Training to develop a critical eye

The debate about the place of Wikipedia in education carries on, but there is no doubt students will continue to use it as a rich source of information. Rather than fighting Wikipedia, perhaps we should grasp the nettle and provide students with the training needed to make the most of it. In this article, Martin Walker and Ye Li exploit the power of Wikipedia as a means of supporting the development of vital skills in chemistry students.


© iStock

Exploiting Wikipedia to develop skills

One of the main objections to using Wikipedia in education is that the content is not subject to the same rigorous peer review process as the usual academic sources of information. However, as the authors point out, formal peer review can itself be subject to bias. In fact, a number of studies have indicated that Wikipedia is an accurate and comprehensive source of information for certain topics, although one should be mindful of a perception of reliability based on the number of references or professional writing style. The key is to ensure that students review such content with a critical eye and they are mindful of its limitations.

The authors assert the value of Wikipedia in helping students to make connections to other topics and developing an appreciation of context. It is also useful as a portal to other references and encouraging students to move beyond a simple Google search.

Perhaps the most valuable use of Wikipedia as a learning tool is in supporting the development of information literacy, and the authors outline an approach that achieves this by giving students the opportunity to edit Wikipedia as part of a class assignment. Such activity is supported through the Wiki Education Foundation and helps students to improve their understanding of subject matter and their teamworking skills. It also enhances their writing and critical analysis abilities. Furthermore, the dynamic nature of the medium requires students to consult a spectrum of resources, evaluate them and cite them correctly, skills that are essential but often poorly developed.

Although actually editing Wikipedia might be a step too far for some, similar ‘offline’ activities could be easily devised that would develop the same skills and deliver similar benefits to students.