Love it or hate it Wikipedia is a big part of our lives and its certainly a big part of our online browsing experience. Whether we admit to it or not many people consult Wikipedia on a regular basis to answer their questions. A large part of this is due to the fact that Google loves Wikipedia more than any other site on the Internet. In fact it gets presented as the top search result to more search queries than anything else, even Google itself.
Anyway, one of the challenges for educators using Wikipedia is trying to get students to use it appropriately and really to understand what it is and what it can do.
This series of posts should give you a few ideas.
7 things you didn’t know about Wikipedia (1 of 7) – It is pretty accurate
About five years ago one local authority in Scotland even banned it for a short while and you unfortunately hear about cases like this on a school-by-school basis from time-to-time.
To be honest there has never been any point in banning Wikipedia in schools. Students will continue to access it when they go home or on their mobile phones and therefore still use it to gain information (no matter how accurate you think that information is). Also, as I have argued time and time again, if we ban Wikipedia in schools how can we ever teach young people to use this resource in a safe and responsible way? Indeed, It is the same argument for almost all social networking sites.
What we should be doing is teaching students how to use Wikipedia properly – because it’s not going away.
It continues to annoy me when people simply dismiss Wikipedia as a source because they feel it is not accturate. In my experience these are people who don’t really understand how it works and teachers need to understand how Wikipedia works so they can pass on this knowledge to their students.
I still rate some of the original research from the University of Colorado , which argues that (at the time it was published) some articles were more actuate than similar articles in Britannica.
However, the simple truth and answer to the accuracy question is that, like books, WIkipedia is full of mistakes. But, unlike books Wikipedia openly acknowledges that it might not be accurate. You don’t have to look very far through it pages to see disclaimers like:
- 'The factual accuracy is disputed'
- 'This article contradicts another article'
- 'This article contradicts itself'
- 'This article reads like an advertisement'
- 'This article needs additional citation for verification'
The interesting thing about these and the many other disclaimers that appear over Wikipedia is that by acknowledging that it could be wrong it is actually adding credibility to its articles.
I can’t remember ever seeing disclaimers like these in a more traditional encyclopedia (eg: Britannica) or certainly a Sunday newspaper. But, as we all know these traditional sources can also be wrong and the errors are often just corrected in a re-print of the encyclopedia or as an apology by the newspaper months or years later (which are never linked to the original digital source).
Young people should be being taught to question everything that they read online and in print.
The Wikipedia (and Wikimedia) disclaimers help remind us of this and should be being used by educators as a teaching and learning point. Fundamentally, we should be getting children to use a bit of common sense to decide for themselves if something is true or not.
Key Message: Educators should use the disclaimers as a starting point to help their students think about an article and its sources in a more critical way.