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Education The Internet

Should Schools Block Sites Like Wikipedia? 545

Posted by Cliff
from the concerned-about-its-accuracy dept.
Londovir asks: "Recently, our school board made the decision to block Wikipedia from our school district's WAN system. This was a complete block — there aren't even provisions in place for teachers or administrators to input a password to bypass the restriction. The reason given was that Wikipedia (being user created and edited) did not represent a credible or reliable source of information for schools. Should we block sites such as Wikipedia because students may be exposed to misinformation, or should we encourage sites such as Wikipedia as an outlet for students to investigate and determine the validity of the information?"
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Should Schools Block Sites Like Wikipedia?

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:27PM (#18724829) Journal

    Should Schools Block Sites Like Wikipedia?
    They should make a big deal about blocking Wikipedia--announce it to the student body. Then tell students that they are forbidden from accessing it at all. Pick some other sites too, like MySpace or Hotmail or a news site like CNN or the BBC News.

    Then turn around and in the students' social studies classes, teach them about free speech and the horrors of censorship. Be sure to explain what rights an American Citizen has and how many people have demonstrated or fought and died for these rights to remain intact.

    Then sit back and wait. Wait for the students to put this together and realize that they don't have to put up with your censorship shit.

    When someone holds a demonstration, make a big deal about it and herald them for being an American Citizen. Ask the rest of the students why they waived their right to read Wikipedia as free speech. Who cares why they wanted to read it or even whether they wanted to read it all, just ask them why they waived a right they knew they had. Make them think about it.

    Then, if you've got enough time, ask yourself why you've been waiving so many rights in the name of The DMCA, The Patriot Act & The Patriot Act II. Why did you waive your rights in the name of national security and the comfort of huge corporations?

    Go ahead, take your time.

    If you're advocating blocking Wikipedia in a serious manner, please do explain how you're going to--at the same time--teach the students about the rights they have. It will entertain me, the excuses that fascists come up with always have.

    "It's for your own good." just doesn't suffice, in my opinion. Who's determining what's "my own good" again? Oh, you want to. Right. It's called 'responsibility' and it comes with living so let the students have a helping of it.

    As for the person asking the question, I don't know about you but I went to a high school where the first thing we were taught is that we are responsible for the information we present in a paper. The student is responsible for citing sources & verifying that the source is reliable. If you can't do that, you're going to end up reading The Onion with either hilarious or catastrophic results. This is a valuable life lesson, let the students learn it early when the consequence is a bad grade instead of a lawsuit. If you told the students Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information, give them an F if they use one single reference from it. How can they argue with you, the instructor?
    • That is one insightful post.

      You, sir, are a genius.

      You are one of the few that "gets it".
    • by nizo (81281) * on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:40PM (#18725025) Homepage Journal
      Then, if you've got enough time, ask yourself why you've been waiving so many rights...


      How about, "the faster we hit rock bottom, the sooner the mobs with pitchforks will rise up?"

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by umeboshi (196301)
        You could hit rock bottom a lot faster by asserting your rights, rather than waiving them.
    • by JordanL (886154) <jordan@ledoux.gmail@com> on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:42PM (#18725055) Homepage
      I work in a large school district IT Department. We block plenty of sites, including MySpace and Facebook, (though we don't block Wikipedia).

      Generally, the feeling among us here is that if we receive a complain about a website, we will examine it. We won't block non-porn sites until we receive complaints, and the website has to have no educational value for us to consider blocking.
      • by MankyD (567984) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:34PM (#18725783) Homepage
        You seemed to have misunderstood this statement:

        "It's for your own good." just doesn't suffice, in my opinion. Who's determining what's "my own good" again? Oh, you want to. Right. It's called 'responsibility' and it comes with living so let the students have a helping of it.
        Just because a few people complain doesn't mean that blocking is good. Furthermore, to say that sites like MySpace have no educational value is to imply that no student will ever have a need to research and report on them - them being a huge, culture-changing phenomenon. Sure, I'll agree as much as the next that MySpace and FaceBook aren't, at face value, educational, but who am I to say that others won't learn something from them?
        • by JordanL (886154) <jordan@ledoux.gmail@com> on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:43PM (#18725905) Homepage
          Your argument makes sense in a corporate environment where we depend on managers being effective at understanding how their subordinates work, but in schools teachers do not understand how students do. The playing field is not level.

          Teachers depend on IT to do the work they want to do but don't know how to: stop the students from using the computers to waste time every time they turn around. People don't pay tax dollars so that we can let students post whiney blogs about how few people are friending them on myspace. Obviously IT can't decide case-by-case to block, so we have to make smart blocking rules.

          It's not like this is an Orwellian scheme of oppression, this is about making effective efficient classrooms that don't waste taxpayer time and money on things students have every capability to do at home in their free time. It's not like we block e-mail or anything, this is no brain stuff. People can still go to Digg and Slashdot and blogspot, etc. These all have SOME redeeming qualities.

          Public education has nothing to do with sending gossipy messages over myspace though, no matter how much of a phenomenon it is.

          All that said, Wikipedia does not fit our guidelines. Regardless of accuracy, Wikipedia is nothing but an educational source.
          • by cpaglee (665238) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:05PM (#18726181)
            Great! After having just returned from Communist China (where they deliberately block WikiPedia) the USA now has school districts blocking WikiPedia. Woa to all you dimwits who say "This is for the good of the children." What are you thinking??? Part of the 'learning' process is to be able to acquire data and distinguish that which is accurate from that which is misleading. That is what makes us 'human'. If we do not teach our children how to distinguish the truth from made up lies and how to check a theory using multiple alternate sources then we end up cripling our future generations. It is precisely the free and open access to information that we in the USA enjoy (and that China lacks) that makes this country and our students some of the most creative and imaginative in the world. NEVER destroy that freedom!
          • by Geof (153857) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:21PM (#18726387) Homepage

            People don't pay tax dollars so that we can let students post whiney blogs about how few people are friending them on myspace. . . . this is about making effective efficient classrooms that don't waste taxpayer time and money

            Wow. You take my breath away. How does one respond to such an incredible warping of the purpose of school? What the hell do TAXPAYERS have to do with it?

            I thought school was supposed to be about the education of students, for their benefit, that of their parents, of other citizens, and of society and democracy at large.

            Not that I think schools actually do this; I would say on balance they achieve the opposite. But to actually state that the goal of public education is the efficient satisfaction of taxpayers (not citizens, parents, or God-forbid students; learning, citizenship, and the improvement of students are nowhere to be found) is so ass-backwards it's virtually guaranteed to never achieve actual education or fulfill the interests of students.

            Of course, to the extent that you're a politico or functionary dependen on an industrial system of public education for your power and income, your characterization of education may be in your personal interest. What you wrote thoroughly confuses the private benefit of public servants with the broader public interest. I sincerely hope this is an accident of your writing and a product of having to cope with an imperfect system, not what you actually believe or practice.

