Wikipedia:Schools/Teachers' Guide

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This page tries to answer the main questions teachers may have about Wikipedia. It also suggests a good way of starting to use the Simple English Wikipedia in the classroom. If you don't know much about Wikipedia, read Wikipedia:About for a basic introduction.

Wikipedia aims to be the ultimate learning resource, the sum of all human knowledge. Yet a lot of students may have difficulty understanding the complex language used by the English Wikipedia. They may need a simpler version, which is easier to understand and which should still give them the information they need. The Simple English Wikipedia is an encyclopedia to help make this happen, to give students and learners of English with a simple, free resource.

Ideas such as open source, copyleft, collaborative writing, and volunteer contributions for the public good, are sometimes new and unusual ideas in educational settings. Wikipedia offers a chance for educators to explore concepts of public trust which are likely to continue growing in importance during the lives of today's record population of youth.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)[change | edit source]

Is Wikipedia accurate and reliable?[change | edit source]

Generally, yes, Wikipedia is accurate. Wikipedia is developing rapidly, the reliability of the encyclopedia is improving all the time. Because readers compare articles to what they already know, articles tend to become more accurate and detailed. Certain articles about many of the major sciences were developed from other free or public domain encyclopedias. This provides a reliable basis upon which encyclopedia writers can develop more current information. Wikipedia is cited almost daily in the press.

On the other hand, it is possible for an article on Wikipedia to be biased, outdated, or factually incorrect. This is true for any resource. One should always double-check the accuracy of important facts, regardless of the source. In general, popular articles are more accurate because they are read more often. For this reason, factual errors are spotted and corrected in a more timely fashion. In particular, there may be a Western bias since that is where most contributors are from.

What keeps someone from contributing false or misleading information?[change | edit source]

Nothing. Anyone can, at this very moment, go to almost any page and change the information to make it misleading or wrong. Very specific minor facts, like an exact date for a not very important historical detail, are less trustworthy since vandals sometimes change them.

However, it probably will not stay that way very long. Many contributors watch the list of changes (particularly to important or controversial articles), and will quickly delete nonsense or obviously wrong articles, and undo baseless edits. Many users watch Wikipedia's recent changes, particularly for those from anonymous users, and major articles are usually on several individuals' personal watch lists as well. If an anonymous or relatively new user changes a number or a date by a little bit, without justifying their edit, it is particularly likely to raise a red flag.

But Wikipedia cannot be perfect. There is almost certainly inaccurate information in it, somewhere, which has not yet been discovered to be wrong. Therefore, if you are using Wikipedia for important research or a school project, you should always verify the information somewhere else — just like you should with all sources.

Can students cite Wikipedia in assignments?[change | edit source]

Wikipedia can be an excellent starting place for further research. Teachers might ask students what they did to validate the information they learned from Wikipedia. Using a comprehensive search engine such as Google, students can easily compare Wikipedia content with information from other reputable websites. Students can compare information in Wikipedia with information in other encyclopedias or books. In addition, most of our better articles have sections such as "References," "Sources," "Notes," "Further reading," or "Other web sites," which generally contain information about sources.

For purposes of establishing authorship and finding more sources, students may also find the articles' "History" tabs useful, as these detail every contribution — the contributor and what he or she contributed. All of our registered contributors have Talk pages for leaving them notes and many can be contacted through a form on this website by other registered users, including students, if they choose to register. A toolbox link ("E-mail this user") is also visible on user pages while logged in.

Is it a safe environment for young people?[change | edit source]

Wikipedia is as safe as most interactive online environments. Participation in Wikipedia is probably safe for youths who know basic Internet safety practices. Wikipedia is not a social organization, and provides few opportunities for casual social interaction. Because other editors routinely monitor Wikipedia, inappropriate activity is quickly noticed and stopped.

However, Wikipedia is not censored. It contains articles on subjects such as racial slurs, or sexual acts. It also contains pages on political or religious groups and movements, which may be seen as controversial by certain people or groups of people. Pages which are normally appropriate for children to use are occasionally vandalized with rude words or content which may be offensive. Vandalism is normally noticed and removed within short time periods. but it is still possible that a person may access a page before this is dealt with. Teachers should supervise young children on Wikipedia, as they would in any other online environment.

