I hear a lot of interesting talk at schools these days about Wikipedia. If you aren’t familiar with Wikipedia, it proclaims itself as “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”
The conversations about Wikipedia around schools range from schools who are banning it as a valid research resource to those to aren’t aware of how Wikipedia differs from other souces like Encyclopaedia Britannica or Encarta. (Many teachers seem to have picked up on the “free” part, but not the fact that it is editable by anyone.)
So, back to “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit”…??? I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up I thought that encyclopedias were something created by really smart guys somewhere, not just anyone. As a result, my initial reaction to Wikipedia was skepticism.
However, research has shown that the accuracy of Wikipedia is comparable to mainstream sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica. (This is the power of active wikis. More on that in a future post.) My own experience with Wikipedia is that it gives you everything that more traditional sources gives you plus a lot more.
The real point here that we as educators need to help our students understand is that no source of information is definitive. Every source has its strengths and weaknesses, its biases and perspectives.
When I use Wikipedia (or any other research resource, for that matter), I generally open it in one browser windows and another source in another window. (It’s sometimes amazing to find three or four different reputable resources with completely different portrayals of the “facts.”)
In the current days of the Internet, podcasts, wikis, and more new sources of information every day, we should all be critical consumers of information and use multiple sources. Given that, Wikipedia is usually on my list of sources to consult.