Here's why teachers who ban Wikipedia are misguided

Here's why teachers who ban Wikipedia are misguided

Summary: Speaking at a conference in the UK the other day, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales poured it on pretty thick against teachers who ban the IMHO overly-criticized online encylopedia Wikipedia in the classroom."You can ban kids from listening to rock 'n' roll music, but they're going to anyway," the BBC website quoted Wales as saying.

TOPICS: Collaboration

Speaking at a conference in the UK the other day, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales poured it on pretty thick against teachers who ban the IMHO overly-criticized online encylopedia Wikipedia wikipedia1.jpg in the classroom.

"You can ban kids from listening to rock 'n' roll music, but they're going to anyway," the BBC website quoted Wales as saying. "It's the same with information, and it's a bad educator that bans their students from reading Wikipedia."

Jimmy then added that due to enhanced procedures to flag inappropriately cited and inaccurate entries, Wikipedia is more reliable then they were before.

Listen to me now. As a former college instructor, the boyfriend of a 29-years-in teacher and someone who has been paid to perform and present objective research for over thirty years I declare that:

Teachers wedded to textbooks and more standard encyclopedia entries need to understand that Wikipedia's subject depth as well as speed-to-entry are not minuses but pluses.

These attributes are simply irreplaceable for students who are researching obscure or fast-changing topics. And given Wikipedia's ubiquity, why deny students the opportunity to use and then vet what, arguably, is the most commonly accessed and available reference work in the world?

And it's not that Wikipedia entries are thrown together and only cite one side of an issue. The Wikipedia entry for Skype, for example, has a lengthy section on"Criticisms." A student researching Skype will not be able to obtain such a comprehensive foundation of understanding by going to the Skype site, hitting the message boards, or even using Skype.

Yes, I know. Too many students are lazy, and will- if left to their own devices- do a non-attributed cut-and-paste from Wikipedia entries to term papers. That's slovenly, and should definitely be called out.

So should students who use Wikipedia as their only source. At the very least, such students should be encouraged to use standard encyclopedias, accounts from reputable news organizations (sometimes mentioned in Wikipedia entry footbotes), professional journals, respectable magazines or books.

We live in a world where sources disagree sometimes. I believe use of Wikipedia as one of multiple sources in classrooms or term papers would go a long way toward fostering critical thinking skills.

Skills, BTW, that are taking a back seat to the damn "teach to the test" imperatives of (cough, wretch, grrrr,etc.) No Child Left Behind).

But if a Wikipedia entry is one of several cited sources, then why not?

Topic: Collaboration

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  • Wikipedia [i]should[/i] be banned be teachers

    The reasons for the ban on Wikipedia expand further than those that this blog has half-refuted.

    First, I will admit that the new features do indeed make Wikipedia more reliable. Some studies have gone so far as to say that it is as reliable, or more so, than a typical encyclopedia.

    Which leads me to another point. In my English class, ALL general encyclopedias are banned from a works cited page. Yes, the teacher will allow us to look to the general encyclopedias and even Wikipedia for our initial research to get an overview of a topic. Wikipedia just cannot provide the in-depth information that is required to construct a well-reasoned, thorough paper.

    As for using Wikipedia to research more obscure topics, I ask: If the topic is so obscure that there simply are [i]no[/i] resources about it, how did someone amass enough information for a Wikipedia entry?

    Finally, the teachers banning Wikipedia are not doing so out of fear of the "new." You refer to ther teachers as being "wedded to textbooks and more standard encyclopedia entries." In reality, though, most teachers I know are not "wedded," as you say, but actually promote the usage of internet resources. My own school provides access to online databases such as EBSCOHost and Opposing Viewpoints that provide much more detailed information than Wikipedia with the same ease of use and up-to-date information.

    Wikipedia has its place in research. When a person is performing initial research to develop a thesis, Wikipedia works well to provide a quick overview. Additionally, the links section at the bottom of the page can provide quick access to better, more detailed sources.

    Maybe some of the stigma against Wikipedia is undeserved, but as a student I believe that the ban is justified. Wikipedia can never take the place of sources that are more reliable and more detailed.
    • Your thinking is twisted. Why regect one source of information out of hand?