            None of which is to argue that schools are better with or without MySpace. Addressing that question requires a much more thorough analysis than the caricature you've presented here: of what we as a society want our schools to achieve, of the degree to which school should be isolated from real life and of the practical questions of how school can teach students to function in their actual lives, of whether it's better to try to change the student than to train the teacher, of the potential and actual nature of social sites (socialization is, after all, one of the main things we want out of schools), and of the practical dimensions of any relevant policy. In other words, I don't have an answer but I don't think you've made an argument.

            • In other words, I don't have an answer but I don't think you've made an argument.
              I wasn't making an argument, I was giving a rationale. School simply do not have the money to retrain every single teacher who isn't really interested in learning in the first place. To make matters worse, they are unreplaceable due to union contracts... it doesn't matter how poorly trained they are for today's technology, they're here to stay because of the union.

              I was explaining that while people here are debating about the good or bad ways that a school district trys to engineer students, the reason has nothing to do with engineering of students, and everything to do with the path of least resistance and least cost. Businesses work on cost-profit ratios, public services work on cost-benefit ratios. I never said it was the way it should be, I said it was the way it is.

              I hate working for a public agency personally. I think we do some of the stupidest things for the most arbitrary reasons, and no one here has any focus on what our purpose is supposed to be: education. Especially in IT, which is purely administrative, we very rarely ask if we are doing something because it benefits us or the students.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Geof (153857)

                Thank you for the reply.

                I wasn't making an argument, I was giving a rationale. . . . the reason has nothing to do with engineering of students, and everything to do with the path of least resistance and least cost . . . no one here has any focus on what our purpose is supposed to be: education

                I'm glad to hear that, and your rationale does make unfortunate sense. I'm sorry you say you hate working for a public agency; I'm sure it's for good reason. For despite my extreme skepticism about public educa

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Dun Malg (230075)

              Wow. You take my breath away. How does one respond to such an incredible warping of the purpose of school? What the hell do TAXPAYERS have to do with it?

              I thought school was supposed to be about the education of students, for their benefit, that of their parents, of other citizens, and of society and democracy at large.

              In your hurry to get those panties all bunched up, you overlooked the fact that "students, parents, other citizens, and democracy at large" is essentially equal to "taxpayers" in the sense he used it. He's saying that he, as a public employee, owes his employers (the public at large) the most efficient and effective use of the limited resources we as a society have collectively granted them. He didn't say "we must follow the whims and fancies of everyone who pays taxes", which appears to be the bizarre con

              • Language matters (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Geof (153857)

                "students, parents, other citizens, and democracy at large" is essentially equal to "taxpayers" in the sense he used it.

                No, they're not the same. Partly for technical reasons (students don't pay taxes, for example, immigrants do but aren't citizens, and so forth), but more importantly because these are different roles people fill, and because language matters. Casting the debate in terms of "taxpayers" introduces an immediate bias, just as casting it in terms of "education" introduces a different (and

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Then sit back and wait. Wait for the students to put this together and realize that they don't have to put up with your censorship shit.

      Um, I'm not in favor of this policy, but your post is just silly. Schools have a responsibility to educate the students, and part of the responsibility is providing good learning materials. The Internet is a cesspool of bad learning materials (not necessarily Wikipedia), so of course the school is concerned about what the students are exposed to while AT SCHOOL. I don't

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Atzanteol (99067)

        Schools have a responsibility to educate the students, and part of the responsibility is providing good learning materials

        Since when does that include blocking access to materials the school doesn't like or deem "good learning materials?" If I'm reading fiction in class should it be taken from me because it's full of nonsense?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MindStalker (22827)
        By your logic, telling a five-year-olds they can't eat candy for every meal is also being a fascist.

        Problem is, these aren't just 5 year old. For elementary I can understand everything being whitelist only simply because there is too much stuff you can accidently run into.
        For High School students, they are nearly adult, and such need to start learning NOW about concequences. If they were to make a strict rule that says, "Don't visit Wikipedia or you will be punished" There would be a lot of arguing. (as opp
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Then sit back and wait.

      They're too involved in their IPods and X-Boxes to care. Don't sit back for too long. You may be waiting around for nothing.
    • You're missing why the students are willing to give up their right to wikipedia: if teachers can't check wikipedia at school it's much harder to notice that they just copied their paper from wikipedia :P
    • Ask the rest of the students why they waived their right to read Wikipedia as free speech.

      How is reading a form of speech?
    • Oh bloody please (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Moraelin (679338) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:30PM (#18725733) Journal
      Geeze, it never ceases to amaze me the chest-thumping some people do about their rights, without even knowing what those rights are. They think their amendments apply to anything except the government, and gives them some right to troll a board or to read Slashdot/Wikipedia/whatever at work/school/whatever.

      Learn your _real_ rights, lemming, because believing in such stupidities is how you lose those rights. Since you ask that, yes, ask yourself why so many rights were so easily taken away. Because 90% of the population doesn't even know them. They think the constitution gives them a right to troll a privately own message board, or to slander the neighbour, or to cheat on WoW, or whatever. Joe Random Voter doesn't even comprehend that those rights, or that they apply to the government (au contraire, he thinks his free speech applies to everything _but_ his government), or what they really were supposed to protect. He's too busy exercising his imaginary rights, to care about the _real_ ones.

      Here's the actual first amendment text: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

      Get this:

      - It's about laws passed by Congress. Wake me up when Congress makes a law that forbids you to say something at all, not when an IT department blocks Wikipedia on their network. I don't see anywhere there that students are forbidden to read Wikipedia at home, or that police will take anyone to Guantanamo for reading Wikipedia. Just that it's blocked on the school network. That's it.

      - It's _only_ about your relationship to the Congress and laws. It doesn't mean anyone else than Congress should have _any_ obligation to you. Not even public schools or government departments owe you jack shit on their premises or network. Whether it's free speech, or the right to peacefully demonstrate, or to petition for redress, get this: noone else has an obligation to provide you with the means or time for it. Your boss or school do not have to participate in a demonstration, don't have to pay for your bandwidth to exercise your free speech, nor let you spend your work/class time surfing the net. They don't have to do _anything_ for you. It doesn't even say they can't fire you for it.

      - "freedom of press" only applies to those who own the press. It just says that noone will lock-up the Wikipedia owners for being anti-Bush. It does _not_ say that anyone has an obligation buy and deliver the New York Times to your doorstep, or Wikipedia to your desktop. If your boss or the school principal doesn't want to carry those packets to you, tough shit, it's up to you to get them in your free time.

