A Student’s Thoughts on Wikipedia

wikipedia-logoWhat follows is an article a student of mine wrote in the school newspaper. This echoes my feelings on Wikipedia and how it is viewed in education.

This school is giving Wikipedia a bad name. As a small child in ninth grade, I was convinced that the online self-edit encyclopedia was a bad website for information, because my research paper teacher told us so. For two years after, I had it worked out in my head that Wikipedia was the center of all lies. As it turns out, this is not true. That’s right, every teacher’s nightmare is about to come true because the truth is about to be exposed. Go onto any Wikipedia page and look near the bottom, you may notice the links citing information. Now call me crazy, but I don’t think if people were lying they would go so far as to make up a link with more false information. The biggest discovery happened over the summer. I was with my older sister and our neighbor changing around some Wikipedia pages for fun, because there was nothing else to do. For example, the best change was my sister taking the biography from Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara and pasting it into a new political beliefs section on the page for the popular television family, The Brady Bunch. After looking at the page again, the change was taken down within less than a minute. You see, the people at Wikipedia are really on top of their game, they know what they’re doing. Stop blocking that site and block stuff Amazon.com, as site where people can buy stuff from the computer lab.

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5 thoughts on “A Student’s Thoughts on Wikipedia

  1. I agree to a point, Doug. What I tell my students is that Wikipedia is absolutely not an acceptable source, but it IS an acceptable starting point for exactly the reasons your student describes. What Wikipedia provides is a place to get an overview, but the tone of the articles and selectivity of the information are not what I want them drawing on. It’s a great starting point, though, because after getting that overview they can then begin an educated search into more solid sources (maybe even starting with those sources cited at the end of the article).

    Most educators I know don’t think Wikipedia is “the center of all lies.” It’s a great community source of info. It’s also a source of informal language, frequent spelling and grammatical errors, and occasional bias, not so much in the content of the articles but in what’s covered, with a considerable bias toward popular culture (take a look at the Dragonball entry if you don’t believe me). Plus, its user-driven structure hurts one of the main purposes of citing sources, that of verifiability – if the entry changes, the student can’t show where he or she got the information from.

    Your student is correct that obviously false information is quickly changed, but it might interest him or her to see the behind-the-scenes discussions on controversial entries like abortion, which are regularly contested. There’s also the role of personality – Wikipedia has been criticized for allegedly privileging some edits (and editors) over others. That’s also true of ink-and-paper encyclopedias, but the point is that the community-sourced nature introduces new problem at the same time it solves others – like any community, some voices are louder than others.

    One last thing: What worries me is not students using Wikipedia so much as ONLY using Wikipedia. If students go to one place for everything, they’re not learning how to find information, they’re learning how to go to one webpage. The best approach is to teach how to critically use (or better yet, edit) Wikipedia as a network of information sources, not as a one-stop information shopping experience.

  2. I agree: Wikipedia is not a source, but it is a gateway to actual sources. The rest is just invective from a teenage mind. BTW, did the student cite a source when he claimed that his ninth-grade teacher told him Wikipedia was evil? Has he checked to see whether it was a primary or secondary source?

  3. Thanks for sharing this to your readers – you simply give us something to think about. Your post as well as the comments made on this page seems to be so true. Generally, Wikipedia is a multilingual, Web-based, free-content encyclopedia project based mostly on anonymous contributions. Wikipedia’s articles and information provide links to guide the user to related pages with additional and reliable inputs and details. To quote, Wikipedia is not a source, but it is a gateway to actual and good sources and resources. Anyway, I appreciate your efforts in posting creative and innovative music teachers resources . Keep up the good work and see you around. Til your next posts!

  4. In the book “Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts” by Will Richardson, Steve Jobs is quoted that “Wikipedia being one of the most accurate encyclopedias in the world.”(p.59) Teachers need to make sure that the accuracy of the information is complete before you allow your students to use it as a reference. With the collaborative nature of the encyclopedia, the students can also use the sources for further study, as noted in the previous post.

    Richardson,W.(2009). Blogs, WIkis, and Podcasts, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA

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