A couple of years ago I wrote a Lesson Plan for the Excellent Teach Primary Magazine. I have copied and pasted the lesson plan into the post below as it is not available on-line. It picks up on many of the points in my recent series of posts on 7 things you didn't know about Wikipedia. But perhaps makes some of the points more accessible for educators who are keen to promote lessons in Digital Literacy using Wikipedia but are less confident in taking the ideas and 'retro-fitting' them in to a normal sized lesson.
Today you will:
- Find out more about Wikipedia
- Learn to assess the reliability of Wikipedia
- Publish to the largest encyclopaedia in the world
Different activities work well as a starter task for this lesson. One of my favourites (if students have access to technology) is for them to use Google to search for the following things ‘Gold’– ‘Iceland’– ‘President Obama’ – ‘London Bridge’ – ‘Loch Ness’ and ask them what they notice about the top search returns for each of their searches. Wikipedia should be the common link. This can be followed up with a question on, ‘why do they think it is such a popular search return?’.
Another good starter is to share some facts about Wikipedia with your class. This can be done in a didactic way or you might choose to give your students the questions and see if they can find / research the answers. The table below shows some good Wikipedia starter questions.
Answer (can be shared or researched)
Where does the word Wikipedia come from?
‘Wiki’ is a website that anyone can edit. It derives from the Hawaiian word quick. ‘pedia’ comes from the word encyclopedia.
How many languages is Wikipedia published in and how many articles does it contain?
Wikipedia has about 4 millions articles published in its all editions in 285 languages.
Who writes and who can edit Wikipedia?
Anyone can contribute to Wikipedia and anyone can edit (most articles) on Wikipedia.
When was the 1st and when was the billionth edit made to Wikipedia?
1st edit was made on 16th January 2001 while 1 billionth edit was made on 16th April 2010.
How long would it take you to read the whole of Wikipedia?
|If you can read 600 words per minute and start reading 24 hours daily, you’ll need seven years to read whole content on Wikipedia but by then most of the content will be updated/changed and you’ll need to read it from the scratch!|
Explain to your class that you are going to explore some of the skills that they might need to assess if a Wikipedia page is accurate or not.
Part One: Disclaimers
Unlike normal encyclopaedias Wikipedia openly says that it might not be accurate. Indeed, this is one of the many things that makes Wikipedia more accurate compared to most traditional encyclopaedias. If you look carefully on lots of Wikipedia pages you will see orange disclaimers like the one shown below.
There are lots of other types of disclaimers as well such as ones that say 'This article needs additional citation for verification', 'This article reads like an advertisement’, 'This article contradicts itself’ and ‘The factual accuracy of this article is disputed’.
In this first activity set your class the task of finding as many pages with disclaimers as possible. The purpose of this is to get them noticing the disclaimers in the first place. Research has shown that most people don’t read the disclaimers – they just go straight to the text. But reading the disclaimer can help the reader make a judgement on the accuracy of the article.
The second problem with the disclaimers is understanding what they actually mean. Words like ‘contradicts’, ‘factual’, ‘citation’, and ‘verification’ are difficult words for young people to understand. Take some time to explain these words to your class. Consider using an on-line or a traditional dictionary for your class to explore what some of these meaning might be.
Finally, before moving to the next activity it is important that the young people understand that the reason the disclaimers are in place. This is because the accuracy of the pages have been flagged up by the Wikipedia community.
Part Two: The Wikipedia Community
Although you may have already mentioned this in your starter activity it is important to explain to your class again that Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia that anyone can edit. One of the purposes of Wikipedia (like any encyclopaedia) is to be neutral as possible and to put all points of view across.
So a good question to your class might be, “If only one person has written a Wikipedia article, is that likely to be more or less accurate and neutral than if a group of people had written to it?”. The general rule is that the more editors a piece has the more neutral (and therefore accurate) it is likely to be. The question is, how many people have edited each Wikipedia article?
This is a good opportunity to introduce your class to the ‘Tabs’ that you see along the top of each Wikipedia page. Most people spend most of their time on the ‘Article’ tab. But the ‘Talk’ and ‘View history’ tabs are also very important.
The ‘View history’ Tab shows how many times, when and by who (as long as they are logged in) a page has been edited. Remember the general rule is the more edits a page has the more accurate it is likely to be. The ‘Talk’ tabs make fascinating articles in themselves and contain the discussion and arguments of a group of editors trying to agree on the text that should go into the main article. Anyone who edits a page or contributes to its development is part of the Wikipedia Community.
Spend some time with your class exploring the different tabs on a number of different articles. Make a judgement as to how actuate you think they are try to find out some of the things that people are discussion or arguing about.
A nice follow up activity at this stage if to ask your class to go away and research a Wikipedia page (your local town works well – as it links to the next activity). Then they need to use what they have learned during the first two activities (disclaimers and tabs) to write a short paragraph as to why they think the page is accurate or not and how they think the accuracy of the page could be improved.
For younger children or for children who struggle with English consider using the simple version of Wikipedia for this activity www.simple.wikipedia.org (this is also a resource worth checking out of you haven’t seen it before).
Part Three: Editing Wikipedia
Remember anyone can edit Wikipedia and that what your going to have a go at doing next.
This activity has two purposes. Firstly, you will be demonstrating to your class how easy it is to edit Wikipedia and therefore getting across the message that this can also be used to abuse the accuracy of Wikipedia. Secondly, most importantly, that it is easy for anyone to improve the accuracy of Wikipedia particularly around local and niche articles.
Using the Wikipedia page of your local town or area. See if you can decide as a class how the accuracy of the page could be improved. For example, in an article about your town you might want to include a line about your local primary school or expand on an existing line by mentioning the name of the head teacher and when they took up post?
You can edit most Wikipedia articles by clicking on the ‘Edit’ tab and then just editing and saving the comment like you might up-date and email or blog post.
Once you have done this make sure you congratulate your class on contributing to the largest encyclopaedia in the world.
Follow Up and Assess
- Get your class to research and find other Wikipedia pages that could be up-dated or improved.
- If you have speakers of other languages in your class (eg: Polish). Get them to start to translating your local pages into their first language on the country version of Wikipedia. In Polish this would be www.pl.wikipedia.org
- Does your school have a Wikipedia page? If not, what a great cross-curricular project and challenge for a class or group of children!
- Wikipedia is run by the Wikimedia Foundation (and hundreds of volunteers) spend some time exploring some of the other Wikimedia projects such as Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org) and Wikispecies (https://species.wikimedia.org).
- What is Wikipedia?
- Why is Wikipedia so popular?
- Who writes Wikipedia?
- What is a Wiki?
- Is Wikipedia accurate?
- What do the words ‘tab’, ‘disclaimer’, ‘neutral’ and ‘community’ mean?
- What advice might you give to someone younger than you about how to use Wikipedia?
About the author
Ollie Bray is Headteacher at Kingussie High School in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland and is Senior Associate of the-Learning-Crowd (www.the-learning-crowd.com). He regularly speaks to audiences about technology in learning, outdoor learning, school design, self evaluation and lots of other things. He blogs at www.olliebray.com
I write another article for Teach Secondary Magazine titled, 'The Wiki Man' - you can read an electronic copy of that here.