      - sorta unrelated, but that's another confusion that chest-thumpers do: no, it also doesn't mean anyone has to publish or carry your speech either. If you want to see your stuff in print, buy a newspaper. If you want them on a server, buy a server. And if the IT department doesn't route your precious corrections to Wikipedia, tough shit, get your own Internet connection at home.

      And spare me the emotional demagogue bullshit about people who died for those rights. Get this: noone fought for your right to have the company's/school's/whatever IT department carry your packets.

      And no, aggression, isn't a substitute for competence, btw. Just calling everyone who might disaggree a "fascist" preemptively, doesn't excuse you for not having a clue what you're talking about.

      Geeze...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ChaosDiscord (4913) *
        The first amendment protections have been extended to every level of government, including state level. Furthermore, courts have clearly ruled that students in school still have civil rights, including protections from unreasonable search and seizure and protection of free speech. This is unsurprising, since, generally speaking, children are legally required to attend school and those schools are funded and run by the government.
        • The first amendment protections have been extended to every level of government, including state level. Furthermore, courts have clearly ruled that students in school still have civil rights, including protections from unreasonable search and seizure and protection of free speech. This is unsurprising, since, generally speaking, children are legally required to attend school and those schools are funded and run by the government.

          Which is still a different thing from what I'm saying there. Yes, kids still ha

  • Of Course Not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by p0tat03 (985078) on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:30PM (#18724869)

    Wikipedia is not the only unreliable source of information out there. Hell, blocking it risks creating an atmosphere where students become complacent and trust every source they come across - after all, everything they're exposed to has already been vetted by an external body!

    No, we need to teach students how to recognize good sources and bad sources, how to research, and what citation means. Failure to do so will just create yet another generation of research-i-tards that can't find information to save their life.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dunezone (899268)

      No, we need to teach students how to recognize good sources and bad sources, how to research, and what citation means. Failure to do so will just create yet another generation of research-i-tards that can't find information to save their life.

      Exactly, as a current college student I have realized that Wikipedia, although an excellent starting point, is not necessarily an unreliable source but not a credible source. As for turning a paper in with a cited source being Wikipedia, you will not be punished but the professor will note that you should use a better source for information. Personally, if you just scroll to the bottom of a Wikipedia page you can find all the sources of information, and those are where students should be focusing on.

    • Re:Of Course Not (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:40PM (#18725023) Journal
      Nature debunked the whole damn clear a year or two ago. Wikipedia is no worse than old time stalwarts like Brittanica. What this does demonstrate is that school boards are often people who working demonstrations of what comes out of a failed educational system.
    • Yep, blocking it is stupid. But you should be reminding the kids that anyone can post anything on the Internet.

      So just wrap a frame around the Wikipedia pages with the words "Any doofus can put anything up on the Internet. Don't be dumber than the doofus."
    • Re:Of Course Not (Score:5, Insightful)

      by alphamugwump (918799) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:19PM (#18725619)
      If I had a choice between Wikipedia and those history textbooks they use in gradeschools, I'd use wikipedia. Oh, sure, it may not be completely accurate. But it also hasn't been filtered for "political correctness" by the school board. There are several "classic" omissions: The Aztecs violently conquered everyone in the region, and carried out mass human sacrifice. Helen Keller was a vocal anarchist. Henry Ford sent money to Hitler. That sort of thing.

      Wikipedia has this too. It has a slight liberal bias, a strong nerd bias, and a bias towards the special interest groups who edit their own pages (read: BDSM, Wicca, etc.). But usually, there's more of a chance of it including crackpot stuff than leaving important stuff out.

      And, of course, compared to the rest of the internet, wikipedia is pretty good. If you're blocking wikipedia, you might as well block everything. Most likely, they're blocking wikipedia but allowing Uncyclopedia, Wikichan, Encyclopedia Dramatica, Conservapedia, etc, etc. Oh, the irony.

      Also, believe it or not, not every homework assignment is a term paper. Wikipedia is a good reference on math, chemistry, and physics. Oh, I wouldn't cite it. But I would use it to look up the definition of a "ring", or the molecular weight of Tyrosine. Sure, maybe they got it wrong. But am I going to worry about it? No.
      • Re:Of Course Not (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Headcase88 (828620) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:08PM (#18726217) Journal

        Oh, I wouldn't cite it.
        That brings up another point in favour of Wikipedia: it cites sources. So even if the Wiki itself isn't a credible source, you can still use the credible sources it links to.

        So even if schools don't allow Wikipedia as a source directly, banning it outright completely removes what is by most counts an excellent repository of information. So, to put it in a sensationalist way, the school is limiting the students' ability to learn.
      • Re:Of Course Not (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Echnin (607099) <p3s46f102&sneakemail,com> on Friday April 13, 2007 @08:42PM (#18727165) Homepage
        This is an interesting post. I agree Wikipedia is a pretty accurate source for pure, non-filtered, information. What I don't necessarily agree with is your claims of bias - while I can see the bias toward topics that nerds are often interested in (what's with the huge amounts of articles on anime characters?), I don't see where the claim of liberal bias comes from. With regards to political topics, Wikipedia seems very unbiased, as it should, given its NPOV policy and large amounts of editors with different opinions which are moderated by each other. The result is, as it appears to me, plain facts, unprocessed by the giant propaganda machines. I think thus it's a good utility to moderate anyone's worldview, because the facts are most often less extreme than they are presented elsewhere. (Warning: I'm somewhat drunk right now, and I don't live in the US, which I perceive as being in general much more inclined toward the right in economic matters than the society in which I live.)
      • Textbooks Too (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Flwyd (607088)
        Textbooks don't just feature political bias. Never mind the creationism/evolution debate, science textbooks are full of incorrect statements about noncontroversial. Like one every few pages. (College books are significantly better, but check the errata list for your favorite reference books some time.) Errors on Wikipedia can get fixed overnight, but errors in a middle school science book may mislead students for upwards of a decade.

        Maybe they were just sick of writing F on papers handed in which were c
    • Wikiphobia (Score:3, Interesting)

      by NetSettler (460623)

      Wikipedia is not the only unreliable source of information out there. ... we need to teach students how to recognize good sources and bad sources ...

      Hear, hear!

      For example, schools are themselves an unreliable source of information, as is shown ipso facto by having them declare in a blanket way that Wikipedia is unreliable as a source of information.

      But schools are what we have, so we deal with them. I don't suggest shutting them down just because they've given bad facts once in a while. No system

  • Just Wikipedia? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:33PM (#18724907)

    The reason given was that Wikipedia (being user created and edited) did not represent a credible or reliable source of information for schools.


    Virtually the entirety of the web (and, for that matter, a lot of the non-fiction, dead-tree books you'll find in most school libraries) are not a "credible or reliable source of information for schools". OTOH, schools ought to be teaching students to evaluate sources that have the kind of systematic problems that frequently encountered sources like Wikipedia has, and how to use them (e.g., as a gateway or refresher) to get value, and when not to use them, and not to use them exclusively. They ought not be blocking access to information on the basis that it is not up to some gold standard of reliability.

