Is Wikipedia a Learning Tool?

After I read the title of Maria Jose Felgueres Planells’ article about editing Wikipedia for community service credit, I cringed thinking about silly it was to get credit for a class dedicated to making the world better by editing Wikipedia articles.

Once I started thinking about it, it made sense.

The most important thing in the world for many people is educating the next generation, in order to ensure a successful future for our country.  In America, we take these things for granted, including websites like Wikipedia.  Most Wikipedia users, myself included, do not think about how the information gets online, we just know that it is there when we need it.

In places like Mexico, where the standard of education and the enrollment percentage is lower than it is in the United States, the information we are used to on Wikipedia isn’t always available.

Getting school credit for community service is beneficial for everyone involved; the student who gets to see things from a new perspective and can feel that they have made a difference in the world and the community being serviced who gets help they need.  However, does teaching count as community service?

At first thought, the answer would be yes, teaching is a form of community service.  When I volunteered my time to teach fourth and fifth graders religion, I was servicing my community and furthering my student’s education.  The teacher that spends her days ensuring that her students can pass state mandated tests is helping her community by ensuring more kids graduate and are able to continue their education.

If those forms of teaching are community service, why isn’t it that the person who spends their time updating internet articles, making them more accurate and available for members of the Mexican community, is also thought of in the same light.  People (myself included) look down upon this act and are hesitant to label it “community service”.

Now that we’ve established that teaching is community service, what can be defined as teaching?  Is editing a Wikipedia article really teaching?

One definition of teaching that can be considered is “to give information about a subject”.  Going off of that definition, then yes, editing Wikipedia could be considered teaching, which would qualify it to be community service.  By adding to and correcting the information already available online, the editor would be fulfilling community service, because the editor would be informing the reader of a subject, and giving them access to information.

If this is the case, why do so many people shake their heads at the thought of contributing to Wikipedia being classified as community service?  Why does this idea need to be explained in order for it to make sense and tangible?  Is it because it’s online?  Do people have such a hard time believing this could be considered community service because it involves technology?

This process of sharing information between two people (the contributor and the reader) should be considered community service, despite the fact that it occurs digitally.  By giving students the opportunity to volunteer for Wikipedia to fulfill a community service requirement allows for the transfer of information between those who are well informed and those who are less informed, and in turn increases the number of people who are learning- in a formal setting in a classroom, or online.

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Is Wikipedia a Learning Tool?

2 thoughts on “Is Wikipedia a Learning Tool?

  1. msicherer says:

    I agree with much of what you are saying in this response. Even when teaching is a paid job, I still feel that it can be considered a community service. The community needs to continue to obtain knowledge and anyone providing this opportunity should be considered to be doing the community a service (hence; community service). The one thing I feel that you did not touch on much was the concept of the difference between learning face-to-face and learning online. Maybe the reason why people are so hesitant to consider editing a Wikipedia article as a community service as it does not have the same weight as teaching someone in person. The only people who really reach out to Wikipedia are those who have been individually inspired to obtain more information on any given subject. Teaching face-to-face is where the need to acquire more information is created. Therefore, while editing a Wikipedia page can technically be considered a community service, it does not have quite as much weight as an actual teacher does for his or her students.

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  2. themegmurray says:

    I found your take on this interesting and your specific focus on the teaching part of it. I found it really cool that in Mexico, they are utilizing Wikipedia in ways we may not over here in the US (like you said) in order to teach students and give them community service credit. I read an article: http://2seasagency.com/mexican-publishing-industry/ that talks about the Mexican publishing agencies last year. It quotes: “Mexico is a fast developing country and represents the second largest economy in Latin America. With a book market worth $830 million (2011) and a reported growth in market volume (+2.7%) and in sales (+13%) since 2010, its publishing scene is a particularly interesting reality.” I think this relates back to this article because giving students the opportunity to learn about editing and publishing using Wikipedia as a tool is a great way to get started on a career in that field. Seeing that the publishing industry is growing in Mexico, I think this is a great way for the students to get their feet wet with it, not only on the publishing and editing front, but like you said on the teaching and community service aspects, too.

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