March 19, 2013

Wikipedia: A Tool for Teaching (Skeptical) Research

My colleagues and I recently presented at the NJEdge Faculty Showcase at Georgian Court University about how to use Wikipedia as a tool for teaching skeptical research.  

Wikipedia is one form of social media, and often at the bull’s eye of “new media myopia” (Obar, 2012). When asked to do research, Wikipedia is usually the first place students look. While we might want to teach students that Wikipedia is one place to start, it usually is not the one place where we want them to end. Therefore, incorporating Wikipedia into classroom instruction is a powerful way to teach students how to analyze the sources they use. This presentation will introduce educators to possible ways Wikipedia can be utilized in the classroom as a teaching and learning tool.

While most faculty and academics disapprove of using Wikipedia in the classroom for research, Parker and Chao (2007)  suggest that “Wikis [including Wikipedia] are one of many Web 2.0 components that can be used to enhance the learning process” in terms of collaborative learning, building research skills, and engaging students in the information literacy process.

Wikipedia says that their posts do not include original thought and are to be neutral. In other words, all information must be cited, and any uncited material is removed. Obar (2012) maintains that “studies have shown the Wikipedia is about as accurate as Britannica." Obar further suggests that there is still misunderstanding surrounding Wikipedia as not many academics understand the “distinction between Wikipedia as a tool for teaching and Wikipedia as a tool for research” (2012). Sadly, many educators ban Wikipedia  from the classroom as a platform for research rather than considering its possibilities as an effective teaching tool for both research and information literacy.

Most students, regardless of their technology background, have not successfully used wikis in the classroom. By reviewing Wikipedia best practices, educators might understand the value of incorporating this wiki into collaborative assignments or improving students’ understanding of information literacy. In Robert Cummings' (2013) suggests in his article "Are We Ready to Use Wikipedia to Teach Writing," some insights when using Wikipedia as a teaching tool:

  • Don’t have to use Wikipedia as a reference source; use it to bring authentic, immediate audience for student writing.
  • Wikipedia assignments offer the chance to consider student writers' responsibilities in topic selection.
  • Use Wikipedia as an opportunity to teach critical thinking.
  • Use Wikipedia to teach the importance of credibility and clarity in writing.
(Cummings is also the author of  Lazy Virtues: Teaching Writing in the Age of Wikipedia.)

There is, though, a difference between using technology to “supplement traditional methods of teaching, and using it ‘to create opportunities for new objectives that may not be possible without them’” (Benson qtd in Konieczny, 2007). Wikis, including Wikipedia, might reshape social learning behaviors in higher education, and it is “vital we use this technology, which has the potential to revolutionize the world of teaching and learning” (Jaffe qtd in Konieczny, 2007).

We are interested in hearing your thoughts. Would you use Wikipedia to teach research skills? Why? Why not? 

Would you use Wikipedia to teaching writing? Why? Why not? 


Cummings, R. (February 25, 2013). Are we ready to use wikipedia to teach writing? Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Parker, K.R. & Chao, J.T. (2007). Wiki as a teaching tool. Interdisciplinary
Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects 3. Retrieved from
Konieczny, P. (January 2007. Wikis and wikipedia as a teaching tool. Retrieved from
Obar, J. (September 20, 2012). Why wikipedia does belong in the classroom. Retrieved from

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