    Now, there may be other valid reasons for blocking access to Wikipedia, but the reliability and credibility one is, from my perspective, pretty stupid.

    (If there is a problem with students too-frequently citing—or plagiarizing—Wikipedia, the solution to that ought to be appropriate, well-communicated grading standards when it comes to appropriate sources and appropriate use and citation of those sources.)
  • Ridiculous (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ramble (940291) on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:34PM (#18724929) Homepage
    This is ridiculous, I can't count the times Wikipedia has given me a reliable, quick and advanced source of information. If anything they should link it from the homepage.
  • There seems to be this prevailing opinion among schools that the information on wikipedia is of such poor quality as to be considered outright lies. Yes there is some mis-information present on wikipedia, but the same could be said of virtually any source of information. Wikipedia, like any source should be cross-referenced with other sources, but it also serves as an excellent initial source of information, and is often one of the most up to date sources you can find. In reference to modern events, both po
  • ...School boards make decisions on what reference materials to provide for their students all the time. They appear to be attempting to bias towards primary sources, rather than secondary/tertiary. Primary sources are generally the better place to go (unfortunately there is no primary source link in the article...so I'm stuck with rather unsatisfying hearsay...point made?).

    People are generally up in arms over banned books because they limit exposure of the students to someone else's idea of 'dangerous id

    • by shalla (642644) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:14PM (#18725551)
      Generally, school librarians make the decision what reference sources are available based on a school collection development policy, curriculum, and available funds. Not school board members. There's also a difference between making available print and electronic resources, which cost money, and arbitrarily deciding to block access to Internet sites that are considered educational in nature but not to others.

      Blocking access to one source of information and not to others is setting a particularly poor example on how to evaluate the source of information. Many Wikipedia articles are very well-written and contain citations that back up the research. I'd like to see some of the news stations do the same.

      Usually there's some sort of challenge policy available for books in a school library. I don't see how reviewing a ban on Wikipedia would be any different. If I were a parent in that school district, I'd be over there asking about challenging that decision under the same policy.
  • What is credible? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pembo13 (770295) on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:35PM (#18724953) Homepage
    I would like to see the same board underline how cooperate owned news media, and human written reference material are that much more reliable that partially peer reviewed, but publicly refutable medium. I am in no way denying the obvious problems with Wikipedia.
  • by Creosote (33182) * on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:36PM (#18724955) Homepage
    This is the worst kind of micromanaging by people who apparently don't understand research or teachers.

    No matter how poor a source Wikipedia may be (and in a moment I'll address that), it should be the decision of the classroom teacher whether and how to accept it as a legitimate source, just as the classroom teacher is the arbiter of whether a citation from Weekly World News counts for as much as one from the New York Times. It is the classroom teacher who should be the one explaining the difference to the students.

    Second, we all know that Wikipedia is often an excellent first source of basic information on a topic. Me, I've got a Ph.D. and a book published with a university press, and I constantly refer to Wikipedia to ground myself in things. Which is not to say I'd cite it as an authority. Again, it's the classroom teacher whose responsibility it is to explain the difference.

    I expect this is the first of about 1000 comments that will make essentially the same points. I hope that some sense of this can be conveyed to the school board in question.

  • by rizzo320 (911761) on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:42PM (#18725041)

    The reason given was that Wikipedia (being user created and edited) did not represent a credible or reliable source of information for schools.


    I swear, Funk and Wagnall's, Britannica, and World Book must be stepping up with the lobby money. This isn't the first time I've read about the "inaccuracy" of Wikipedia recently.

    Regardless of whether the information is accurate or not, Wikipedia is an excellent source because many times it has references listed a student can use as a basis for his/her own research. Teachers should not allow any type of encyclopedia to be used as a source, since, its supposed to be generalized knowledge on a subject. In fact, a great feature of Wikipedia is that editors have the ability to post a warning on an article stating that it needs to be cleaned up or that references need to be found to support the article.

    Banning Wikipedia doesn't accomplish much. Encyclopedias, even in their paper form, have never been the most accurate sources for information. Compare a World Book article to a Britannica article on the same subject, and there will be notable differences. It all depends on the author, and the sources used to write the article.

    I've found entries in Wikipedia on topics I have not found anywhere else, and many times followed an external link to a site that has more information on the topic. It would be a shame to take that ability away from students.
  • A better alternative to outright blocking would be to pass all Wikipedia hits through a proxy which, when articles are retrieved, modifies the returned HTML code to insert under the article heading the following words in large boldface: "This article may contain severe bias and/or inaccuracies".

    I have seen a few pages on Wikipedia that contain downright inaccuracy. I've edited them myself, only to see my changes promptly reverted out by a few misinformed zealots who keep the pages on their watchlists.

    The pr
  • Publishing a book is not really that difficult. There are thousands of complete idiots who have done it and will do it again in the future. If schools really think that all material that is not absolutely reliable should be off-limits to students, they might as well just ban access to all available information, books, journals, and the net.
    • by Scorchio (177053)
      Peer-reviewed journals can also be wrong. This was an important lesson I learned at university. Helps you really think about what you're reading, rather than just accepting everything as the gospel truth. Maybe - just maybe - the reason why your work isn't showing the same results as a paper you're referring to in your research is because the paper contains a mistake.
  • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:47PM (#18725141)
    Wikipedia is probably not that different in accuracy from the textbooks most schools in the U.S. are using. Here's the deal: teachers need to teach critical thinking more than rote memorization of facts. If they're not teaching kids to question the textbooks (and the teachers themselves!), then they're already guilty of what they're afraid of using wikipedia would do.

    Wikipedia is *great*, as is the web and internet in general, for nothing more than bringing up aspects of a topic that someone wouldn't suspect even existed. Check out a topic on wikipedia and notice aspects of a topic that wouldn't occur to you - then research those aspects using whatever sources you want.

    The advantages of Wikipedia far outweigh any data inaccuracies - that it's constantly updated, and has a far wider range of viewpoints being represented than any textbooks.

    If you teach critical thinking to the kids, then you downplay wikipedia's weaknesses while leaving the strengths.

    IMO, though, so think about it for yourself. :)
  • hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Loconut1389 (455297) * on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:48PM (#18725151)
    because googling will offer much better accuracy-

    just read the cites on wikipedia and find the books yourself, dont cite wikipedia.
  • "only if they also block FOX, CNN and MSNBC"

    Seriously, is wikipedia any more correct or incorrect than any other source of information.
  • Absolutely. (Score:4, Funny)

    by Z0mb1eman (629653) on Friday April 13, 2007 @05:52PM (#18725213) Homepage
    Schools should absolutely block Wikipedia and sites like Wikipedia.