      If students are using Wikipedia for an overview to start their research project, they darn well better site it for starters. But, being a public site where debate is freely permitted and encouraged, I say for a lot of articles, it is a better source as all of the viewpoints can be added and debated. The student can also learn a lot looking at the discussion page, and reading arguments about the article, something unavailable in other sources.

      And, the most STUPID thing you said:

      "As for using Wikipedia to research more obscure topics, I ask:
      If the topic is so obscure that there simply are no resources about it, how did someone amass enough information for a Wikipedia entry?"

      That just takes the cake. No matter how obscure a topic might be, there are a number of people in the world that know about it and there is a good chance that at least one will contribute to Wikipedia. Wikipedia has enabled a lot of obscure information to be compiled, that may be of interest to or known by only a few people. Because of the hassles of writing and publishing a book, or journal article, in the past, a lot of that never got written down and recorded and was lost. Now, a kid in Africa can write a Wikipedia article about the valley where he lives, pictures and all.

      And, that brings up an interesting point. With the OLPC going into production, and the fact that it has a camera. Look for a lot of articles about villages in the middle of nowhere to start popping up, complete with pictures, local economy, schools. Yes, pretty obscure, but isn't that great!!!!

      And, hopefully Podunk Iowa will finally make it into Wikipedia.
      • I don't mean to be rude but...

        "regect" = "reject" I'm hoping that you didn't get that spelling from Wikipedia.
        • Come on, make an argument. Wikipedia is a great source of information,

          In the range of the quality of a regular encyclopedia, a lot more articles, the kids can participate.
      • sorry donnie Wikipedia has way to many flaws

        sorry donnie Wikipedia has way to many flaws when ever you have something any one can post information to a lot of it is going to be trash.

        the schools in the city i live in have banned the use of wkipedia. and more are doing the same every day. for me it's a starting point for information but i all ways check the information i find there. and have found a lot of the information i find there is just not factually correct.

        and i think thats the biggest reason schools are telling students not to use Wikipedia as the source for there projects.

        like i said it's a good place to start but i will all ways trust an academic over a internet user who post on a web site any day.
        SO.CAL Guy
        • Wikipedia is just as accurate as a regular encyclpedia, and has a lot more

          articles. The students can participate in the creation of Wikipedia. And finally, we have no reason to put our faith blindly in academics, they are not the only ones capable of writing articles.
  • Why not? Here's why.

    I agree that Wikipedia should be allowed to be read by students. I don't have a problem if your 9-year-old daughter reads the Wikipedia articles about (I have to edit these words so that ZDNet will allow me to post my comment) nip-ple piercings, ani-lingus, la-bia piercings, child modeling (ero-tic), fre-num rings, strap-pado bon-dage, ero-tic spank-ing, in-cest porn-o-graphy, smother-boxes, and Courtney Cummz and her directorial debut 'Face Invaders'. We wouldn't want teachers censoring our children, would we?

    I also agree that children should be encouraged to cite Wikipedia as a reliable source. In fact, on Wikipedia (, I learned that the author of this blog post frequently criticizes Skype, and that he was born with five nuts. This information may be false, since Wikipedia is not a "publication" by its own standing under Section 230 of the CDA, thus making it not responsible for any defamatory statements that it serves up, as long as it's willing to remove them when notified. Our children will be able to determine for themselves that since it's not a published source with editors who are responsible for what they say about a topic, it should only be used as a "starting off" point, and I'm certain they'll take the time to compare the ZDNet entry in Wikipedia with other encyclopedias, magazines, directories, and other responsible printed sources that must stand up to scrutiny and not hide behind Section 230.

    Sorry to school you this way, Russell, but sometimes example is the best way to teach someone who holds an incorrect view. The information about your testes has been live on Wikipedia now for over twenty minutes. Ample time for any school child to "learn" some fairly misleading information about your marbles. As a courtesy, I've removed the offending content, although I'm fairly certain this malicious edit would have stayed intact for another few hours, if not days. I can assure you this wouldn't have happened if students researched ZDNet in a traditional print resource that is responsible for what it disseminates (pardon the pun).

