Let Wikipedia in the Schools!

Posted: December 9, 2011 by Todd in Culture
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Many of the kids in my youth group often tell me that their teachers won’t allow them to use Wikipedia as a source in any of their reports.  I cringe every time I hear something like this and wonder why it seems that most teachers and/or educational systems seem to be in reactive mode and stuck to old models of doing things.  I understand the reason teachers may be tempted to forbid students from using Wikipedia – the same reason calculators aren’t often allowed to be used during math class.  Students need to learn the critical thinking and research skills required in various subject areas.  But we’re training them to do so in yesterday’s world. Outlawing Wikipedia is only a testament to its success.  I believe it is the single most useful reference tool in the history of the planet.  And its free, anyone with an internet connection can access it, and it’s up-to-date.

Some of my youth say that their teachers tell them that since anyone can edit it, it isn’t a reliable resource. What do you want to bet that the same teachers – when they really want to know something and get concise information quickly, rely on Wikipedia.  It’s just as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica.  But more than that, I think teachers that blacklist Wikipedia have a rather shallow understanding of it.  Sure, someone can make a bogus edit, but it is likely to get deleted or changed quickly.  There are all sorts of qualifiers indicating that information in certain articles is contested, neutrality is disputed, citations are needed and so forth. Wouldn’t our kids learn more if they were challenged to make an accurate and unique contribution to a Wikipedia article?  What about giving bonus points to students who can find errors and correct them, add relevant citations where they are needed, or flag areas that are not neutral.  Why not make an assignment to expand a stub article?  How about creating a classroom wiki site for a specific topic and have teams or an entire group collectively create something worthwhile.  These would all enhance the learning of critical thinking and subject matter mastery, while actually making a contribution to the world.  Learning will matter more when the tasks matter.


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