    In fact, schools should do one better. They should start by blocking ALL WEB SITES. Next, they should whitelist and allow only sites on which ALL the information has been verified as 100% accurate by the school staff.

    This information checking should be done independently by every school throughout the nation. To avoid bias by the teachers for their favourite subjects, the fact checking should only be done by IT staff.

    Further, the results of fact checking shall be collected in a centralized, proprietary database, contracted to the highest bidder. Sites shall only be added to the whitelist once they have been unanimously approved by ALL the schools.

    To avoid changes to the verified content, a parallel "intranet" system shall be created with static copies of the verified pages, and only these shall be accessible by students.

    Damn, I should be a school board policymaker!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by orclevegam (940336)
      Further, the verified pages should be printed and bound, perhaps in a book form. Then the schools should setup a system where they can trade copies of the books between each other at request. Lastly they should construct special rooms in each school for the specific purpose of housing these books. Of course, with the number of books involved they'll need a system to organize all of them and allow for quickly finding a book. I propose a system where we divide everything into 10 main categories. Then within e
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mgiuca (1040724)
      Excellent. The more we block untrustworthy sites, the better our students are protected from finding "misleading" or "unreliable" information.

      I think it's very important that students in schools are only allowed to access 100% accurate information. That way, when they get out into the real world, they will trust everything they read and can be manipulated easily.
  • This is messed up on so many levels. I don't know where to begin!

    FIRST of all, they might as well block the entire Internet. I can put up a web page claiming to be by Smarty McPants, Ph.D, that says smoking is good for you. I can even Googlebomb it up so (for a while, anyways) any relevant search shows my page in a top spot. Just because something is on the Internet does not make it credible! Are they going to block Google too?

    Heck, I could print out a booklet on my bubblejet that looks authoritative,
  • nothing at all.

    educational supervision and guidance should handle the issue, assuming you are getting teachers who are worth hiring.

    part of life's journey is running across the odd "mein kampf" or Imus webcast. just like seeing the dirty old man flashing under the railroad bridge on the way to Billy's birthday party, seeing 20 contenders on the local TV news for your presidential primary, and watching the second world trade tower fall live on TV.

    shit happens. you need to learn what it is, and how to cope.
  • If any site is blocked at the school, does policy then follow that students are forbidden to use Wikipedia as a referenced source for any report or essay? And what is the penalty for doing so? Or can they reference it but must do so not as a factual reference but more as they would for quoting an editorial piece?
  • Especially those that agree with you. The reason is very simple, if you accept as fact something because it is what you like to hear, you are far more likely to accept lies.

    If you are a X-winger and read a X-wing newspaper a lie told by that newspaper has a far greater chance of being accepted. Same goes in reverse, if someone says something that you do NOT agree with, you owe it to yourselve to have a healthy distrust, of YOURSELVE!

    Always be willing to accept that what you think is true is wrong, and tha

  • Check the citations. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ash-Fox (726320) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:01PM (#18725361)

    The reason given was that Wikipedia (being user created and edited) did not represent a credible or reliable source of information for schools.
    Just check the citations on the Wiki entry to see if they're from a credible source?

    Seriously, it's not like they didn't give you a easy way to verify if something is credible.

    or should we encourage sites such as Wikipedia as an outlet for students to investigate and determine the validity of the information?
    What investigation? The citations are right on the page.

    If they aren't there, one is better off looking at other sources for information.

    Perhaps the schools should buy some accounts for the entire school to access sites like Britannica? -- I get the feeling they're too cheap to-do so.
  • Misinformation? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by theghost (156240) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:04PM (#18725393)
    If you're going to start keeping students away from sources of misinformation you're probably going to have to fire a lot of teachers.
  • Schools should start a wikipedia about their local area.

    Step 1: accounts and passwords are created, additional account creation is blocked
    Step 2: demonstrate all edits are traceable to an account
    Step 3: you are responsible for your account security and all edits done by your account

    Step 4: release
    Step 5: edit and disipline

    That will teach a lot.
  • They'll ban Wikipedia but put Of Pandas and People in their display case.
  • by hey! (33014) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:12PM (#18725521) Homepage Journal
    even though this is the wrong way to teach information literacy.

    Part of me wants to say that if you block the Wikipedia, you really should have a simple white list. These are the sites you are allowed to visit, because we've checked them out and they are reliable.

    But the thing is, the Wikipedia really is extraordinarily useful. And therefore very, very easy to misuse. Overall the Wikipedia is remarkably reliable. In a some cases its pretty mediocre, and obviously in a few cases it can go horribly, terribly wrong.

    Overall, its a tremendous benefit to have Wikipedia. But you have to bring a skeptical attitude or you can get burned. The truth is you really ought to bring a skeptical viewpoint to the Wikipedia, but many schools aren't in the business of teaching skepticism. Knowing how to handle a site like Wikipedia is part of media literacy. You should use same skills you would use to evaluate a network news show, or a book, your American History textbook, or even an "official" encylopedia.

    So, what this really amounts to is admission that the school is not prepared to teach its students critical reading. They really ought to teach that, but if they can't, then students might in some cases be lead wildly astray by Wikipedia. Perhaps for this sort of school, a white list would be better, or maybe even just giving up on net access altogether.
  • Wikipedia is the new Google -- the new jumping off place when trying to gather information about any new topic. In the past Wikipedia deemphasized external links under the premise that Wikipedia should be self-contained and pressable onto a CD. That's gone out the window and now at the end of every article is a list of human-filtered external links. Plus any Wikipedia article is loaded with keywords that provide fodder for further searches on Google.

    As more evidence that Wikipedia is the new Google, thes

  • by treeves (963993) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:17PM (#18725591) Homepage Journal
    schools block wikipedia's access to students.
  • by Matt_Bennett (79107) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:32PM (#18725761) Homepage Journal
    They should not block Wikipedia, for sure, but if the child gets something wrong from their research, they should be marked down since they didn't do their research properly. Even Encyclopedia Britannica can be wrong- if they find a discrepancy between two sources, they should be required to investigate additional sources until they at least gather a consensus, and properly attribute it. Making a single observation and declaring it the absolute truth is faulty science, no reason that online research should be any different.
  • No, but... (Score:3, Informative)

    by rob1980 (941751) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:34PM (#18725789)
    If a student turns in a research paper citing Wikipedia they should get an F-.
  • by ZombieRoboNinja (905329) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:53PM (#18725995)
    I mean, it would be a shame if students could just go to some other [internet-e...opedia.org] site [citizendium.org] that carried the exact same articles.
  • by Inoshiro (71693) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:55PM (#18726013) Homepage
    Wikipedia needs to go ahead and block all elementary and most high schools from editing the site.

