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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Yet Another Reason We Should Be Teaching, Not Blocking, Wikipedia

In three weeks of February, the Barack Obama entry in Wikipedia had almost 2 million views and was the seventh most visited (and, really, second most visited in terms of content) article on the site. John McCain’s had 1.1 million. Hillary Clinton, who apparently more people “know” about, had about 422,000. In those same three weeks, the Wikipedia home page got over 140 million views.

The point? People are turning to Wikipedia in large numbers to learn about the topics that are of interest and importance to them. Many of them, no doubt, are kids. Go figure.

Now look, I know as people read down the entire list, there are entries that might make some uncomfortable. Sites that will make some say “See! We can’t let our kids be getting wrong information about THAT!” or in some cases, any information at all. I hear that.

But those kids who go to schools where Wikipedia is blocked or passed off as a non-credible resource or not in any way addressed in the curriculum are no doubt reading Wikipedia anyway without any context from us as to what it is and without any guidance from us as to how to use it well. And so, instead of seizing an opportunity to model for them the power of participation, to help them understand the importance of editing, and to give them a real sense of how the collaborative world works by involving them in the negotiation of the “truth” that those articles represent, we’re simply enabling our kids to use Wikipedia badly.

I’ll say it again. Errors are everywhere. You might as well shut down the Internet, unsubscribe to every newspaper and magazine your library gets, and turn off the television set if the concern is that kids might be getting inaccurate or biased information. If we’re not raising a generation of reader/editors, we’re not doing our jobs. Wikipedia can help in that work.

And, just in case you haven’t seen me ref this before, here’s hoping you’re not using this Physics textbook from the venerable Oxford University Press in your school if you have a problem with Wikipedia.

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