Living with Wikipedia

Thanks to Eszter for posting a link to this article.

The article is about schools officials’ antagonism towards Wikipedia. According to it, the teachers are so dissatisfied with students using Wikipedia, that they simply forbid it, or more so, block it on school computers. They argue against inaccuracies in the online encyclopedia and against students’ blind reliance on this source.

This is not a new claim, however it hits the nerve again and again. Of course Wikipedia is not perfect and there are probably cases of inaccuracy even in the major articles. But it is there, it is not that bad, and it is easily accessible. So, the question is what would be the best way to deal with it? Is shutting off Wikipedia the best solution?

Living the accuracy argument for a different post, I would like to focus on the use. One of the arguments cited in the article is that students use Wikipedia because it is easy to do so. This claim is portrayed in a negative light, drawing a short direct line between “easy” and “low quality”, or just “not good enough”. However, it seems to me that shutting Wikipedia off the schools follows the same trajectory – it is easy and it is not good enough. At the end of the day it’s not Wikipedia’s fault that students unquestionably rely on it and demonstrate zero criticism to materials they retrieve online. It is actually the responsibility of the educators to equip those students with tools for critical thinking and to teach them appropriate use of Wikipedia or any other online (and actually also offline) resource.

Banning Wikipedia or blaming it for students’ inadequate performance is like blaming the car for car accidents. It’s only means, only technological tool, and we are those putting meaning into it through the ways we use it. People are getting injured and even killed in car accidents, but nobody offers to ban cars from the society. Instead, we invest a lot of money in educating people for the correct use of the car and the correct behavior on street. Why is the attitude towards new media in education so radically different?

It seems to me that media literacy skills are very important factor here. On the one hand we see educators revolting against technology, as this article illustrates. On the other hand we see some “interesting” requests from fresh college students, who seem to move to another extreme of denying anything the traditional education system has to offer. Isn’t it possible that the “golden pass lays somewhere in between? Isn’t it possible that with adequate media literacy training (first of the teachers and then the students) we would be able (1) incorporate the strength of traditional education in new media environment and (2) foster more critical (and as a result more personally and socially beneficial) use of new media by the younger generation?

In any case, it seems that the responsibility to take the lead is on the educator and I wonder if that is a generation gap and if the younger teachers will be more media-responsible and technology-open?

What do you think?

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6 Responses to “Living with Wikipedia”

  1. lisa Says:

    Inspiration from any source I say. The only is on teachers to teach critical analysis of any source. I even go back to previous versions of some Wikipedia articles to find unverifiable information or ‘gossip’. Sometimes it’s the only place you can find links to pull the threads together.

    Kids have to be taught that things deleted from the Wikipedia article were deleted for a reason – non-verifiability. Wikipedia’s laissez-faire policies, especially the Verifiability policy, are in fact fantastic open source instruction materials for school students of today, even though they themselves have many authors and were built up by global consensus rather than any “gold standard”.

  2. lisa Says:

    Inspiration from any source I say. The onus is on teachers to teach critical analysis of any source. I even go back to previous versions of some Wikipedia articles to find unverifiable information or ‘gossip’. Sometimes it’s the only place you can find links to pull the threads together.

    Kids have to be taught that things deleted from the Wikipedia article were deleted for a reason – non-verifiability. Wikipedia’s laissez-faire policies, especially the Verifiability policy, are in fact fantastic open source instruction materials for school students of today, even though they themselves have many authors and were built up by global consensus rather than any “gold standard”.

  3. lisa Says:

    why can’t I delete my first comment (had a typo), Dima?

  4. Dima Says:

    Have no idea… sorry… some WordPress feature….
    Do you want me to delete it? The second version is missing the link.

  5. mnmnj Says:

    I agree, Wikipedia would be a great source of material for teaching students about open source technologies, and about verifyability. In addition, why wouldn’t WIkipedia be a great opportunity to teach even younger students about primary and secondary sources? Why can’t the ease of use of Wikipedia be the spark to ignite a love of research? I think any truly excellent teacher could find an infinite number of ways to use Wikipedia to teach students to be more thoughtful and rigorous.

    Also, wasn’t there a study that found that the inaccuracies in WIkipedia were, on average, not significantly more glaring than those in the Encyclopedia Britannica?

  6. lisa Says:

    Not surprisingly Jimmy Wales thinks that these schools are irrespondible in banning kids from using Wikipedia and that it’s okay for using in schools too. What’s surprising (and stupid of him) is that he says primary-school kids should be able to cite it! (link)

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