Reading Wikipedia with students

The Wikimedia Sverige has released a funny video explaining for teachers how to read Wikipedia with students (there are english subtitles, too).

The three things one should pay attention to when guiding students to read Wikipedia articles are:

  1. references, the sources listed in the bottom of each article;
  2. talk, the discussion showing what are the editors concerns related to the topic;
  3. history, the page showing all the edits made to the article, also giving a hints on how many people have edit it.

By checking the sources of the article, discussion and history one can make pretty could assessment about the reliability of the article. Skills to read Wikipedia should be in all the (media literacy) curriculums.  Simple: references, talk and history.

I think, however, that in the video there is a problem. It implicitly makes a claim that not accepting Wikipedia as a source in a school work is somehow stupid. It is not.

This is an old discussion but maybe it must be discussed once in a while.

Wikipedia is a tertiary source. All ready in primary school level we should guide our students to use secondary sources in their research. In the times when access to sources in schools was very limited, using text books and encyclopedias in school research was acceptable. Not anymore.

Teachers should not accept Wikipedia as a source in their students’ research papers, but rather to guide them to use Wikipedia to get an overview and to find the secondary sources needed to write the paper.

Teachers should also learn to check — especially in higher levels of education — the list of sources in relevant Wikipedia articles to make sure that the sources in Wikipedia articles have not been the only sources used in the research. When doing research you should use multiple sources and actually read the original sources. Reading about them from the Wikipedia article is not enough.

Reaching primary sources early in school learning is also important. The primary sources does not necessary mean that students are collecting and analyzing empirical data. It can, and actually should be, thought experiments — making hypothesis, and arguing agains and for them. The hypothesis can then be confirmed or disproved with secondary sources. This way learning can become collaborative knowledge building. In  this the Wikipedia again play an important role: it will partly take the students to the secondary sources.

4 thoughts on “Reading Wikipedia with students

  1. I now see that it is possible to perceive the video to imply that, however it was meant that by looking on these three things students should know that in most cases Wikipedia should not be used as a reference.

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