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Andrew Cates

Schools Wikipedia

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I am hesitating a bit because I don't want to post lots of links on a forum I don't contribute much to a website I have been involved in developing but I am going to post this to two topics.

We (SOS Children) have spent a lot of time trying to develop a checked schools Wikipedia selection sorted by curriculum subject (so History is here). The resource is huge (more than a million words and thousands of pictures just on the topic of History). Is this a useful resource? If not what should we do with it to make it better?

Thanks

Andrew Cates

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Hi Andrew. The announcement that the government intends to abolish SATs at the end of Key Stage 3 will also have an impact on the History Curriculum. It is yet another sign that the government is at last backing out of years of interference in the Curriculum generally, an interference that has narrowed the range of History being taught. An Advanced Level History student complained to me yesterday (unprompted!) that she felt that in her school the History she had been taught had been mainly British, and she had missed out on the big picture. Because this problem has developed over 30 years, there is very little material available on World History, schools got into the habit of either ignoring the subject altogether or treating it as British Imperial History, and publishers are only just beginning to produce KS3 materials on topics like the Arab Empires and China. However, I have seen some examples, within the last year, of schools opening up the geographical scope of their KS3 History teaching, so I would hope your resources will get some custom! However, it might be worth bearing in mind that the new KS3 History Curriculum encourages themes such as 'Empire', so that material that allows comparison with the Roman and British Empires (which most schools do) would be particularly welcome.

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I am hesitating a bit because I don't want to post lots of links on a forum I don't contribute much to a website I have been involved in developing but I am going to post this to two topics.

We (SOS Children) have spent a lot of time trying to develop a checked schools Wikipedia selection sorted by curriculum subject (so History is here). The resource is huge (more than a million words and thousands of pictures just on the topic of History). Is this a useful resource? If not what should we do with it to make it better?

Thanks

Andrew Cates

I have explained some of the disadvantages of Wikipedia on the thread on Science:

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=13561

The main problem with using Wikipedia in the history classroom is that it does not reflect the way history is taught in the UK. Wikipedia presents a view of the past that was rejected by the universities in the 1950s and in schools in the 1970s. Wikipedia suggests that it is possible to provide an agreed narrative about the past whereas students are now taught to consider issues such as interpretations, empathy and the use of primary sources.

Wikipedia is a fine resource as a starting point for a historian. For example, yesterday I produced a page on Arnold Ridley.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWridleyA.htm

Before I start a page I always check the subject out on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Ridley

It provides a reasonable summary of his life but it did not include any information that was not in the main book I was using to create the page (Famous: 1914-1918). However, my intention in writing the page is to help students to emphasize with people like Arnold Ridley. I do that my including Ridley’s own words from his unpublished autobiography. I also use passages from secondary sources that raises questions about Ridley own accounts. The page is also linked to other pages that raise debates, for example, the military tactics used at the Somme and Flers, the white-feather movement, self-inflicted wounds, etc.

In many ways, one of the major problems with Wikipedia is that it has too much information on its pages. Take for example, the page on the Somme.

http://schools-wikipedia.org/wp/b/Battle_of_the_Somme.htm

I am afraid the vast majority of students would feel swamped by such a large amount of information. In fact, only a minority of university students would feel confident of dealing with this page.

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John. I agree with your judgement on Wikipedia as a dangerous research tool for students to use without supervision. It could quickly give 'project work' a bad name once more, as the majority of students would not have the skill to use it as a starting point and then to check it out.

However, this is Schools Wikipedia, and it looks to me as though it has been very carefully edited. It probably still falls short of the rigorous demands of historical scholarship - and Professor Elton might be turning in his grave - and as you have pointed out to me elsewhere historical material of this kind should really include a comprehensive CV of the editors. But surely explaining to students why this version of Wikipedia is a useful research tool for them to use, while the general Wikipedia isn't, strikes me as the opportunity for a brilliant lesson on how to approach sources, and particularly sources available on the internet. History teaching, particularly in KS3, has progressively focussed on fewer topics, and our focus on 'thinking' History has not, in my opinion, been accompanied by a wider historical vision.

