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PDO

Pedagogical Development Office

Teaching Tip: Why Wikipedia

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /freedigitalphotos.net

We carefully select our texts and readings for our students. We pour through resource after resource to find the best way to give them the information they need for our courses. And when our students need to know some piece of information where do they turn: Wikipedia.

We are constantly warning our students not to use unreliable internet sources, especially Wikipedia; constantly reminding them that no, Wikipedia is not an academic resource. Sometimes it seems like our pleas fall on deaf ears. But let’s be honest with ourselves, when we need to know something quickly we Google it and read the first entry, usually Wikipedia

So what’s the difference between when we use Wikipedia as a resource and when our students do? We don’t stop just at Wikipedia. We recognize that Wikipedia can be filled with errors and if we want to have a good understanding of a topic or an issue we need to verify what we have read by checking other sources.

You can help your students understand the strengths and weaknesses of Wikipedia by having them do activities to enhance this understanding.

Activities to help understand the use of Wikipedia

  • Have them identify key elements in a Wikipedia entry that agree with things they have learned in class, and have them identify errors.
  • Have them read the conversation in the discussion tab on more controversial topics in your field. This will help them see the disagreements that surround the topic.
  • Have them read through the changes section to see how the entry was created and updated.
  • Have them go in and change something on a Wikipedia page and wait to see how long it takes before someone else corrects it.
  • Have them find one academic resource on the topic and have them compare the discussion. Give them guiding questions like: accuracy of information in Wikipedia, degree of depth covered, difference in perspective.

Whenever you can, try to encourage your students to read other resources on the same topic and have them think about the differences found in all of the articles. Academic articles aren’t always free of errors or bias, and encouraging students to identify these issues in any source is a good way to teach them how to learn from any resource.

Pedagogical Development Office
Vanier College