that is the question.
I have never been a fan of Wikipedia. Whenever my students and I are inquiring, we inevitably land upon a Wikipedia entry which I work hard to steer my students away from. But for years, my husband has chimed on and on about the site’s benefits. I’ve always disagreed (though probably more just to get on his nerves in the same way he does when we have the Mac vs. PC debate) but I haven’t had great reasons for not using the site.
It wasn’t until I read, Cathy N. Davidson’s article, “Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age” that I saw the light! In her class at Duke University, students were required to add, edit, or dialogue about a Wikipedia entry. Like me, most of Davidson’s colleagues encouraged (or rather, banned) their students from using Wikipedia. Since it’s known as “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” most educators believe that the information is not relevant, meaningful, credible, or (add any other excuse you’ve uttered here).
But why do we educators distrust Wikipedia so much? Wired magazine writer, Rhett Allain, wrote an article posing just this question. Allain notes that Wikipedia is just a tool equivalent to a pencil, a textbook, or a calculator. In a 2007 interview with the BBC, Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales argued that, “Teacher’s who ban Wikipedia are misguided.” Wales defended his creation by saying, “Teachers wedded to textbooks and more standard encyclopedia entries need to understand that Wikipedia’s subject depth as well as speed-to-entry are not minuses but pluses.”
In this world of instant information–Wikipedia is the ultimate source of collaboration. It is probably the most updated encyclopedia on the planet. Since it is updated regularly by a variety of contributors, the information is current and multi-faceted. According to Wikipedia’s own contribution page, “All edits can be reversed, fixed or improved later. Wikipedia is allowed to be imperfect. So go ahead, edit an article and help make Wikipedia the best information source on the Internet!”
I’m not sure it’s the world’s best tool, but it certainly is a tool I will support my students’ exploration of.
…And if you need another reason to support the use of Wikipedia in your classroom then check out these textbook fails (for a laugh!). They could have easily been edited out on Wikipedia.