We’ve done a good job training our students: ask them if they can use Wikipedia for research and you will hear a resounding no. They can even give good reasons for saying no: it’s full of mistakes, anyone can edit it, it’s not reliable, etc. Here’s the only problem with that: Wikipedia is not full of mistakes, not anyone can edit it and it actually is pretty reliable, you just have to know how to use it. Here are some things you can do with your students …
Checking for Accuracy
A 2005 study by the journal “Nature” concluded that the science articles on Wikipedia had about the same level of accuracy as the same articles in Encyclopaedia Britannica, a pretty good benchmark if you ask me. That doesn’t mean though that there are no mistakes or bad pages on Wikipedia. Luckily there is a very easy way to distinguish between the good and not-so-good pages. Open up any page on Wikipedia and check in the top left corner, you will see 2 tabs: article and talk. The talk tab is full of useful information and it also tells you how good a page is. Almost every page on Wikipedia has a quality ranking, if you find a page that doesn’t have one don’t use it. The example below has a B-class rating, so what does that actually mean?
You can find out by clicking any of the [show] links on the right to see more details, go ahead and click it. One of the things you see now is a link to the quality scale, go ahead and click that as well. This next page should make you very happy: a rubric that shows the different quality levels. Want even more? Go ahead and click the [show] link for any level in the rubric. You will notice that the criteria for “Featured Article,” “A” and “Good Article” are pretty strict and any article in the top three bands of the rubric has to pass an impartial peer review. This link shows you an example of a quality rubric on Wikipedia. Only about 0.1% of all articles on Wikipedia reach “Featured Article” status and only about 1% of articles on Wikipedia are in one of the top 3 bands.
Keep It Simple Stu*!?
Wikipedia is available in 284 different languages and dialects. One of these languages is called “Simple English” and all the articles on this version of Wikipedia are written in basic English. What this basically means is that these pages are written using only the most basic English words. The articles on this version of Wikipedia aren’t subject to the same level of scrutiny as the pages on the regular English version but it’s a great starting point for younger readers and ELL students.
One of the great things about Wikipedia is that all of the media you find on Wikipedia is in the Creative Commons. That’s not all, Wikipedia also provides a portal to help you search for all these things: Wikimedia. The video below shows how to use Wikimedia to find and cite images. If you want to find out more about finding and citing Creative Commons images check out this post.