    Have I changed your opinion for the better?
    • Right, the old fashioned way of compiling information is the ONLY way. All

      editors of PRINTED material can be trusted to present ALL viewpoints. I think you are seriously deranged if you believe that students should somehow think that information is better and more reliable because it was generated in the "traditional" manner where free and open debate is often not allowed, and many are excluded from the process.

      Did it ever occur to you that with something that is public and editable by all, that we might get BETTER information, more debate, and more information in total????? And, what better way to get students to ALWAYS question what they read. And, what better way to learn that to get them to actually contribute!!!

      And, finally, there may be a journal article somewhere that is good, but it is owned by the IEEE or some other group hoarding information, and you can ONLY see the abstract, you have to PAY to get a copy you can read.
      • Donnie, relax a notch or two

        Donnie, all I'm saying (and the points you seem to be missing) is that Wikipedia has an enormous amount of information that is not appropriate for young children, misleading, or false -- and because of Section 230 protections, the Wikimedia Foundation (literally) is not "responsible" for these conditions. If you knew anything about academic research, you would recognize that the process of being able to CHECK someone's source and being able to ATTRIBUTE that to a responsible party is essential, and it's been working pretty damn well for 400 years or more.

        Wikipedia wads up that process and throws it in the trash, since the material that is cited could CHANGE DRAMATICALLY by the time it gets to the teacher's desk. (Granted, a student could cite a specific iteration of the page on Wikipedia that he or she is using as a source, and that has a certain permanence to it; but if there is a fact or a fiction on that page, which "author" is to be cited as responsible for that truth or that lie? I'm really thinking you don't understand the principles of "research".) Go ask John Seigenthaler, Sr. or Fuzzy Zoeller or Taner Akcam about how Wikipedia should be cited as a reliable source. Now, YOU go do some research about those three individuals, then you tell me how this might have also happened in a responsible, published, author-attributed source.
        • Wikipedia is actually a lot better than other sources. And, it is great

          that it is not censored. Who would do the censoring if it was to be censored? And, if we were talking about life and death matters, I suppose you might not want to trust Wikipedia, or a whole lot of other sources of information for that matter. But, the articles in Wikipedia are very high quality, and cover a whole lot more topics than a normal encyclopedia. And, finally, who gets to decide that a source is "reliable"??? I trust Wikipedia more, because there is no censorship and all sides of a story can be presented. There are a whole lot of arguments you will never here if you stick to "reliable" sources.
    • If your kids have issues, they'll find a way.

      "I don't have a problem if your 9-year-old daughter reads the Wikipedia articles
      about (I have to edit these words so that ZDNet will allow me to post my comment)
      nip-ple piercings, ani-lingus, la-bia piercings, child modeling (ero-tic), fre-num
      rings, strap-pado bon-dage, ero-tic spank-ing, in-cest porn-o-graphy,
      smother-boxes, and Courtney Cummz and her directorial debut 'Face Invaders'. We
      wouldn't want teachers censoring our children, would we?"

      That is the worst argument ever. So you mean to say that the internet wouldn't have
      any articles on those? I would rather have my kid figure out what any of those are
      on wikipedia, than by googling it.

      What you don't realize is that wikipedia is ultimately an exhaustive source of
      information. I am a senior in a highschool where we aren't allowed to use wikipedia
      as a source. The reason? ignorance.

      I can "publish" an article on the internet just as easily. And students, atleast high
      school students aren't idiots. We realize what information is relevant, and what
      isn't. You may be surprised to know that teenagers are the least prone to phishing
      attacks, because we are aware, and have a much better understanding of the
      internet, as compared to older generations, who believe they should "protect" us
      from misinformation.

      Sooner or later, the ban from wikipedia will be uplifted. I use wikipedia now, i just
      cite it with the references i see in the article.

      Try finding a better wholesome piece of information on Abu Ghraib for example.
      You can't match the info on wikipedia. Without it, i would be getting 80's rather
      than the 90's on my research project.
  • There's another reason for kids to use Wikipedia

    When I first introduced my daughter to Wikipedia, she was in
    middle school. She used it as one of her sources for a project on
    the Oregon Trail. But she went a step further. She set up a
    Wikipedia account and corrected an error in the entry. Every since
    then she makes it a regular part of her research. Using it as one
    of many sources, and updating it when she's done. What better
    lesson to our kids (and what better motivator), than learning that
    knowledge isn't just for school, it's for sharing and teaching as
    • Excelent points. Kids can PARTICIPATE when they use Wikipedia!!!