However, a children's charity and the Wikimedia Foundation have produced a static safe selection from Wikipedia aimed at UK School children: see

What is open-source media?[change | edit source]

Open-source media is a kind of information produced by open groups of developers in which anybody who wants to can use the information. Open-source production emerged among software engineers with the production of GNU/Linux, an open-source computer operating system. MediaWiki is an open source software package that supports an open source encyclopedia.

Open-source production relies on qualified users to maintain a constantly improving collection, whether it is an open collection of computer code or of encyclopedic information. Open source collections typically maintain back-up resources, so if a developer accidentally damages the code or the content, it can easily be reverted to an earlier, stable version. The same backup system provides protection against malicious damage to an open-source project.

Why do people contribute to open-source projects?[change | edit source]

Few surveys have developed reliable answers to why people contribute to open source works like Wikipedia. Some sort of public interest or community spirit is often part of the motive. Open-source projects offer an opportunity to contribute to something that has lasting value and that will continue to grow. Open-source publishing allows writers and software developers to apply their skills outside of a strictly business environment. Casual writers and editors sometimes participate as a hobby or as a learning experience.

Why have we not heard of this before?[change | edit source]

Wikipedia is relatively new, but chances are always getting better than ever that you have heard of it before. Wikipedia's rapid growth recently has been reported in many prominent media outlets. Wikipedia was established in January 2001, and is now making a place for itself in the world's collection of knowledge. As the encyclopedia grows, more people learn about it every day, much in the same way Internet use grew in the late 1990s.

Many other online encyclopedias simply copy (parts of) Wikipedia, which is allowed because it is Open Source. This should be mentioned on the page, but the message can be hard to notice. So you may have come across a Wikipedia article without knowing it. However, considering the speed at which Wikipedia develops, these are often quite out of date.

Wikipedia does not advertise as many new services do, so public knowledge of Wikipedia is mostly a result of word of mouth, readers discovering the service while browsing online, or people learning about the encyclopedia from news reports.

Beyond information from the encyclopedia, what can students learn from Wikipedia?[change | edit source]

Most young people will likely at some point become involved in interactive online activities. For educators, youths' involvement with Wikipedia provides an opportunity to survey youths' understanding of online safety, and to teach appropriate practices. Educators can use Wikipedia as a way of teaching students to develop hierarchies of credibility that are essential for navigating and conducting research on the Internet.

Wikipedia provides an opportunity for teachers to discuss the concept of the public domain. Wikipedia is an opportunity to take part in an open community that relies primarily on mutual respect and cooperation, but which is not related to familiar authority figures some young people might tend to oppose.

Editing in Wikipedia is an opportunity to learn to participate in collective editorial processes. Wikipedia presents a ready opportunity for youths to research, compile and publish articles for peer review. For young people who contribute images, selection and production of an image provides opportunities to learn what a market wants from an artist. Young people who master skills for accurate writing and drawing about encyclopedic subjects are better equipped to develop their own style in more creative genres.

Because all articles in Wikipedia must conform to neutral point-of-view, students taking part in collaborative editing activities on Wikipedia are building experience in detecting and eliminating bias in writing.

Wikipedia in the classroom[change | edit source]

Access[change | edit source]

There are two ways you can give your students access to Wikipedia:

Anonymously through an IP address[change | edit source]

This allows students to access and edit Wikipedia without a username. This can increase the risk of the IP address being blocked. As many schools share the same IP address, this would most likely stop every student in the school from editing until the block expires.

Individual student usernames[change | edit source]

This gives less control over edits made by students, but each student's contribution is easily identified. Although this will most likely avoid school-wide blocks, it is difficult to watch all of your students' contributions and check for offensive content. It is recommended that if this method is used, the students all have usernames that can be easily identified as part of the group. To prevent spamming, there is also a limit on the number of accounts that can be created in one day, which is six. It is best to request an administrator to create accounts for your group, as they can override these limits and alert the others that a school project is in process. Post your request at the Administrators' noticeboard.

