Ars Technica has yet another story of students being forbidden to use Wikipedia at school.
This time a district in New Jersey is blocking the site so that using it is not even an option for teachers.
The basic problem, according to officials, is that Wikipedia’s unverified accuracy and ease of use are making it too tempting for students to use as a primary source.
Wikipedia officials certainly don’t dispute that characterization and have never held the site up as a tool for academic work, except as a jumping-off point. But the New Jersey response is interesting in that it represents an extreme response to the problem.
This particular decision is stupid on two levels.
First of all, by using their internet censorship filtering system to block Wikipedia, the administrators of these schools are sending the message that they consider a flawed but very useful information site to be in the same category as all the other truly evil crap on the web.
Beyond those perceptions, however, the bigger problem is the lost opportunity for teaching and learning.
Denise Gonzalez-Walker, writing yesterday on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s education blog, argued for making Wikipedia a learning opportunity. “It’s a shame that the teachers and librarians quoted in the article didn’t take advantage of the situation–finding inaccurate information on Wikipedia–by having their students revise the Wikipedia site with their own research, or engage in broader discussions about how authority and truth will be staked out in new media,” she said.
Even the people who run Wikipedia will tell you their site is not appropriate as a primary source for academic use.
It is, however, a great jumping off point for research, which is exactly how it should be presented to students.
However, the same applies to the revered, analog, hard-bound versions sitting in the libraries of most schools.