Scottish teacher encourages pupils to use “unreliable” Wikipedia

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By Cara Sulieman

A SCOTTISH teacher has said that school kids should be encouraged to use Wikipedia for school research, despite doubts over the accuracy of the information on the site.

Ollie Bray, deputy head teacher at Musselburgh Grammar, said that pupils should use it to learn how to evaluate the credibility of information.

But the online encyclopaedia has a reputation for being unreliable as anyone can edit the information it carries, and parent groups say it makes their kids “lazy”.

There have been a number of high profile mistakes on the site – just last week Thierry Henry’s entry had to be locked as angry users vandalised his profile after his handball during the France Ireland football game.

Discussion

But Ollie insists Wikipedia is a valuable teaching tool – and reckons it is better to teach pupils how to use it properly rather than ban it.

He said: “We, as teachers, should be looking at these disclaimers and working with young people to discuss why articles are disputed or contradict themselves.

“If we start with the belief that everything is subject to opinion, then we can work on how to validate it.”

He suggests teachers and pupils study the “discussion”, “source” and “history” tabs on the website.

The discussion tab will show the youngsters how much debate goes into reaching a compromise when changing disputed facts.

Better access

And he thinks that these skills should be taught alongside internet safety and responsible use, as biased information could also be seen as “inappropriate content”.

He said: “There is extreme content on the internet, but kids only find it because they go looking for it.”

And the teacher – who is currently working for Learning and Teaching Scotland as a national adviser for emerging technologies – also wants kids to have better access to sites such as YouTube, which is banned in some schools and allowed in others.

He said: “Why is it fair that children in East Lothian can get access to hundreds of hours on Channel 4, National Geographic or the Scottish Parliament, when other schools and teachers have not got access to these resources?

“It means that children don’t get to benefit from it, or the teacher or head has to spend time procuring resources which are available for free.”

IT savvy

But the internet site has been blamed for making Scottish schoolchildren lazy, with parents worried that their kids are relying on someone else to do all the hard work for them.

Eleanor Coner from the Scottish Parent Teacher Council said: “Children are very IT-savvy, but they are rubbish at researching.

“The sad fact is most children these days use libraries for computers, not the books. We accept that as a sign of the times, but schools must teach pupils not to believe everything they read.

“It’s dangerous when the internet is littered with opinion and inaccurate information which could be taken as fact.”

Although Wikipedia is edited by its users, the site monitors the changes and responds to inaccuracies when it can.

A disclaimer on the site says: “While Wikipedia articles generally attain a good standard after editing, it is important to note that fledgling, or less well monitored, articles may be susceptible to vandalism and insertion of false information.”

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