I have to admit that I was one of those teachers that banned Wikipedia. Now I’m teaching it. Go figure.
I conducted this lesson in the midst of a unit on determining appropriate sources and identifying bias. Since research is about discovery, I didn’t want to give students a bunch of information that they would ignore. I wanted them to investigate Wikipedia and come to their own conclusions. More practically, I wanted to get them to think about what they are reading rather than just use whatever the first link is after a Google search. (And to realize that Google alone is not a source.)
Lesson Overview: We started by taking a quick poll on student views of Wikipedia. Most said they used it, but didn’t think teachers would allow it. More surprisingly, the students didn’t trust it…but that they still used it.
Individually, students were given one of four texts (links at the bottom) and asked to create a T chart listing facts from their article. The headings for the chart were “Pro Wiki-P” and “Con Wiki-P.” Then they got into groups of four, one student with each article. As a group they had to answer the question “Is Wikipedia a reliable site?” Without exception all students said “yes but…” and said to double-check the information and to use common sense as qualifiers.
Then we watched the video by North Carolina State University (link below). This led to a discussion on how Wikipedia is created and managed and its good and bad points. As a class we created a list of guidelines for using Wikipedia. Finally, we looked at a Wikipedia page on a student selected topic. We focused on how the page was organized, how to check the sources (and how to use those sources if you have a teacher who bans the site), how to see the history and what to look for on the discussion page.
Reflection: Overall the lesson went well. Since students already knew the risks of using Wikipedia, I didn’t feel that I had to spend as much time warning them as I thought I would; I just showed them how to mitigate the risks. They were especially pleased that you could just click on the sources at the bottom to get to a “real” site that they could use for any class. I was also able to introduce inline citations, something that we don’t teach in middle school. Hopefully their high school teachers will be pleased.
Students were interested in learning about this; they asked questions and shared opinions. I think they felt validated that the site they turn to most often might actually be a good site. Even better, a colleague told me that he never knew that Wikipedia had value until he saw the video.
Only one negative thing happened. When looking at the discussion page for turtle (how more innocuous can you get than turtle!) we came across this line: “Isn’t that a bit ass? If someone pissed in the article about how the turtle was made, it would be taken out faster than nascar.” Even though the line had been crossed out and I was going over the page quickly, their adolescent eyes were drawn to it. But even this negative was a positive; it proved that Wikipedia is written by the people…and that not all people have something smart to say.
Before I end, I must thank my Twitter friends.. If it hadn’t been for the sites they recommended and their advice on how to teach it, I would have never been able to give this lesson. So thanks to @iMrsf, @Web20classroom, @cristama, @RussGoerend and @crysnrob. And thanks to Tam for her advice as well.
- Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar
- Wikipedia in the Classroom
- Kennedy,Byrd the Lasted Victims of Wikipedia Errors
- Nature: Wikipedia is Accurate (We discussed the issues around this report as well)
- Wikipedia: Beneath the Surface (video)