Allowing Students to Use Wikipedia

I just saw this post by Christopher Dawson, which is a plea for teachers to stop prohibiting the use of Wikipedia in their classes.

I know Wikipedia is scary. It has pictures of genitals, deviant behavior, piercings, and virtually every other item that we block with sophisticated content filters in our schools. So does the rest of the Internet, in infinitely cruder and more explicit settings. You know what Wikipedia has that the nether regions of the Internet do not, though? Citations. References. Links to further reading and verifiable primary sources. And when it doesn’t, it has a nice little box at the top of the entry explaining why it doesn’t meet Wikipedia standards.

via Teachers: Please stop prohibiting the use of Wikipedia | ZDNet

I couldn’t agree more with Dawson.  Wikipedia can be a great source of knowledge, but even better are those citations at the bottom that can lead you to other information or even tell you what to look for in school and research databases.

My most recent professor in grad school uses Wikipedia links within the syllabus to provide overviews and biographical information along with more scientifically validated information.

We don’t need to teach our kids not to use Wikipedia. We need to teach them to make those extra few clicks and decide for themselves if the Wikipedia entry has merit. It’s a skill that is broadly applicable in an age of information overload and Google’s billions of search results.

So tell, what do you think?  Is Wikipedia a worthwhile (if secondary) source?  Should children be allowed to use it?  Do you agree with Dawson’s statement that there is more value in teaching students to decide if entries have merit than just prohibiting Wikipedia altogether?

Read the full post at Teachers: Please stop prohibiting the use of Wikipedia | ZDNet

4 Responses to “Allowing Students to Use Wikipedia”
  1. raxxq says:

    This is really interesting. One of my professors posted a wikipedia link in our discussion board an my initial reaction was “wikipedia? really?!” but the more I thought about it the more sense it made to me, especially considering that the topic is Java versions. It reminds me of the adage that the winners write the history books; I think that wikipedia is a way of balancing the equation, or at the very least fostering the debate. There was definitely a time when wikipedia would not have been an acceptable source, and generally if given the option I would prefer to use the cited references, rather than wikipedia itself, but wikipedia is a singularly AWESOME starting point for just about any research.

    • bahia says:

      I agree. I mean I understand not using Wikipedia as a cited reference. Then again, some of my professors only allowed peer reviewed articles, which bars encyclopedias from being used. I think in particular, it is a great starting point and the fact that Wikipedia covers topics that an encyclopedia just cannot is great.

  2. Don says:

    Simple solution: teachers need to start editing weaker Wikipedia entries to bring up the standards. If you can’t fight it, join it.

    Wikipedia is not a primary source, but it is the option of first resort. Not just because it’s easy, but because it’s accurate. Barring students from using it is like barring them from using the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    • bahia says:

      Good idea. I also agree with Dawson’s point that teaching students to think critically about the validity of information is a hugely important skill.

      The other thing I found pretty interesting is the statistic he cites showing that the average encyclopedia is only slightly more accurate than the average Wikipedia article.

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