedia’s open-to-everyone format makes it impossible to ensure that each piece of information is accurate. Visitors to Wikipedia have to take something of a buyer-beware attitude instead of accepting each “fact” found on the site as gospel truth.
Baker realized early in the process how critical it would be to safeguard the credibility of the Wiki of Counseling site, not only so the public could access accurate information, but also to assure professional counselors that it was safe to contribute articles. In recruiting the first entries for the wiki, he learned prospective writers were concerned that their articles would be “vandalized.” Baker responded by developing protections absent from Wikipedia.
“The Wiki of Counseling introduces accountability through an integral mechanism for peer review,” he explains. “This mechanism requires all publications and revisions to be approved for publication by a volunteer editor whose professional identity has been verified. This will help prevent vandalism while maintaining professional standards of quality. It also will help reassure contributors that they will be appropriately recognized, giving authors credit for each manuscript published and acknowledging, in summary form, the service of editors and reviewers. There have definitely been questions because of the newness (of the concept), but because we have very strong validation of editors and accountability built in for what is written, I think the level of credibility will be much better.”
Any registered user of the Wiki of Counseling can write a manuscript for the site. To contribute manuscripts, however, users must provide a valid e-mail address, certify that their primary professional identity involves a counseling field and agree to adhere to the ACA Code of Ethics . When users are ready to submit a manuscript, they send it to a wiki editor of their choosing (Baker thought it was important to make the process transparent to potential contributors). Editors are registered users whose identities and professional credentials have been verified by Baker’s team. The editor then has the choice of publishing the manuscript directly to the wiki, publishing it after making minor changes to grammar and spelling, sending it to a third party for blind review or returning it to the author for more work. Eventually, Baker says, additional features will be implemented that allow ongoing revisions and additions to existing articles.
Initially, articles on the site will be alphabetized by title. But as the volume grows, articles will be organized according to the common core curricular experiences laid out in the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs’ 2001 Standards, as follows:
- Professional identity
- Social and cultural diversity
- Human growth and development
- Career development
- Helping relationships
- Group work
- Research and program evaluation
A multipurpose site
Baker hopes the Wiki of Counseling will become a trusted resource for the public to learn more about counseling and the counseling profession. He believes it’s just as likely, however, that the site will become a place for counselors to consolidate academic research, promote theory- and practice-based approaches and share knowledge among themselves.
“The Wiki of Counseling has the potential to be whatever its contributors want it to be. It’s really hard to predict what people will volunteer with their articles,” says Baker, adding that he won’t attempt to influence the wiki’s ultimate direction. “I wouldn’t be disappointed either way, whether it becomes more of a resource for the public or the counseling profession. I expect everything on there will be suitable to be read by the public regardless.”
Ana Spence-Baker, a National Certified Counselor and Tim’s wife, is most excited by the potential the Wiki of Counseling shows for bringing a wellspring of new counseling voices and ideas to the surface. “It is the future of publishing in the counseling field,” she says when asked to describe the technology. “There are people who are not well known in the profession who have plenty of knowledge and skills to share. There are also many counseling students with relevant knowledge and experience worth publishing. The wiki is the opportunity for those who usually would not publish their work to do so. … Many counseling students write very good documents while in school, but they are never submitted for publication because they do not want to go through the hassle of the submission process and they fear that because they are just beginning their training, others may not take them seriously. The wiki will allow counseling students to be participants in this sharing and collaboration, not just audience members.”
“The wiki will give all counseling students an opportunity to earn experience publishing articles and to learn more about the profession through those articles published by their peers and experienced professionals,” she continues. “The wiki will be accessible at no cost to all counseling professionals, allowing them to learn from each other and share their knowledge. Most journals, due to their limited space, would only allow a few articles to be published. However, the wiki will give everybody in the counseling field an opportunity to publish as long as their articles are professional and appropriate for the site.”
Spence-Baker, who has worked as a career counselor and a counselor in the crisis unit of a regional medical center, helped to test the Wiki of Counseling as Tim was developing the technology. Spence-Baker, also one of the site’s editors, will be in charge of verifying the credentials of other editors and ensuring that only those individuals with ties to the counseling field publish in the wiki.
“I share Tim’s interest in using technology in counseling and career development. Although I am not a counselor educator, I look forward to finding new ways that could help prepare counselors to serve clients,” she says. “The wiki will help counseling students to develop professionally in several areas, which will be a benefit not only for the profession, but also to their clients. Also, it will encourage students and professionals to not limit themselves to practicing the profession, but to contribute to the improvement of others in the field.”
Spence-Baker is also hopeful the Wiki of Counseling will help counseling professionals open their arms a little wider to potential uses for technology. “There is the misunderstanding that technology may make the counseling process nonpersonal,” she says. “However, many forget that in today’s world, some clients — mainly young clients — may respond better to treatment and the counseling process if technology is used in some way. Technology is also an important tool in preparing counselors across borders, sharing their knowledge and experience, as well as educating counselors in the areas of multiculturalism and social justice by keeping them in touch with counselors working with a variety of populations, including those from other countries. I believe the wiki could serve as a bridge to keep counselors from across the world in communication with each other. We should not see technology as the enemy but as an ally in serving our clients better.”
“I hope counselors overcome their fear and reservations about technology in the near future,” she says. “I also hope that the wiki makes some small contribution in opening the minds of counselors about the importance of using technology in the profession.”
The Wiki of Counseling is currently in a fully functional beta stage. Baker believes he will be ready to solicit a wider range of contributions from counselors in the near future and estimates that the site may be ready for public use after Thanksgiving. In the meantime, he is inviting the submission of short papers to the Wiki of Counseling. Suggested areas of focus include any topic in the broad categories of either “professional identity of counselors” or “helping relationships.” Submitted papers should explain the topic using language that can be understood by persons with no prior knowledge of counseling. For submission instructions and additional information, potential contributors should contact Tim Baker at email@example.com.
In allowing a limited number of counselors to test the site thus far and in telling others of its development, Baker has been encouraged by the reaction. “Everybody recognizes that it’s a good thing, that at some level we can benefit from this,” Baker says. “We can’t lose from collaboration. I think the wiki may lead to new ideas in the counseling field, and that can’t be a bad thing.”