In the weeks between February 1 and 23rd, Barack Obama’s Wikipedia entry received 1,934,492 page views and was the seventh most trafficked article in the online encyclopedia. Whoa. I learned this from Will Richardson’s blog, Weblogg-ed (if you haven’t been reading Will’s regular blog on learning with the read/write web, I encourage you!).
I question schools and educators who have opted to ban the use of Wikipedia in schools. Not only is the site a fascinating information source, but it’s also an ideal object lesson in the value of networked information – a community of people working their way toward educating each other. If you take a look at the site, you’ll find a comprehensive series of articles about his early life and career, his time as a state legislator, his senate campaign, (with detailed descriptions of the 109th and 110th congress), his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, his Presidential campaign, his political advocacy, the books he’s written, and his personal life. At the article’s conclusion there are 176 references along with a list of useful links to such sources as campaign finance records from the Federal Election Commission, voting records maintained by the Washington Post, and U.S. government sites for biographical information. It’s an impressive article, by any standard.
But perhaps the most useful element of the article, from a teaching and learning point of view, is the banner up at the top of the article which says: “This page has been protected from editing until March 14,or until disputes have been resolved”. What better way to learn about the power of participation, the editorial process, critical thinking, and the whole concept of working toward the truth than this? The lock, placed by theWikipedia editors, stands witness to the furious activity going on at this portion of the site during Obama’s campaign for the presidency. Teachers could ask students to come back to the site daily to check its status, read the discussion, and review the history tab (What’s changed? By whom? Why?). Students could blog about the campaign and about the way the information is changing in the Wikipedia article in realtionship to the campaign.
Students who attend schools that either dismiss or forbid online resources like this are using Wikipedia anyway. Ask them. What’s worse, these students are using it without the context provided by a knowledgeable teacher. If we continue to bury our heads in the sand, we will miss the opportunity to help our students make sense of this amazing networked and connected world in which we live.