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Wikis are unique to the publishing world because they provide the opportunity for user-generated content.  The concept of user-generated content is amazing.  Sites that allow for user-generated content allow their users to populate the site with information and allow additional users to add to, alter, or remove the information. 
For example, on Wikipedia, various experts (and non-experts) can unite to populate information onto the encyclopedia that represents varied perspectives mirroring various areas of expertise. 
This translates into some wiki content becoming very wealthy in the value of information provided while other wiki content remains basic or at risk of falsehoods or abuse.
As educators, we have an opportunity to help students and other teachers begin to understand this concept.  The goal is to have students begin to work actively as users who generate content.  Wikispaces is a great place to start since it can be a controlled, secure environment.  Wikispaces is a place where people can build their own webspaces.  Students can interact with a wikispace that connects to a unit that they are studying and populate it with content.  Later, the same student or other students can take responsibility to help the content evolve.  The deeper learning is more likely to take place as students consider how to develop the content by adding valuable content which is both valid and unique.  Once the content has been added, students can be taught to consider the organization and design of the site to make it more user or reader-friendly. 
In the attachments section below, teachers will find a rubric that can be used with their students in order to guide them in developing quality wikispace content as a class. 
Below is a Google Tool teachers can require their students fill out whenever they contribute to a wikispace page.  This encourages communication and reflection on any changes to the wikispace.

Wiki Communication and Reflection

Wikipedia is another tool that educators can use to help students actively understand the concept of user-generated content.  Wikipedia is less controlled, so teachers may prefer to create an assignment which includes a proposal to wikipedia edits without actually asking the student to edit the site.  The teacher should serve as a guide instructing students to conduct research which is thoroughly checked for validity and accuracy.  Next, the students would look at the existing Wikipedia article and propose edits which would improve the content and/or organization or design.  Students should then be taught how to include links to corroborate to the content.
On the cautionary side, the biggest concerns related to user-generated content relate to abuse, accuracy, and responsibility.  As educators, we can teach our students the importance of digital citizenship with regards to each of these concerns.  We can guide students in ensuring that accuracy has been carefully researched prior to adding or editing information and we can share articles in which abuse and responsibility are addressed (the issue with wikileaks is a good example).
Wikipedia is also a popular starting point for the research process.  Below is our library's statement on using Wikipedia responsibly as a resource.
PHS Library Statement on using Wikipedia Reliably as a Resource:
General Statement:

Wikipedia is a resource that many people use, therefore educators need to teach high school students (and each other) how to evaluate and interact with this resource effectively and responsibly.  Educators would be neglecting our duty to educate if we ignore the fact that Wikipedia is regularly used and decline to provide students with the tools to use this resource. 


Why is Wikipedia unique? 

Print and electronic reference sources and articles within subscription databases often do not provide the depth of authorship.  The nature of multi-authorship allows for global coverage which evolves into more comprehensive text with less opportunity for bias (multiple perspectives/viewpoints).  Subscription databases, while very useful resources (and should still be points in which researchers are directed towards), at times are more limited in terms of the presence of unique content available, the volume of content covered within an article, and the multiple reference links to resources which corroborate the information found within the article.  Many articles within Wikipedia require approval for editing, helping to ensure the reliability of the information provided (you will notice that  the edit this page tab is at times available on the homepage of some articles while it is unavailable on others). 


What about the Schools version of Wikipedia?

While the concept of this downloadable version, which remains static in an attempt to eliminate misinformation and offensive or age inappropriate language, is admirable, the searchable content is much more limited, making it frustrating in comparison.


How do we suggest responsible use of Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a great stepping stone into further research and can be an extremely useful tool.  Researchers should read an article in order to gain familiarity with the subject and corroborate the useful information by doing any of the following:
     - following citations listed in the References or External Links section
     - searching for peer reviewed articles
     - searching within subscription databases
     - executing a Google search while utilizing proper website evaluation techniques. 
While Wikipedia offers many comprehensive, quality articles, please remember that Wikipedia promises no quality control of the information provided and readers may be subject to misinformation or bias.  However, ALL informational content is subject to misinformation and bias.  Researchers need to keep this in mind while interacting with any piece of information. 


How do I cite my research?

Cite the source that you have used in order to verify your information (corroborate) in your Works Cited list. 


For more information:

Link here to view Kathy Fester’s Wikipedia PowerPoint, which provides an excellent overview of Wikipedia as a resource.

Karen Hornberger,
Nov 28, 2010, 5:42 PM