I have earlier blogged about the role of Wikipedia in the classroom. I pointed out how incredibly popular it is, and much used by students. The issue that I addressed was the uncritical attitude that follows along with its use. Many students use it as their first choice, but do not critically assess references. Critical awareness when using Wikipedia is thus of key importance in their learning processes.
Recently, I taught a class in a school project where they were in the phase of gathering information for their papers. I registered that the majority of students used Wikipedia. When I saw that some only copied and pasted passages from Wikipedia, I found it necessary to ask all of the students questions of how they could know if the sources they found at Wikipedia were reliable. I asked questions like: “Who is the author of Wikipedia”, “Who has written this example text?”, etc., to spark critical reflection. When we had established that everybody is a potential collaborator and producer of texts at Wikipedia, I proposed foolishly that all of the students in the class could edit the texts online. The students took this seriously.
In a matter of 10 minutes, the Wikipedia pages that the students all used started to change, and the content was changed to nonsense, just like the distorted Charlie Sheen Wikipedia page below:
Even though the content was not in formal tone, I experienced that the students proved my point in not blindly trusting Wikipedia. Popular Wikipedia pages will not stay distorted (when it is very obvious that a something is untrue) for any great length. When multiple authors are involved, authors are often informed when changes occur, and often change them back. Nevertheless, the information could still be faulty, so teaching students to use references actively and check other sources becomes increasingly important. So, I do not in any way claim that we should abandon the use of Wikipedia, but instead inspire to use it in a critical and independent way. Another aspect is not relying on the textbook as a source of objective truth either.