Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wikipedia and information literacy

I am constantly hearing my colleagues criticise Wikipedia, expressing their disbelief that students would use such an "unreliable and innacurate source of information" when preparing an assignment or essay.

As teachers, we have a responsibility to ensure that our students are using all of the information sources available to them in an appropriate manner. Wikipedia can be, and should be, a very powerful tool to teach information literacy. Why? Because as an information repository, Wikipedia is:

  • huge, and growing;
  • the most complete single source of information on the planet;
  • and it's incredibly up-to-date.
Here's a partial screenshot of the Wikipedia entry for Qantas earlier today, a few hours after it was announced that they were in merger talks with British Airways:

Up to date? Yes. Relevant? Yes. Accurate? Maybe! But we shouldn't be the ones to tell our students that it's not accurate. If they are independent, information literate learners, then they will be quite capable to make that decision themselves after conducting further research on the topic. And if, after conducting that research, the student finds inaccuracies in Wikipedia, then they should be encouraged to correct the entry.

I am not suggesting that Wikipedia should be the primary reference within a written piece of academic work, but it is certainly an ideal starting point for a student when researching a topic.

Are you still not convinced? Spend some time investigating the "History" and "Discussion" tabs for any entry, or contribute (or correct an inaccuracy) in Wikipedia yourself. You'll soon begin to appreciate the value of a "crowd-sourced" publication, and how it can contribute to critical thinking and information literacy amongst our students.


James Rose said...

Did you see that the UK has banned the posting to wikipedia anonymously... wonder if this will effect its use much? Might atually be good- add credibility

Wags said...

@James: Yes - and I'm sure that will increase the reliability of it, and hence increase its use, as more will trust it. Sort of like what you learned in Marketing classes - give the customers what they want! ;-)