Wikipedia:Wikipedia in Schools
Wikipedia in Schools: Reframing the Debate is an essay by an editor frustrated by the continued Wikipedia bashing in education around the world.
Much has been said about what role Wikipedia should play in schools, mainly focused on whether or not it is appropriate to be used by students (K through University) and in what manner. Teachers, administrations, and students have debated: is it reliable, accurate, unbiased? Should it be cited? Can Wikipedia be used to improve a learning experience? Should a student at upper levels even use an encyclopedia? Much of this debate has been fodder for the news media, which has lost no time in highlighting stories of teachers and even entire schools that have decided to ban Wikipedia from the classroom.
At the end of the day, this will be a never-ending debate. In all likelihood, Wikipedia will continue to grow and improve, but the underlying issues in play, principally that anyone can edit articles, are unlikely to radically change. Because of this, there will always be those who refuse to even consider using Wikipedia in an academic setting, while there will also be those all too eager to do so.
Instead of continuing to only focus energies on these controversial and perhaps unanswearable questions, schools should look upon Wikipedia as an incredible opportunity. It can fairly be argued that Wikipedia is one of if not the greatest collaborative successes on the Internet, and it so happens that like schools, it is in the business of spreading knowledge. But despite its enormous success in achieving this aim so far, Wikipedia still has an incredibly long way to go in providing "free access to the sum of all human knowledge" in all the world's major languages.
Wikipedia is only improved by the efforts of literate people around the world, and this is where schools are an incredible resource. Students in high school and university, perhaps even middle school, already spend innumerable hours researching and writing papers that will only be read by a few people before being forgotten. Teachers and professors in high school and university are a cadre of adults who have spent their lives learning, understanding, expanding, and teaching certain academic subjects. All of these people deal with spreading/learning knowledge on a full-time basis. If just a small fraction of these people (34+ million high school and college students in US ), both students and teachers, were systematically encouraged to become regular editors of Wikipedia (and sister projects), the results would be incredible. The majority of them know or are being taught the process of research, writing, and citing, so the only barrier to entry would be the basic policies and editing syntax of Wikipedia.
Avenues to edit (warning, I'm not a teacher)
Such editing could even be led in the classroom, and in some cases has already. Teachers could assign groups of students to improve a certain article or topic related to the current field of study, or simply require that students demonstrate regular editing work on Wikipedia. Teachers who criticize certain articles for incompleteness or errors could, dare I say, fix them themselves.
At least in the US, the concept of "community service" has become a huge buzzword in high schools and colleges. Many students engage in these activities out of genuine caring, while many others do so for their next college application. Either way, Wikipedia is one of the most efficient ways of volunteering. Flying halfway around the world to build a latrine or teach English to a native is simply not an efficient use of resources. I do not mean to denigrate volunteer work; it is not only welcomed by those who benefit but can be life-changing for those who engage in it. But editing Wikipedia creates much greater value for much less effort, and as far as research and online editing is concerned, the first world student has the comparative advantage. Schools should encourage Wikipedia volunteering just as much as they promote the more "traditional" types of such work, and frankly, editing can be a far more academic pursuit than pulling weeds at the local park.
We need not forget other languages. What better way for advanced students to gain confidence in their foreign language skills, especially in more "exotic" languages, than to contribute to those Wikipedias, where any work would be relatively much more significant than work on the English version.
Whatever your opinion, Wikipedia has infiltrated the classroom and is here to stay for the foreseeable future. No matter how many times its use is banned, discouraged, or ridiculed in the classroom – no matter how many errors are eaten up and laid bare by the media – Wikipedia is going to play a widespread role in education as the resource of first recourse. A middle ground for its classroom use can and will be found, but that misses the fundamental point: Wikipedia is the greatest thing for education since sliced bread, or at least since the spread of the web. The next time a journalist interviews a teacher or administrator on an anti-Wiki crusade, he shouldn't ask, "Why are you banning Wikipedia?" He should instead ask, "Why are you still sitting on the sidelines?"