Notification[change | edit source]

Please let the administrators know about the planned date and time of your activity, and the usernames/IP you will be using. Hopefully, admins will then be available to provide assistance to you and your students.


Introducing Wikipedia[change | edit source]

Make sure all students take the five minute student tutorial. This will give them a basic introduction to the concepts of Wikipedia and how to edit.

After the tutorial, you could let students try out their editing in the sandbox before giving them their project or tasks. This helps to cut down on the work for other contributors (or you) removing the nonsense that your students will inevitably put on articles to test out their new skills. Remember: testing is fine, vandalism is not.


Setting projects[change | edit source]

You decide! There are hundreds of possible projects and tasks students can complete on Wikipedia.

Here's a quick scenario. Take a group of fifth-grade students and break them into groups, with each group picking a topic that interests them. Any topic. Dolphins, horses, hockey, you name it.
Next, send the groups of students to Wikipedia to look up the topic they selected. Chances are, someone has already created a Wikipedia entry on that particular subject. The horse, for example, has an extensive entry on the website. It certainly looks accurate and informative, but is it? Unfortunately, there are no citations for any of the facts claimed about horses on the page.
This is where it gets fun. The group of students breaks down the content on the page into manageable chunks, each with a certain amount of facts that need to be verified. The students then spend the necessary time to fact-check the content. As the students work their way through the list, they will find themselves with two possible outcomes: either they will verify that a particular fact is correct, or they'll prove that it's not. Either way, they will make a paper trail, as it were, of sources proving the various claims one way or another.
Once the Wikipedia entry has been fact-checked, the teacher creates a Wikipedia login for the class. They go to the entry's talk page and present their findings, laying out every idea that needs to be corrected. Then, they edit the actual entry to make the corrections, with all sources cited. Similarly, for all the parts of the entry they've verified as accurate, they list sources confirming it. That way, each idea presented in the Wikipedia entry has been verified and referenced - hopefully with multiple sources.
Get enough classrooms doing this, you kill several birds with one stone: Wikipedia's information gets better, students help give back to the Net by improving the accuracy of an important online resource, and teachers have a way to make lemons into lemonade, turning Wikipedia from a questionable information source to a powerful tool for information literacy. -- Turning Wikipedia into an Asset for Schools, Andy Carvin, "Waste of Bandwidth" blog, July 11, 2005

Monitoring student contributions[change | edit source]

To check what your students are submitting on a class username, click the "My changes" link in the upper-right corner of your screen. This will show all contributions under that username. Click (diff) next to an item to see what changes have been made.

Reverting a page[change | edit source]

If you find any inappropriate edits by your students, you need to revert it as quickly as possible. To do this from the revision differences page, click the link to the previous version of the page, which will probably look something like 'Revision as of 20:40, 23 April 2014'. You will be taken to the older version of the page. Click the 'change this page' link. Make no changes, but place 'rvt - TEACHER' in the edit summary box.

When you save the page, the edits will be overwritten. You can then warn students about vandalism and how it could lead to blocking - ruining the entire class's projects may put off the vandalizing student.


Help[change | edit source]

Most members of Wikipedia will be willing to help you if you ever have any problems, just leave a note on their talk page. If you require an administrator for more advanced operations such as edit deletion, see Wikipedia:Administrators.

My class has been blocked![change | edit source]

On the error page you see if you try to edit a page, you will see the administrator who blocked your username/IP address. You can then appeal to this administrator to be unblocked. Remember: being a school user does not grant you unlimited rights. In other words, if your class (or you!) vandalise a large amount of pages, you will be blocked and have no priority for unblocking. It is up to you to maintain control of your students - Wikipedia administrators must protect the encyclopedia.

My students have created a useless page![change | edit source]

Just add {{delete|Useless page - school user}} to the top of the page. Replace 'useless page' with another reason if you think it is not appropriate. This adds the page to the list of pages to be deleted. An administrator will then be able to delete this page.

Where can I find out more about editing Wikipedia?[change | edit source]

Try the Help Centre. If you have a specific question, leave it on Simple talk. If you want to know more about Wikipedia, read Wikipedia:About. Be familiar with the rules. Happy editing!