Not a week goes by that I don’t hear a teacher complain about their students using Wikipedia to find information. Students come to my class and are completely shocked that I allow them to use Wikipedia. I always explain to them that it’s fine with me if they use Wikipedia, but they need to be sure that what they’re reading is accurate. Everyday fact checking and cross referencing becomes easier for students as the web expands everyday. While having fact checking skills is important the real skill that students need to develop is making productive use of the information they gather from the web.
Today, anyone can find just about anything on the web. For example, yesterday I learned how to measure the speed of sound. Do I have any need to measure the speed of sound? No, but someone else might. I find new web applications on the Internet everyday, but those applications don’t have any value until I use them to do something. Some web applications that I find I use as instructional tools which gives them value to me. Some web applications that I find I just share with readers along with ideas about using that application. My idea sharing is (theoretically) the value of my research, just listing a link doesn’t give the link any value. The Internet is about sharing information, knowledge, and ideas. Being able to do something with the information and ideas we find on the Internet is the skill that we and our students need for the future.
Wikipedia is not bad. Plagiarizing Wikipedia is bad. Not fact checking the information found on Wikipedia is bad. Teaching our students to make productive use the information they find on the Internet is good. Don’t be afraid to let your students use Wikipedia instead teach them to really use Wikipedia.
Below is a fantastic video about the value of sharing information on the Internet.