When I did my teaching degree we talked a lot about the difference between accurate and reliable websites and those that aren’t so reliable…like Wikipedia.
I sprouted this line a lot in class…remember! Go beyond Wikipedia in your research! I don’t want to see Wikipedia in your bibliography!
I even did a task where I asked a class to update a Wikipedia site, showing them that indeed anyone, even them, can be the author of Wikipedia.
In fact, this is good practise, even without the effective website analysis, because this is asking students to create their own version of history. They are reflecting on their own construction of the knowledge, building their own ideas, and on top of that analysing the perspectives of others.
I think though we need to remember, although anyone can actually author a page in Wikipedia (or any website for that matter), Wikipedia is actually subject to rigorous review by a massive online community. Lets face it, even on a blog I cannot just write anything I like without someone picking me up on the accuracy of my statements (fully expecting discussion on this issue here!). Wikipedia is edited regularly, it is timely and it is constantly reviewed. So why is it still considered largely unreliable?
This article, found on my Twitter feed, raised this question for me. In fact, Mike Eisenberg, in his youtube clip on Information Literacy says that Wikipedia should not be banned from student’s resource lists as long as students are able to determine the appropriate time to use it and they don’t stop there.
The whole point of education is to develop critical thinkers, engaged learners, and creative souls. The new realm of digital literacies is ensuring our students are able to survive in a world where information is the currency…and there certainly is enough of it to snowball us. Like social media, which is often banned in schools to protect students, we need to teach our students to navigate these tools rather than avoid them. Use them, critically evaluate them and discuss them. Students will use these tools, so why not provide them with the skills needed to navigate them like pros?
How can you integrate Wikipedia (as part of a inquiry based approach to history)?
- Spend a period talking about the limitations and also to pros of using a site like Wikipedia;
- Wikipedia is often authored by people that are experts in their field who reference their articles. This is a fabulous way to discover websites that can add to the knowledge being built by your students.
- Write your own Wiki! Wikis are a great Web 2.0 tool which allow students to reflectively communicate their own perspectives about history and collaborate with other students in sharing knowledge.
- Use Wikipedia to connect with experts! The best thing about the internet is that we are able to connect our students with people all over the world. Use those connections. (see Flat Connections for more global collaboration projections).
- Use the bibliographies provided to further research and find other interesting resources.
- Use it as a starting point for asking questions – what is it your students really want to know? Once students have a basic understanding of a topic they can branch out. Wikipedia serves them well for this purpose.
- Refer to Wikipedia for information on topics that need up to the minute information (Twitter is also good with this – I find soooo many resources on Twitter).
Remember, Im not saying that students should refer to Wikipedia only. The best research refers to a wide variety of sources to provide a balanced perspective.
Tell me your thoughts on using Wikipedia in the classroom. Should it be banned?