    Why? Most of the vandalism I have to revert comes from US elementary schools. It seems like people below a certain age simply don't have the maturity to handle the power to edit content, without vandalising it in some way. Children old enough to be able to contributed can go ahead and create accounts to edit.
  • Bugger off (Score:3, Interesting)

    by unity100 (970058) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:56PM (#18726033) Homepage Journal
    Wikipedia beats the hell outta most school textbooks, heck, even college textbooks by a large margin.
  • Amazing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jopet (538074) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:02PM (#18726113) Journal
    The stupidity of schools and teachers is sometimes truly amazing. Bad luck that it is idiots like these who are supposed to actually teach others.

    But thanks for asking, asking even the most stupid question is a beginning: no you should not block Wikipedia. No you should not encourage using it. No you should, in general, not give the impression that everything can be solved by a simple rule.

    You should do what teachers are supposed to do: give students the means and ability, the knowledge and the judgment to decide by and for themselves on a case to case basis when it might be a good idea and when not -- and why.
    Maybe work that into your biology and politics classes. Demonstrate. Discuss.

    In a word: use your brain, for a change.
  • on balance (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pbjones (315127) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:09PM (#18726223)
    as a resource Wiki is not as 'safe' a source of information as a reviewed textbook, if the facts in Wiki are wrong and there are exam questions which the student gets wrong because of Wiki, who is to blame? I wouldn't portray Wiki as evil, but as it is, a database of information submitted by the community and it maay be true, false or otherwise.
  • by goldcd (587052) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:15PM (#18726319) Homepage
    Wikipedia is blocked as it may contain inaccurate information?

    But you're not blocking the rest of the internet that can contain anything, from anybody and is subject to no review at all?
    Maybe in the board's concern they should extend their block to any site that's ever reported incorrect or disputed information - this would cover pretty much every site in existence - religion, politics, history blah blah.

    Whilst Wikipedia shouldn't be taken as gospel (well actually they gospels shouldn't be taken as gospel either, but I digress), if you dip beneath the front page and examine the edits it actually allows you to see most sides of the debate on most topics.
  • by Fujisawa Sensei (207127) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:25PM (#18726449) Journal

    The should block Wikipedia from both student and teachers.

    They should not cave in to pressure from teachers or parents, they should stick to their guns.

    Because the students need first get used to being screwed by then man. And second and more importantly, they need to learn to subvert the system while they're young; it will help them in the real world.

  • by nick_davison (217681) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:38PM (#18726631)
    There's a reason why history grads often go on to very successful careers in apparently completely unrelated fields: It's because a good education in history is an education in thinking.

    I didn't follow it through to university level but I still value one specific history class I took as the most important part of my education.

    Studying World War II history, we weren't taught to memorize the dates of the outbreak of war, the dates of the conferences between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, and a bunch of other statistical but semi meaningless information when taken out of context.

    Instead we were taught to look at the different sources, to embrace the fact that German propaganda ministry materials were biased, look at the just as biased British accounts of the time, the histories written (as Churchill said) by the victor after the event, form our own conclusions about where the truth likely lay and still appreciate the value that the slanted perspective would have had on the respective populations.

    By understanding the broader picture, not only did I find a hell of a lot more interest in the period but I also got taught how to think independently, to analyze sources and form my own opinions.

    Wikipedia isn't a perfect source of truth. Then again, most textbooks that cover their nation's wars with another country aren't either.

    In an ideal world, you teach students how to assess the truth of what they're told, how to think and how to form their own opinions.

    Unfortunately, America seems hell bent on raising children that believe the sanctioned news source is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. When they grow up and start watching something like Fox News as their source of truth, look at the wonderful mess a country that had no idea about the real facts can get in to when the majority of voters think what they're told to and need four years of death and a demolished "liberated" country to make them stop and question.

    Now imagine what would have happened if the average American had learned in highschool to listen to what Fox was saying, flick over to the Daily Show for a humorous counter, go on line to a non American news source like the BBC for a third perspective, then Wikipedia for a potentially somewhat inaccurate but still useful grounding in the region's politics and history.

    Sure, they might reasonably have concluded Iraq had chemical weapons - after all, we still had the recepits from when we sold them to them in the 80s. They might have weighed up the national interest and judged it higher than the concerns voiced elsewhere in the world. I don't care whether they would have agreed with me or not - but at least they would have thought rather than spat venom at anyone being "unpatriotic," leaving all rational thought at the door.

    So, in short: A source doesn't have to be accurate to be valuable. Often, in learning to appreciate the inaccuracies, we learn vastly more. If nothing else, at least we engage our brains - which seems like a good thing to encourage school children to do if you're going to call yourselves educators.
  • by sunderland56 (621843) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:55PM (#18726777)
    Our school district "blocks" sites like LiveJournal and MySpace. This provides our student body with an excellent education in some branches of computer science - like tunnelling, overseas proxy servers, and anonymous browsing in general.

    Besides, to state the obvious, students generally do their homework papers at home - where Wikipedia is freely available.
  • by rmckeethen (130580) on Friday April 13, 2007 @08:10PM (#18726897)

    Teachers and other academics often see themselves as the gatekeepers to knowledge; it should come as no surprise to anyone that when a new technology comes along which threatens this gatekeeper role, schools and educators start talking about banning the technology. Wikipedia is a disruptive technology when it comes to education, and the arguments against it amount to little more than smoke-screens and academic arm-waving. When you think about it, the arguments against Wikipedia always boil down to a lack of academic credentials for the people who create and edit Wikipedia articles, plus a propensity for young students to cut & paste Wikipedia articles into their own papers instead of doing real research. The first argument, lack of credentials, is the easiest to dismiss.

    Through Wikipedia, unlike what you see in a typical school textbook, readers can always find out exactly who edited which articles, and in many cases, they can follow the discussion on the talk pages about why people think some information should be included in an article or, conversely, why some information should be excluded. Overall, those two features represent a massive boost to both the credibility and reliability of the factual knowledge contained in the Wikipedia. Edit pages and talk pages open the door for everyone to see how the knowledge in the Wikipedia is created and distilled. If Wikipedia editors held academic credentials, it might make it easier for us to accept that the facts contained in the articles are true, but credentials themselves don't have any direct bearing on the truth or falsehood of any given fact. Wikipedia, just like any other potential source of factual knowledge, should always be taken with a grain of salt. Academics can make mistakes just like anyone else and, on occasion, they've been known to distort or misrepresent facts based on a personal or a political agenda. Facts become facts when we have wide-spread agreement on the truth of certain statements. Wikipedia fosters this process of building consensus and agreement -- traditional textbooks sure as hell do not.

