TPACK vignette - Using Wikipedia in the social studies classroom

One of the most significant challenges facing social studies teachers in 1:1 computing environments is the condition of persistent access to information, and one source of information that generates more attention in social studies than perhaps another other single resource is Wikipedia. The mere availability of Wikipedia in the social studies classroom in some ways turns upside down generations of assumptions about authority and information. With access to Wikipedia, answers to simple and uncontested questions are likely to never been left unanswered. Wikipedia extends the range of possibilities for students who are seeking information on common topics, but also raises questions about knowledge authority in the classroom. Wikipedia is at root a socially constructed resource and a knowledge community, but in most academic circles it is often devalued and afforded little privilege (Davidson, 2007). When students have access to Wikipedia, the teacher losses some control over which interpretations about the past are valued and over which messages are injected into the classroom culture. But on a simpler level, Wikipedia ‘s open authoring platform results in uneven content quality and requires that students using the resource be more critical in their considerations of content. Although some Wikipedia articles are often quite trustworthy, there are no obvious signs on a Wikipedia article to signal for students that the content should be trusted.

Teachers have several options for how to utilize Wikipedia. At one extreme, they might completely reject the resource as unreliable and disruptive, but teachers’ ability in 1:1 computing environments to "turn off" Wikipedia is limited. Teachers might also try to use Wikipedia as a context for working with students on critical media literacy skills. By approaching Wikipedia as a context for developing critical skills and dispositions for using information, teachers are embracing conditions that are a real part of their teaching world and enabling students to be better prepared to use information in productive ways.

Professional development on using Wikipedia in the social studies classroom might begin with specific activities that can be scaled for use in the classroom with K-12 students, but would start with teachers engaging in personal learning experiences. One approach to using Wikipedia is to use the resources to help learners (teachers and students) develop skills needed in historical inquiry, specifically by introducing the concept and practice of historical thinking. This involves using the history and discussion portions of Wikipedia articles to consider questions of how we know and what we know about the past, both important questions in the historical inquiry process. As teachers encounter Wikipedia in 1:1 computing environments they must make decisions about whether and how they might use the resource. A careful consideration of Wikipedia in the context of academic ways of knowing in history and social studies can result in specific instructional uses such as the one described here. These instructional outcomes are representations of TPACK.

Davidson, C. (2007, March 23). We can't ignore the influence of digital technologies. Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(29), n.p.

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