Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Wikipedia for Schools, With a New Twist

When it comes to the use of Wikipedia as a primary research resource for school reports, many teachers do not allow it for fear of inaccurate information. At least in the sciences and other technical topics, I have yet to find any articles that are not accurate, and I do not mind if students use it. But like anything when it comes to research, one wants to ideally confirm information with multiple sources.

To help alleviate the fear factor many teachers have, there is a largely unknown version of Wikipedia that is specifically for schools. It has about 5500 articles on major topics in the main subject areas, and what is different is that each article has been reviewed for content accuracy by educators and is appropriate for children. What's more, the founders are purposely limiting the size of the site and offer a downloadable option, so you can copy it for free to a DVD or flash drive. The file size is about 3.5 GB. This version also provides school districts across the country an interesting option for one group of students.

I would imagine most districts have some number of students (primarily from low income homes) who have a computer at home, but their parents are unable to afford high-speed Internet access. Or perhaps a rural school district lies in a region of the country that still does not have infrastructure for high-speed Internet access. Districts have the option of purchasing DVDs and making and dispersing copies of the site to those families for use at home. This is the equivalent of providing a 20-volume encyclopedia (something like 34,000 images and 20 million words), for free, to eligible families. I could also imagine having students making the copies and/or dispersing them to families as a community service project.

This is another technological tool that will help level the playing field for students across the country who have not been able to have the same exposure to information due to location and socioeconomic status, and I look forward to still other innovative ways to continue to break down information divides that may still exist. If interested in this site, downloading instructions are available here.

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