Over the last couple of years there has been much hulabaloo over the use of Wikipedia in schools. Educators have a very valid argument – because Wikipedia content can be edited by practically anyone, to say anything, it isn’t a good source for school aged children but I disagree. It wasn’t that long ago that I myself was in junior high learning how to write my first essay on a topic I knew nothing about. Today, after many years of papers it’s a breeze but I remember how daunting it felt. Where to begin?
Wikipedia is an excellent starting point for research articles. Not only does it offer a broad, organized article it’s usually very in depth. It’s a place where kids can get a general idea of the topic they’re working with. For instance, if I wanted to learn more about the company NetSpend, their Wikipedia page would be a good place to start for basic information. Additionally, a well written article offers many sited sources that allow kids to then branch off from this over view and into the nitty gritty of the topic. When taught properly, kids are capable of understanding that Wikipedia is meant to be a starting place and should not be taken verbatim.
In all actuality, Wikipedia themselves do no intend readers to make Wikipedia their sole source for information. According to the Wikipedia FAQ, “Properly written articles cite the sources, and a reader should rely on the Wikipedia article as much, but no more, than the sources the article relies on. If an article doesn’t cite a source, it may or may not be reliable. Students should never use information in Wikipedia for formal purposes (such as a school essay) until they have checked those external sources.”
Instead of banning Wikipedia we should be using it as a tool to teach kids how to critically analyze information sources. As they advance in education the sources themselves become equally as important as the written words. The ability to analyze them is an increasingly valuable skill.