10 Ways Wikipedia Has Changed Education

Whether ultimately a boon or a bane (or somewhere in between), only educators from another planet haven’t somehow encountered opinions regarding Wikipedia’s presence in their industry…

Just about as many ideas about its influence exist as there are individuals to even hold them, but nobody can deny that the online encyclopedia, not to mention the other Wikimedia websites, certainly left a splash in the classroom and mainstream society alike. And here, for reader consideration, just happen to be a couple of examples.

  1. It forces students to be more discerning about sources: Even Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales doesn’t think of his creation as a viable academic resource. The site’s open nature certainly carries a plethora of amazing educational possibilities, but it also allows trolls and similarly unhinged individuals abusive opportunities. Because of this, even the wholly accurate pages out there are regarded with suspicion — although the footnotes can make for a push in the right directions. Many professors, departments, colleges and universities have outright banned using it as a reference on papers and projects. Wales himself receives plenty of complaints from college students whining about how Wikipedia ruined their academic cred, and he admonishes them for believing everything they read on the internet. Hopefully hitting such bumps in their schooling challenge them to practice better judgment when selecting sources.

  2. More exposure for academics: In direct response to Wikipedia’s reputation, the Wikimedia Foundation hopes to court more professors, researchers, experts and graduate students to serve as editors. Not only will such measures bolster credibility, but it will provide these individuals another chance at self-promotion. Zoe Corbyn with The Guardian thinks taking advantage of the opportunities Wikimedia Foundation provides early adopters with a chance to really establish themselves as industry leaders. Taking part in the online encyclopedia’s re-emergence could very end up an enviable badge of academic honor. Considering such initiatives only exist in a fetal state at the moment, the true implications for participants remains to be seen — though hopes do run high.

  3. Editing assignments: Although edits may disappear over time, students can use Wikipedia to flex their knowledge and help them review main points. Plenty of tech-savvy teachers out there have found some incredibly creative ways to incorporate Wikipedia in their classrooms, with many of them revolving around assigning edits. Others assign articles outright, focusing on starting new pages for books, peoples, places, concepts and other lessons that might be missing. Faculty Focus’ Dr. John Orlando points out how such assignments empower students of all ages, as it puts them in teaching position — one reaching a global audience. So not only do they serve as worthwhile lesson supplements, but effective confidence-building exercises as well. Especially if their ranks climb!

  4. Encourages casual learning outside the classroom: Go ahead and try that "Random Article" feature. Whether hitting the link repeatedly or simply following links from the post that pops up, it gets really addictive, really fast. Wikipedia’s structure may not necessarily make the grade on an academic paper, but that doesn’t negatively impact its accessibility! No matter what page one encounters, he or she will more than likely close out the browser with a lesson or two learned. The site provides a quick, painless way to pass the time in a productive manner, facilitating knowledge without the pressure of deadlines and restrictions. It actually made learning kind of cool — even a little transcendent – by appealing to a very broad demographic range. Though obviously not as in-depth as a formal education, but rather a tool for casual scholarship, Wikipedia can’t be beaten just yet.

  5. Provides another online education conduit: Teachers around the world, spanning pre-kindergarten to graduate school, flock to Wikiversity as an excellent way to both network and educate. Not only can they exchange assignment project ideas, collaborating and refining to make them best fit student needs, but many even use it to host classes. Knowledge seekers with a bit of extra time on their hands may want to consider enrolling, as educators worldwide cover a wide spectrum of subjects for an even wider spectrum of abilities. One of Wikiversity’s most compelling components is the sheer amount of student involvement occurring on its pages. Their input and advice greatly helps their teachers and professors mold and shape the curriculum to offer up the most engaging, educational lessons possible. What results is an online class experience far more interactive and personalized than those offered through many colleges and universities — even if the enrolled don’t necessarily always earn credit.

  6. Pioneered…well…wikis: Wikipedia was not the first website of its ilk — that honor goes to WikiWikiWeb, which debuted online in 1995 — but it undoubtedly became the ultimate example. Today, thousands (if not tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands) of private and public wikis dot cyberspace, oftentimes looking towards Jimmy Wales’ and Larry Sanger’s openly-edited juggernaut for inspiration. The education sector is no exception. Rather than siccing their students onto Wikipedia itself, many teachers and professors opt to set up smaller, far more manageable sites for in-class use. Ubiquitous classroom management system Blackboard, for example, hosts a wiki feature. There’s no way to tell if the open-editing trend would have caught on in the classroom without the ever-looming Wikipedia. But even were it to happen anyways, one can easily assume it probably would have caught on much slower.

  7. Made copyright-free, public domain material even more accessible: Educators and students — most especially those working with anything artistic — who were concerned about copyright issues now enjoy a veritable one-stop-shop for guilt-free materials. Thanks to a combination of donations and copyright expirations, Wikimedia Commons flourishes. It overflows with art, photos, videos, animations, audio and more, with something suitable for pretty much any subject. Obviously, not everything meeting the criteria ends up here. But between Wikimedia Commons, Wikisource, Project Gutenberg, Open Culture and Creative Commons, both teachers and students should find plenty to pique their interests and meet their needs.

  8. Helps with lecture notes: "Wikipedia" may be a dirty word in many academic circles, but a surprising number of higher ed professionals sustain a sneaky, ongoing affair with it on the side. Although the majority agree using the site on a research paper or other assignment is not a terribly grand idea, they seem to trust it enough as a supplementary material. Plenty of professors reference it in more informal settings, such as lecture notes. So long as they scan footnotes (and even edit archives) for verified information, their information remains about as solid as their shameful little secret.

  9. Education for orphans: The 2008/2009 school year saw Wikipedia and SOS Children’s Village, the world’s largest charity devoted to orphan care team up to provide reliable education resources to an often overlooked — if not outright marginalized — demographic. Available as a download or a DVD, the project hand-picked thousands of the site’s best articles, verified content, cleaned it up for children and launched initiatives in 23 different countries. They all conform to National Curriculum, covering pretty much every important academic subject imaginable. So while such a laudable gesture may not have rocked the very core of the education industry, what changed were the lives of some very special children, granted learning opportunities they may not have otherwise enjoyed. And that is certainly nothing to ignore.

  10. Provides a more comprehensive, real time encyclopedia experience: Wikipedia’s internet home and open-editing structure offer one major advantage over those dusty old encyclopedia sets — almost instant updates. Even digital resources such as Encarta, once available via CD-ROM or download, can’t come anywhere close to matching it. Unlike its print or software predecessors, the site also boasts far more space, currently running 344 servers and counting. Such a setup, running Linux and Unbuntu, can handle the 25,000 to 60,000 page requests Wikipedia receives per second. For the not-so-tech-savvy out there, this means it holds a significantly larger amount of content to a significantly larger amount of educators, students and simply curious individuals. Much, much easier than waiting on a classmate to finish with the library’s only copy of Encyclopaedia Britannica vol. 7, 2007 edition; the chances of dredging up something more comprehensive increase as well.

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