Having myself worked for a couple of years trying to restore the Incas to middle school teaching I am struck by the accuracy of the Schools Wikipedia version of the topic - a topic full of pit-falls, and one particularly easy to get wrong. Historical maps, for example, can be a nightmare, and I've lost count of the number of inaccurate ones I've seen exam boards produce for exams. The original Wikipedia article on the Incas carried a map of the Inca Empire which incorrectly (according to the majority of chroniclers anyway) ascribed an area of conquest to the wrong Inca Emperor. Once a map mistake appears it has a curious habit of popping up everywhere - all over the World Wide Web for example - which it did at one stage! As well as the map being correct, quite complicated problems regarding the use of Spanish and Quechua orthography, and their English equivalents, have been dealt with concisely.

This seems to me a good tool, particularly for Middle School use. Or am I missing something?

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John/ Norman,

First may I say I understand fully that the Wikipedia for Schools is nothing like as good as a resource written for the classroom by teachers, like Spartacus, and never could be. We do offer a few lesson plans around geographical topics (they are downloadable here) which are written by teachers who kindly offer their time to us as volunteers. But the prospect of writing 20 volumes like that is another issue altogether.

Second, on the selection, the Schools Wikipedia was put together as a collection substantially by volunteers (a few retired teachers, some people working for UCLES which is nearby and some students at the university) . They were given a process to pick the best available version of an article on the English Wikipedia and then edit it by deletion only. We did not get into the much harder task of creating and rewriting content. Some of it like the Somme has a reading age of 16+. However there are some "elementary articles" and at our request Wikipedia themselves created some portal pages on topics coinciding with curriculum topics such as Early Modern Britain and so on. These pages now exist on the main wikipedia site too. We are planning on a "tour bus", running through a series of articles on a topic. Much of the material though is more fodder for project work for older children.

All in all though I take comfort from John's comments: if this is free and can be put on a school intranet for children why not? If it just helps a percentage of children who are more self-educated that's already a win and we don't aspire to more than being helpful.

Andrew

Edited by Andrew Cates

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John. I agree with your judgement on Wikipedia as a dangerous research tool for students to use without supervision. It could quickly give 'project work' a bad name once more, as the majority of students would not have the skill to use it as a starting point and then to check it out.

However, this is Schools Wikipedia, and it looks to me as though it has been very carefully edited. It probably still falls short of the rigorous demands of historical scholarship - and Professor Elton might be turning in his grave - and as you have pointed out to me elsewhere historical material of this kind should really include a comprehensive CV of the editors. But surely explaining to students why this version of Wikipedia is a useful research tool for them to use, while the general Wikipedia isn't, strikes me as the opportunity for a brilliant lesson on how to approach sources, and particularly sources available on the internet. History teaching, particularly in KS3, has progressively focussed on fewer topics, and our focus on 'thinking' History has not, in my opinion, been accompanied by a wider historical vision.

Having myself worked for a couple of years trying to restore the Incas to middle school teaching I am struck by the accuracy of the Schools Wikipedia version of the topic - a topic full of pit-falls, and one particularly easy to get wrong. Historical maps, for example, can be a nightmare, and I've lost count of the number of inaccurate ones I've seen exam boards produce for exams. The original Wikipedia article on the Incas carried a map of the Inca Empire which incorrectly (according to the majority of chroniclers anyway) ascribed an area of conquest to the wrong Inca Emperor. Once a map mistake appears it has a curious habit of popping up everywhere - all over the World Wide Web for example - which it did at one stage! As well as the map being correct, quite complicated problems regarding the use of Spanish and Quechua orthography, and their English equivalents, have been dealt with concisely.

This seems to me a good tool, particularly for Middle School use. Or am I missing something?

I think that Wikipedia is one of the best things about the web. Along with Google I use it more than any other website. For example, last night I watched the film Breach with Chris Cooper as Robert Hanssen. As soon as it finished I took a look at the Wikipedia page on Hanssen. I spent the next 30 minutes exploring the subject via Wikipedia. Much to my surprise, the film told the truth about the case (I thought that the secret filming of him and his wife and then being sent to his friend, Jack Hoschouer, had been included to jazz up the film).

The idea that Wikipedia is full of mistakes is inaccurate. In fact, over the years of using the site virtually every day, I have found very few mistakes. My main criticism concerns the fact that it leaves out certain information that questions the status quo interpretation of the past. In other words, it suggests that you can produce objective history writing.

I am sure that Wikipedia has many pages that can be used by Middle School students. My point was that I would be reluctant to give pages like the Somme to a secondary school student.

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