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. So how can you use it responsibly with your students? Here are some quick tips you can use in your classroom.
Checking for Accuracy
Is there inaccurate information on Wikipedia? Sure there is but 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 because you don’t know how accurate it is. 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 most articles in the top three bands of the rubric actually passed 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
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 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. Want more? Wikimedia also provides correct attribution for each picture. For more on Wikimedia and other ways to find images check this post.
Things to try
- If you still think Wikipedia is full of mistakes find a Wikipedia page that students might use for your class and make sure it has a mistake. See if students can find the mistake as well.
- If there is a mistake challenge students to edit the page and fix the mistake.
- Have students add missing information to a page.