(via David Warlick) Andy Carvin comes up with lesson plan that gets the most out of the unverifiableness of Wikipedia. Bottom line, use it to teach the type of information literacy skills we should be applying to much of what we read these days:
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 kids 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’ll find themselves with two possible outcomes: either they’ll verify that a particular factoid is correct, or they’ll prove that it’s not. Either way, they’ll generate 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.
I would only add one step to this and that is to have a Wikipedia Party at the end to reflect on why this process is so important these days and how to apply it to other sources. I’d start by asking my students questions such as:
Nice idea that I think would work for older kids as well. And read all of Andy’s post for some great context.
And don’t forget the “Great Wrongopedia Contest” where students get prizes for finding and fixing bad information? Or how about “Wikipediaball” where students get two points for fixing an error, one point for adding information, and three points for starting an entry with a minimum of, say, 250 words? I’m just sayin…