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When someone tries to associate “Wikipedia” and “education”, most people will rear up and start complaining, wondering what ever could be wrong with the fool that dared to try to do such a thing. After all, who in their right mind would ever even give a single look at this crazy idea? A teacher bringing up the idea of such an association should be shamed and exiled.

Of course, I exaggerate. As far as I know, no one would react so violently to the idea of using Wikipedia as a tool for teaching. However, most teachers would way need more than a little convincing to reconsider their negative opinion towards the online encyclopedia as a learning and teaching tool. This website and kids’ education just does not add up in their mind. They cannot really be blamed for this. After all, even though Wikipedia has numerous qualities, it also has many flaws.

One of the biggest flaws of this tool is that, as much of an encyclopedia as it is, Wikipedia is designed by and for the crowds. Sincerely, the second part is not a problem, really. All it means is that this website is designed for anyone who wishes to learn, an objective which is worthy of respect. It can bring incredible minds’ ideas – a.k.a. any mind’s ideas – to fruition, just like it did for fifteen-year-old Jack Andraka. Basically, this young man created a way to diagnose Pancreatic Cancer rapidly, easily and for little money, and he did all that “without even knowing what a pancreas was, using just Google and Wikipedia.” Sincerely, this could make anyone dream.

However, even though these success stories can happen to anyone, there still is a drawback; the fact that Wikipedia is designed by the crowds.  What this means is that if someone feels like changing something in any article, or like creating a new one, they can. No matter what the change or the addition is, it can be done. If the change is faulty, it will most likely be deleted in the following days; however, it will still have misinformed many interested readers during all the time it will have been displayed on the site. As an example of this, we may present a Middlebury College teacher’s experience; when correcting one of his students’ works, he noticed that “several” of them were citing the same incorrect Wikipedia source! The precise number of those “several” students is not given, but it still is too many. Misinformation is hard to set right, even more if it has been taken from a trusted source, such as Wikipedia in this case. The damage it can cause to a student’s knowledge can be palpable, and may even be extended to later acquired knowledge, depending on what the youngster has been misinformed on. After all, one must not forget that knowledge is acquired like any building is built; strong bases will make for good further knowledge, bad or weak bases will make for a shaky business.

Nonetheless, there is still potential in Wikipedia, even if we take into consideration that anyone can modify its content. It can even be more useful than Encyclopedia Britannica. The thing is, Wikipedia is a behemoth. Sure, it can be heavy and clumsy, but its potential still remains incredible. To give you an idea, allow me to compare with you some of the numbers from Britannica with the one of our online encyclopedia. To start with, we might want to look at the number of articles on Wikipedia; while there are 500,000 entries in the Britannica, in only one language (as far as I can tell), there are over 10 million of entries in Wikipedia, published in over 253 languages. However, that’s not all. There is also the content. As it seems, the fact that Encyclopedia Britannica is only written by a handful can make it go only so far; when compared to articles on Wikipedia, it presents only half as many words in its entries than its free, internet-only counterpart. This makes Wikipedia such a mastodon that there must be a part of it that can be used.

Well, it turns out there really is a part that can be used. Or rather, all its parts can be used, in different amounts, and with circumspection. While Wikipedia can be dangerous, we can compare it to a puffer fish meal; if it is handled properly, it will come out beautiful; if it is handled poorly, it can potentially be (figuratively) deadly. However, there are uses that can be made of it for educational purposes.

One these uses is better applied with high schoolers and even younger kids. Sincerely, the idea is very simple; use Wikipedia for what it was built: researching information. In fact, according to a research carried out by Education Next, it turns out that Wikipedia can be a fairly good resource when a student wishes to research on a topic involving factual information, such as History. This is quite the relief, as it also turns out that for 100 subjects tested by the same people, 87 out of those were the first result to appear on Google, 12 were the second result, and 3 were the third result. Considering that this means that a total of 100% of the researched entries were found in the top three, knowing that most of the information is good can be quite the relief. However, some precaution still has to be taken when using Wikipedia to search for information for your k-12’s and lower grades’ students, as those results used in the research were all highly researched, and thus more likely to be right, as high traffic articles tend to be more accurate. This can turn out as a problem if your students venture in the less known parts of Wikipedia. Which is why I would recommend you to keep them on the featured and good articles. Chances can be taken, but it would be better not to take too many.