Wikipedia ranks in the top 10 of all websites and may well be used by learners of all ages who search for information and find a Wikipedia entry one of the first suggested results from a web search on many, many topics. For all that it’s now a well-known encyclopedia, it could be likely that many users will only be aware of a fraction of the resources available via Wikipedia.
Wikipedia has a set of policies and guidelines summed up in its five pillars which all contributors must follow: Wikipedia is an encyclopedia; Wikipedia has a neutral point of view; Wikipedia is free content; Wikipedians should interact in a respectful and civil manner; and Wikipedia does not have firm rules. This requirement for anti-bias, verifiability, and reliable sourcing as well as the worldwide community of contributors can be seen to set Wikipedia apart from print-based published encyclopedia.
From the Wikipedia page about Wikipedia itself can be found the following: “Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has grown rapidly into one of the largest reference websites, attracting 470 million unique visitors monthly as of February 2012. There are more than 76,000 active contributors working on more than 31,000,000 articles in 285 languages. There are 4,644,653 articles in English. Every day, hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world collectively make tens of thousands of edits and create thousands of new articles to augment the knowledge held by the Wikipedia encyclopedia. People of all ages, cultures and backgrounds can add or edit article prose, references, images and other media here. What is contributed is more important than the expertise or qualifications of the contributor. What will remain depends upon whether the content is free of copyright restrictions and contentious material about living people, and whether it fits within Wikipedia’s policies, including being verifiable against a published reliable source, thereby excluding editors’ opinions and beliefs and unreviewed research. Contributions cannot damage Wikipedia because the software allows easy reversal of mistakes and many experienced editors are watching to help ensure that edits are cumulative improvements.”
Wikipedia is a live collaboration differing from paper-based reference sources in important ways. Unlike printed encyclopedias, Wikipedia is continually created and updated, with articles on historic events appearing within minutes, rather than months or years. There is a Wikipedia page aimed specifically at providing advice for parents/carers or teachers of children and young people, about their use of Wikipedia: ”Wikipedia’s goal is to offer “the sum of all human knowledge” in a format which is legal to copy, modify and redistribute (copyleft, as we call it) to all, at no cost. With this aim in mind, we have grown to become one of the largest collections of information ever assembled, and enjoy a high profile as one of the most popular websites on the internet. We hope you will find huge educational value within this project; and amongst our millions of articles, you will certainly find many relevant to almost all areas of study. No encyclopedia should be the end of the line in any research, however, and we hope you’ll find our articles useful road maps for further exploration across a whole range of subjects. Wikipedia is freely editable by anyone and everyone, but this does not mean that anyone can write anything. Both inaccuracy and sheer vandalism are therefore problems that the project faces on a daily basis. However, a number of safeguards are in effect. These include insisting that editors cite reliable sources, as well as Recent Changes Patrolling for vandalism, and New Page Patrolling for recently created articles with inappropriate content.”
Did you know you can see the history of contributions or editing of a wikipedia entry? This lets you see what was changed, who added, edited or changed it as well as a summary of what the reasons for the change were. Look for the “view history” tab along the top of a Wikipedia page. On that page you can also find out more about contributors to a page. So if your learners are looking at digital literacy in the context of study or research on any topic this is a useful tool to provide sources of information, authors/contributors and to give an indication of how reliable and up to date the information provided on the Wikipedia entry is.
Did you know there is a Wikipedia for schools? This is a selection of articles from Wikipedia to support the school curriculum (specifically aimed at schools in the UK though can be accessed worldwide) and aimed at use by pupils. 6000 articles, 26 million words and 50,000 images which have been checked for use by schools, and are also categorised by school subject. You can even download Wikipedia for Schools from www.sos-schools.org/wikipedia-for-schools. You can also get a copy on USB memory stick.
Did you know there is a section on Wikipedia “Guidance for Young Editors“ – this gives advice aimed at young people creating or editing content. While this may not be seen as something which many young people will be looking to do, there are many who have particular interests where this would be useful to provide guidance aimed at them. For all younger users the guidance also provides a useful starting point, written in more accessible language aimed specifically at younger readers, about how Wikipedia as a joint collaborative research tool works.
Did you know there is a Wikipedia WikiProject Schools site? This provides space, templates and guidance specifically for schools to provide information about their school.
Did you know there is a Wikipedia:Student Assignments section? Occasionally teachers may have learning situations where it would be appropriate to have learners collaborate together on a joint project as an assignment using Wikipedia as the tool – it may be for specific areas local to the school or on specific topics where Wikipedia does not have a wealth of information. In that case the extensive guidance for teachers is essential reading for the teacher.
Did you know there is a Wikipedia List of Historical Anniversaries? For any day of the year, in any year, for any month, you will find an entry listing events on that day, births, deaths, holidays or observances. And of course, as with any entry in Wikipedia, there are links to the Wikipedia pages providing more information on any of these entries, whether individuals, groups or events. So in a classroom situation if you are going to be teaching about a particular topic it’s likely you will find something relating to that context on the particular day on which you are teaching that topic. And that can provide a form of engagement for learners to the topic about which they will be learning.
Did you know that, although you will often find using a search engine of your choice will bring up a Wikipedia page in one of the top returns, Wikipedia also has its own search box – just enter what you’re looking for into the Wikipedia Search box on any page and it will search only Wikipedia. Wikipedia also has a very useful Wikipedia Help page - this provides guidance about how to better target your searching to find exactly what you are looking for; it provides answers to commonly asked questions about Wikipedia itself; it provides links to guidance about how to go about editing Wikipedia pages; and how to report an issue with any Wikipedia page.
Did you know there is a Wikipedia Community Portal where you can see what’s needing to be done, whether adding an image to accompany an article, whether checking spelling, whether adding links to related material. This page provides a list of the elements needing attention, and may provide a useful way into using Wikipedia as a contributor for learners of all ages, rather than as simply consumers.
Did you know there is a Scots Language version of Wikipedia? This comprises many tens of thousands of articles written in Scots, which provides a rich source of material for all Scottish schools looking at the Scots language.
Did you know there is a Simple English Wikipedia? This has the “stated aim of providing an encyclopedia for people with different needs, such as students, children, adults with learning difficulties and people who are trying to learn English” and contains over 100,000 content pages. Not only do the articles use a simplified English, the tabs and menus also use simplified terms, making this ideal for use in the classroom with younger learners.
This article only scratches the surface of all that Wikipedia offers for schools – explore and see how it can help in your classroom