Wikipedia myths

Wikipedia

Since conceived in 2001, Wikipedia, seems to have people up in arms as to whether or not it is reliable. It’s interesting talking to educators about using Wikipedia as a source of information, as there is a myth that it should not be used, because it is crowd-sourced.

According to M. Silverman, 2012;

… while its critics are the first to point out its unreliability, advocates would counter that a self-correcting collective is more reliable and scalable than a room full of scholars (who, on occasion, also make mistakes).

When research was conducted by Nature between Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica, reviewers found 162 factual errors, omissions or misleading statements in Wikipedia, compared to 123 in Britannica. How does this compare to what you thought?

As an educator with 13 years of experience, I always insist that students verify the information they find; when they do research, by locating at least two sources of information that states the same facts. I believe Wikipedia should be treated no different. As we know, anyone can post anything online. We see many (according to worldometers.info, as I type this sentence there are 2,691,600+ blog posts written today, but the number is continually counting up!) blog posts uploaded each day, not all of these people have degrees, in fact, they are created by all types of people of varying age, ethnicity and beliefs.

Research is an important skill for students to learn and directly links to several Curriculum areas, as well as the ICT General Capability, Investigate with Technology. That being said, they need to not only know how to do a correct search (see my Google Advanced Search blog post), but they also need to know how to verify a source; this was a skill teachers were teaching, far before the internet. Remember books, magazines and encyclopaedias? These all required a researcher to reference them as sources of information.

When we look at the Australian Curriculum, in Humanities and Social Sciences, the Inquiry and Skills strand includes,

a range of skills that are represented broadly as questioning, researching, analysing, evaluating and reflecting, and communicating. Students apply these skills to investigate events, developments, issues and phenomena, both historical and contemporary.

The bottom line? Don’t ride Wikipedia off, or allow people to tell you that it is unreliable because it is written and monitored by people. We all make mistakes, and yes, some mistakes have been found on Wikipedia, but mistakes were also found in Encyclopaedia Britannica. Remember to teach students that anyone can post online and that it is important that they verify information they read, no matter what the source.

References:

Daniel Terdiman, 2005, Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica accessed 27 August 2018, <https://www.cnet.com/news/study-wikipedia-as-accurate-as-britannica/>

Michael Blanding, 2015, Wikipedia or Encyclopaedia Britannica: Which has more bias? Accessed 27 August 2018, <https://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2015/01/20/wikipedia-or-encyclopaedia-britannica-which-has-more-bias/#61e86ec47d4a>

Matt Silverman, 2012, Encyclopedia Britannica vs Wikipedia [infographic] accessed 27 August 2018, <https://mashable.com/2012/03/16/encyclopedia-britannica-wikipedia-infographic/#5Ygt5XQpzmqd>

ACARA, Australian Curriculum, accessed 27 August 2018, <https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/humanities-and-social-sciences/hass/structure/>

Nature, 2006, Internet encyclopaedias go head to head, accessed 27th August 2018 <https://www.nature.com/articles/438900a>

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