Wikipedia in the classroom?

This is of interest to classroom teachers and anyone else who cares about teaching and learning information literacy. If you are one of the lucky ones who gets to evaluate (and teach the evaluation of) online resources in the classroom without arbitrary content filters or system-wide bans, then here is some good advice regarding Wikipedia, framed in terms of curriculum:

If the curriculum is a closed body of information and skills to be transmitted to students, you should ignore Wikipedia and direct students to proven resources such as textbooks. Wikipedia—with its uneven quality, vandalism, and distractions—will disrupt this transfer. If your curriculum is an opening into critical thinking and knowledge construction, however, teachers must use flawed sources such as Wikipedia, alongside more authoritative texts.

It comes from the Point/Counterpoint column in the March-April 2009 edition of Leading and Learning with Technology from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The author is Thomas Hammond, a former classroom teacher and now professor at Lehigh University.

Some might take exception to Hammond’s reference to “proven resources such as textbooks.” Textbooks, along with all classroom materials, reside somewhere on a continuum of accuracy and authority and should be judged accordingly. They are not immune to critique.

Overall, I think Hammond does a fine job of cutting through the fog of fear and apprehension that shrouds Wikipedia. Quite possibly, educators could use his suggestions to teach about and through not just Wikipedia, but other collaboratively constructed knowledgebases and online communities as well.

And, no, that doesn’t make me feel all “warm and fuzzy,” as suggested by counterpoint author, David Farhie. Instead, Hammond’s argument gives me hope and a glimpse of the kind of classroom where I would like to teach again some day.

What do you think? Is there room in your curriculum for Wikipedia?

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