Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wikipedia? Great resource? Waste of Time?

Wikipedia in the classroom? This is an interesting question. Okay, maybe the question isn't that interesting, but the answer is interesting and certainly controversial. Wikipedia is an open source community. "The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in" as stated in Open Source Initiative. This means everyone and anyone can add to or edit the content. This is both good and bad. The good part is that everyone can contribute information. This is also the bad part. Critisism of Wikipedia from Wikipedia says; "open nature makes it unauthoritative and unreliable." Some people think because some of the information is not accurate that students should not use this source. After all how will they know if it is reliable? Andy Carvin thinks that Wikipedia's flaws are what actually make it a god website for education. But isn't this the main concern about the Web as a whole? Many individuals may think all the information on Wikipedia and the Web is accurate and reliable. When in fact the information may be incorrect. Using Wikipedia this way is certainly not appropriate. Does that mean we should not use Wikipedia?

I think despite peoples ignorance and the fact that some information may not be reliable Wikipedia is still a great resource. Is any resource ever 100% reliable? Much of the information on Wikipedia is reliable and if it is isn't, it will soon be edited by the users. In the article
Growing Wikipedia Refines Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy states; "The bulk of the writing and editing on Wikipedia is done by a geographically diffuse group of 1,000 or so regulars, many of whom are administrators on the site." This means that students must be educated about open source and think critically when using Wikipedia. But, shouldn't students think critically when at the information on any site? They will have to look at the information and see if the author or authors have reliable sources to back up their information. This gives the students a real world way to decide if the information is accurate and correct. Students will be need to research to verify that the information they find is correct. Students can then edit and improve the quality of the information.

When other students are doing the same thing they are working together to assure that the information is better. Students are now working in a open source community. They are not just using the information. They are contributing to it. This is the real value of Open source information and Wikipedia. Students must learn how to think critically, find information and work together. Using Wikipedia can help the students develop these skills. They will also be able to add to and improve the information that is available. This makes the students responsible for the information and a part of Wikipedia.

What do you think? Is Wikipedia something you'd want your students using in the classroom?


mgrant said...

I couldn't agree more with your conclusion. Wikipedia emerged with a bang and then seemed to fall apart. In the end isn't it still about educating our students to look at all their resources critically.

J Saxon said...

Victor -

Wikipedia is another tool to use in education. It has its place, but like anything it should be used in moderation. A great part of it is the ability for students to add their own piece of the puzzle and see how their work is used. Learning how to add new and accurate ideas to wikipedia is a valuable lesson, and we should be allowing our students to take part in Web 2.0 instead of just watching it go by.