    The second argument educators like to make against Wikipedia is that students find it easy to plagerize using Wikipedia, or that many students simply rip facts out of Wikipedia articles without doing any real research to check the validity of those facts. To this argument I'd just like to point out that the same kind of student laziness existed well before Wikipedia came on the scene, and Wikipedia is not to blame because some students prefer to game the system instead of learning what the schools are trying to teach. Hell -- I think a way to solve this problem would be to have students write original Wikipedia articles instead of useless, overly redundant term papers. At least then, student's work would actually amount to something useful, and their efforts might contribute to the overall scope of knowledge. As it is now, term papers are pretty much make-work, which may be one of the reasons why some students don't want to put forth do more than a minimum amount of effort in writing them. If students had to create original Wikipedia articles, I would image that they'd be forced to go and do some real fact-gathering and writing, which is exactly what the schools are trying to teach with term papers, right?

  • by dtobias (262347) <dan@tobias.name> on Friday April 13, 2007 @08:38PM (#18727139) Homepage
    J. K. Rowling had some good commentary on the idea of school administrators trying to censor what information sources the students are allowed to read, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where the highly dislikeable Dolores Umbridge, put in charge of Hogwarts by the incompetent and fearful government of the wizarding world, issued a series of edicts including a ban on students reading a tabloid newspaper that had just published a lengthy article about student Harry Potter, who was on Umbridge's bad side at the time. Naturally, once it was banned it became the most popular reading matter all over the school.
  • by alisson (1040324) on Friday April 13, 2007 @09:45PM (#18727653)
    As soon as every teacher is more credible than Wikipedia, go ahead.
  • by BlazeMiskulin (1043328) on Friday April 13, 2007 @10:26PM (#18727915) Homepage
    Reading through the comments here, I see lots of divisiveness, but little actual grasp of reality. 1) Reliability of wikipedia. My litmus test for an encyclopedia is the Tesla/Marconi test. Look at the entries for Marconi and Tesla. If it says that Marconi invented radio, then it's not a reliable source. If it says that Tesla did, it's reliable. This is a point of fact that was settled by the SCOTUS about 60 years ago. Wikipedia gets it right. Most printed encyclopedias I have checked get it wrong. (I used to work for a school district, and part of my duties were to receive in books. I had *lots* of chances to check encyclopedias). 2) 'Learning' is not about regurgitating accepted information. It's about gaining the skills to understand and discriminate good information from bad. Part of the way that a person gains these skills is by occasionally doing the wrong thing and getting corrected. A school district which lays out a policy which (in effect) says 'You may only cite sources of which we approve', is not allowing students the chance to make mistakes--and thereby learn. They are also eliminating the concept of contesting data. (see the following point) 3) Approved sources vs. authoritative sources. When I was in high school, I took a class on WWII. I read the approved textbooks and the approved stories of what happened. As part of the class, I interviewed a WWII veteran--in this case, my father. When comparing the approved text's description of what happened at Monte Casino, and my father's description of what happened, there was a huge disparity. One version was written by historians, peer reviewed, edited, and accepted by the school district. The other version was from someone who was actually there at the time it happened. Which would *you* believe? In school we are taught (by authoritative sources!) that George Washington's teeth were wooden (False-- they were ivory), that Marconi invented the radio (False--it was Nicola Tesla), and that American bravery resulted in the capture of Monte Casino (False--it was the devious and brutal actions of the Sikhs that causes a German surrender). I'm not sure about the last one, but I know that Wikipedia gets the first two correct, where the approved sources get them wrong. The administrations who ban Wikipedia (and other online resources) on the basis of 'validity', are prejudiced. They think that anything in print is, somehow, magically endowed with veracity. Those administrations are wrong. The truth of the matter is that *all* sources of information should be questioned. They should be bounced against other sources and both the similarities and discrepancies should be considered and weighed for value. But schools aren't interested in that. They aren't interested in teaching kids how to think, because teachers aren't rewarded on how well students criticize 'conventional wisdom', and critical and independent thinking doesn't show up well on standardized tests. And before anyone shouts me down, I'm saying this from the perspective of someone who has been on the teaching side of academia--as both a teacher and an administrator--for the better part of 20 years. As a teacher, I welcomed *any* source that could be justified. I will set one instance of 'My dad was there' against a thousand established encyclopedias and history texts.f Wikipedia is full of experts, and they have to defend themselves--constantly--against a host of counter arguments. If that isn't the epitome of peer review, I don't know what is. Oh... and for those who say that sites such as MySpace have no value? Have you seen how many politicians are explaining their platforms via MySpace blogs and profiles? That sounds pretty authoritative to me.
  • by sbaker (47485) * on Friday April 13, 2007 @10:39PM (#18727987) Homepage
    People forget why we do education. It's not to have kids write good, well referenced essays - it's to teach them HOW to write good, well referenced essays. Without doubt, Wikipedia is an insanely valuable resource - but you have to know how to use it.

    So let's train our children to live in a world where the sum total of human knowledge is available from a single site on the web - but you can't 100% trust what it says. Merely blocking access to it does nothing - worse than nothing in fact because just as soon as they get out into the real world where Wikipedia ISN'T blocked - they'll use it uncritically because they've never been taught to use it right.

    For things that don't matter much - just use it - and 99 times out of 100 it's right. For things that DO matter - by all means read Wikipedia - but use it to find the primary references that you CAN trust. Then look those up and reference them. But that's what you've got to do with any encyclopedia - there are just as many (arguably more) errors in Encyclopedia Britannica - and I don't think that's been banned yet.

    This is no different from the technological challenges of earlier generations. When I was a kid in the early '70s, the pocket calculator was just starting to take over from the slide rule. The school found that the lack of the need to figure out where to put the decimal point (which a calculator does automatically - but the slide rule does not), we were not estimating the value of the result in our heads - so if we made a keying mistake on the calculator, we could easily be miles from the correct answer and not know it. Nowadays, all kids use calculators and slide rules are pretty much museum pieces - we got over this 'problem' with calculators and taught people to realise the possibility of a keying error.

    The same needs to happen for the ENTIRE Internet - not just Wikipedia. It's ludicrous to block Wikipedia - and not block any of a gazillion other information-providing sites. Most of those are created by a single individual who could just as easily be wrong as Wikipedia. We need to train kids to recognise what web-based information can be trusted and what must be double-checked before we can trust it.
  • by pestilence669 (823950) on Saturday April 14, 2007 @12:05AM (#18728421)
    Like all things, the truth lay somewhere beneath the words. It's not inaccuracies that schools fear. I can't tell you how many times I've found the answer keys in public schoolbooks to be wrong. Misinformation is nothing new.

    If anyone still thinks that public "education" is about education, they're horribly mistaken. Calculus (and nearly all mathematics) hasn't changed in 100's of years, yet schools demand new math books each year. Why is that? History, as far as I know, doesn't (and shouldn't) change... yet new books are printed each year and sold for ridiculous prices. Many contain less actual content than the previous generations before them.