      They learn critical thinking and learn to challenge what others have written. With a regular source, they are just a stupid student, and should accept what they read, and are certainly not allowed to participate.
      • Donnie's World

        Donnie, you are frighteningly adept at the reductio ad absurdum technique of argument. Scholars have "participated" in challenging what others have written for, oh, about 3,000 years or so. If you find it too taxing to actually author and publish your challenges, then that's your problem, not the rest of the world's.
        • Kids can NOT participate in the creation of regular encyclopedias, that is

          only for some gods in which we put all of our trust. Sure scholars have challenged things for some time, but, there is still a lot of propaganda in encyclopedias and textbooks. Great that students can participate and question things on Wikipedia, and see all of the arguments, with no censorship by parents boards.
      • ohhhhh ya lets let the kids write history just one more reason schools are

        ohhhhh ya lets let the kids write history just one more reason schools are banning it. as we all know kids are the best source for information.
        SO.CAL Guy
        • Come on, kids are not as stupid as you think, There are a lot of things

          they could do on Wikipedia. If they were from a small town, they could add an entry for their city, or improve the one that exists.
        • I'm glad you don't like Wikipedia, So.Cal Guy

          It's a good thing - I personally am glad that you don't edit Wikipedia and your anti-wikipedianess is limited to here in the talkback forums.

          As for my opinion, if Wikipedia is cited as one of several sources on a particular topic, including printed encyclopedias, periodicals, books dedicated to a given topic, radio/tv/personal interviews, and personal experience, I don't think that Wikipedia would be the 'rotten egg in the dozen'.

          The flip side is that it helps to consider the article being researched and the likelihood that someone is going to deliberately add false information. An article on something regarding popular culture, like Britney Spears, I would be weary on. If I were going to research something like quantum physics or something equally complex, the odds of such an article ending up being vandalized without being changed within a few hours or days at most are much less likely. Additionally, I've seen articles that are subject to significant vandalism that require an account to be made before editing them; the edits are moderated and if the edits check out are added, but if rejected the member is banned. The system isn't perfect, but i doubt it's due to a lack of trying.

          Is Encarta citable? how many people are on the Encarta team? a dozen? two dozen, tops? where do they get their information from? how good are they at documenting technical things like math and computers and explaining the debates that go on between them? What makes these dozen people more credible than the hundreds or thousands of people that work on Wikipedia on a daily basis? the fact that they're on the Microsoft payroll?

          Finally, the argument that anyone can edit Wikipedia, while notable, isn't the nail in the coffin. I could wake up tomorrow morning, say to myself, "Self! I think I'm gonna go out and publish an encyclopedia!" and spend the next two years writing an encyclopedia with varying degrees of research and writing integrity, and publish it when I think it's thick enough to convince people it's just as useful as World Book or Brittanica. What's stopping people from citing Joe-Tannica and are college professors going to have to start whitelisting/blacklisting information databases that students can and cannot use?

  • OK as a background reference

    But I don't think that a reference that can change from one minute to the next and is easily manipulable should be either quoted or cited in papers.

    Thus, if I were a teacher, my position would be "read it as much as you like, but don't cite it.".
    John L. Ries
    • No, read it AND cite it. If you read it and used, you MUST in fact cite it.

      You should look at all sources of information, even ones that may be questionable. When you side Wikipedia, everybody knows the type of source it is, and there is no problem or conflict.

      But, even then, Wikipedia IS very accurate, and graffiti gets fixed rather fast. It is sure a lot better source than a high school text book that has been censored by parents groups.

      So, especially for non life or death matters, Students should make use of Wikipedia for learning. It is even ok as the ONLY source for many things. Not everything is life and death, and if students have to find 10 sources for everything, they won't have time to learn.

      For instance, if my kids are working on their homework, and run into something they do not understand, we go to Wikipedia to understand it. We sure do not have time to go to the Library for something simple.