    Public schooling is a business and the reasons to block Wikipedia are fiscal. Publishers and curriculum planners are directly threatened by Wikipedia.

    Everyone knows our schooling is broken, and everyone has the wrong idea of how to fix it. More money is not the answer (some would argue that it's the problem) nor are laptops. The system needs to be rebuilt or abolished altogether, as do most long-lived government institutions (like social security, welfare, and minimum wage).
  • by logicnazi (169418) <logicnazi@gmail. ... minus herbivore> on Saturday April 14, 2007 @12:44AM (#18728611) Homepage
    So even after Taking calculus and philosophy courses for many years now I'm still appalled at how many people who teach put form over substance. I mean it's hard enough to get students to really learn or do anything but blindly follow algorithmic directions without making it worse. Now you are going to give them the message that 'No, that's not the right way to learn about something.' I mean what better way could you find to grind home the message that learning isn't important; only following the arbitrary rules is important. Jesus Christ if this was April fools I would be sure this was a joke. I mean is wikipedia totally 100% accurate, of course not. Is it more accurate than asking your teacher? Probably. Both having been a student for some time and now having TAed I'm fully prepared to say that teachers are totally human and even the best of them get confused about things, misremember or otherwise give the wrong answer from time to time. Does it follow that we should ban teachers as well? Obviously not because teachers, despite being poor authoritative references, are quite useful to help students learn. The same goes with wikipedia. The situations are no different. You would take off points for a student who quoted the teacher in his term paper and you can do the same with wikipedia. I used to believe all that stuff about people resenting wikipedia because it undermined the traditional authorities was total BS. After incidents like this I find myself questioning that conclusion. Of course most likely this is motivated by the uncomfortably of teachers with this new technology and new ways of doing things but still it's totally amazing.
  • Education? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Saturday April 14, 2007 @08:15AM (#18730353) Journal
    Education isn't simply about regurgitating facts found elsewhere.
    Isn't the POINT of a 'liberal' (in the academic arts sense, not the political sense) education to teach the students to reason, to be able to measure the value of the information they are getting, to filter it as necessary to draw useful conclusions?

    Seems to me that Wikipedia is EXACTLY the perfect tool to teach about how information is presented and how one should read with care toward the author's biases and intent. LIKE EVERY OTHER SOURCE OF INFORMATION (such as encyclopedias and books), Wiki authors are generally altruistic in intent but everyone has inherent biases. Further, some are not so altruistic. With books and reference works, the recycle time is long and slow between editions. With wiki it's very fast, sometimes hours. So in a sense Wiki is the 'hothouse' version of every other reference work.

    I think it's an excellent educational tool, both as a reference (cited original sources and generally good summaries of knowledge-to-date) and as a meta-example of the potential dangers of simply absorbing facts without thinking critically about their source.
  • Wikipedia works! (Score:3, Informative)

    by TerranFury (726743) on Saturday April 14, 2007 @12:10PM (#18732119)

    Three issues:

    1. When you tell students not to cite Wikipedia, you're telling them to omit a citation for one of their sources. This is bad.
    2. I use Wikipedia all the time, and I cite it, with no ill affects -- at the university level. That's because I use it correctly. Surely, if it's good enough for my engineering department, it's good enough for 10th graders?
    3. Wikipedia is an amazing reference for basic applied math and computer science, and you can pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

    In fact, come to think of it, every time I've cited Wikipedia in a paper, I've gotten an A on it. Better, for some of those papers I've received "course citations" -- special notes of positive recognition which are recorded on my transcript. One other professor made a point of stopping me and saying, "This is really a very good paper. Could you make an extra copy of it for me?" I call that success, n'est-ce pas?

    I don't just cite Wikipedia, of course. I cite academic papers too. But those papers often don't spell out the basics -- so as an undergrad trying to apply more advanced math, I need some background, and Wikipedia provides that. (Textbooks would too, but it's quicker to go to the Wikipedia article -- and the Wikipedia article is often just as useful if not more). So in the spirit of full disclosure (and the Academic Honor Code), I cite all my sources. That means that, if I need to figure out how the Quaternions work and Wikipedia tells me, I cite Wikipedia.

    Admittedly, I'm not researching history or some politically-loaded subject. I'm researching something which benefits from Wikipedia's huge nerd bias. Wikipedia is much more than an encyclopedia: Will I find a complete description of the quaternions in the Encyclopedia Brittanica? What about particle filters? How about the naive Bayes classifier or the ensemble Kalman filter? Wikipedia has those articles! If I go to the article titled State space (controls), Wikipedia goes so far as to show the nonlinear state-space model for a pendulum. I am sure Brittanica doesn't give that.

    Librarians keep insisting that people use the Internet as we used Old Media. But it just doesn't work the same. What if some guy on the gamedev.net forum helps me out by sharing an idea with me; should I not cite him? I make a point of including proper footnotes, even for sources like that. Then, it's up to me to make that source authoritative -- by doing a correctness proof in the paper, for example. It takes a little legwork -- but if you immediately write off sources of information like that, you ignore most of the power of the Internet that Old Media lacked. Random, unpublished people know a lot of stuff. You need to verify it often, but it's still useful (and "verification" doesn't necessarily mean "appealing to authority"). As many posters have said, it sometimes just takes critical thinking.

  • by Londovir (705740) on Saturday April 14, 2007 @01:02PM (#18732601)
    As the original poster, I can tell you the following.

    After sniffing around a little and making some inquiries of people who are in a higher position within the county, I think I've finally found out the "true" reason for this. I was told that, since our school board has paid a hefty access rights cost to World Book Online, it was decided to remove access to Wikipedia. It seems that some higher-ups were upset that they've shelled out the money for students to use an online encyclopedia, and that practically no one was using it! So, rather than investigate why people wanted to use Wikipedia so much more than World Book Online, they decide to remedy the situation by taking away Wikipedia.

    Frankly, I believe that entirely. When I emailed the IT rep at the county level, and gave her a list of about 10 or so legitimate mathematical processes (such as the Rational Root Theorem, Synthetic Division, Euler's Method, etc), none of which is available on World Book but which is easily readable on Wikipedia, I got a staid and trite reply that basically repeated the "not credible like an encyclopedia" mantra and didn't address my particular points.

    Oh well, we've managed since two months ago when I submitted this story. Some of us, being more knowledgable about computers and the internet than the usual lemming teachers around us, have found creative methods of still retrieving the information from Wikipedia we need to be effective teachers. (For example, I saw a handy way of processing a cubic spline based upon a Wikipedia article, which I proved by hand myself during my lunch break to make sure it worked, and then taught it to my students.)

    I wonder if World Book has an article on proxies....

    Londovir

"Life, loathe it or ignore it, you can't like it." -- Marvin the paranoid android

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