Here we are in 2015. A year in which schools no longer buy sets of encyclopedias for the classroom and then the thing that replaced it….Wikipedia, we tell students they can’t use or trust.

As I have talked to educators during trainings on wikipedia over the last month or so, I realize when I ask them why you can’t trust wikipedia the answer falls somewhere on the scale of:

“I don’t understand it”

Fair enough….if we don’t understand how to use something in education our first reaction is to not use it and to tell students not to use it. To be fair nobody has ever taught us how to use this resource. The resource we were taught to use we no longer purchase!

We don’t understand how Twitter works so block it.

We don’t understand how to create learning communities on Google+ or Facebook so block it.

Instagram? It’s just pictures!

Of course the social networks are one thing but Wikipedia…really. I love asking groups of teachers how many of them have read and trusted what they read on a wikipedia article. Almost every hand goes up. So….what you’re telling me is we use it in our daily lives but when it comes to using it with students we should tell them………don’t trust it?

There’s a disconnect here that we need to face…..we need to stop teaching that Wikipedia is a bad resource and start accepting it and understanding it.

So let’s get started:

The power of the Talk Tab

It sits right at the top of every article just waiting to be clicked on and unleash its wealth of information about the page you are looking at.

So find an article that you want to learn just how trustworthy it is and click on the “Talk” tab.


Now you will see a yellowish box that has great information within it. Take some time to read everything in that yellow box. Don’t skim…..read and see what you find and notice. Feel free to click on any blue link that you want to learn more about. Go ahead….there’s all sorts of information back here about the page you’re on.

Find the page rating

Now that you have taken some time to read the yellow information box see if you can go back and find the “grade” or “class” the page you happen to be on has been given. Depending on the page you are on it will either look like this:


Or this:


Now what do you notice? There is a rating for every wikipedia page right here 1 click away from the article telling us at what level this page is rated….or in other words….how much this page can be trusted. Wikipedia tells us how much we can trust each page within 1 click!

Using the Quality Scale

Once you find the rating for the page, we need to know what that rating means. In my example here the page is rated a C-Class. Now I need to know exactly what a C-Class rating is. If you read the sentence next to your pages rating you’ll see a link to the quality scale. Click on quality scale (Click 2).

Welcome to the rubric that Wikipedia pages are rated against. Take some time to read the rubric. Click on the links and learn just how powerful of a page this is.


There is a rubric right here for teachers to use with students! Not a rubric to the teacher’s standards….but what if we used a rubric with students and have them write to the standards of Wikipedia….the largest body of human knowledge ever assembled in one place.

Good Article Criteria

Now the good article criteria is linked on some pages and not on others so you can click on this link. That is your 3rd click if you are counting and here we find the six criteria that Wikipedia has laid out that needs to be in place for a page to be rated. Again, take some time to read this page and see what else you notice here.


Now this is exactly the same steps I would take students through as we learn together how you can, what you can, and to what extent you can trust any Wikipedia page. As a teacher you can then decide what pages you want students to use.

“OK class today we’re going to be talking about XYZ and when you are researching if you come across a Wikipedia page I ask that you only use pages to gather information from that have been rated a B-Class or higher for today’s assignment.”

Now….we can use Wikipedia and know why and how we can trust every page within it.

If you need more convincing here’s some links to research and articles:

Wikipedia pops up in bibliographies, and even college curricula

Wikipedia is better than a history textbook

Is Wikipedia Really Such a Bad Research Tool for Students?

What resources do you use to teach students about Wikipedia? Can we finally just except that it has replaced the encyclopedia of yesteryears and even maybe…just maybe…..this one’s better!

It seems like forever since I’ve sat down and blogged…..and yet at the same time it seems I spend all day blogging. Between school, COETAIL, and students I’m spending more time then ever in WordPress

But tonight I’m closing everything else to reflect on some articles lately that I can’t get out of my head. 

Some rights reserved by nojhan

Wikipedia has its first 1 million editor. Stop and think about that for a minute. That’s pretty amazing that someone would take the time to sit down and make edits….for free…for others to use. What worries me most is Wikipedia is seeing a decline in the number of editors yet the website is as popular as ever…..and all I can think about is are we creating a generation of takers and not givers? How many teachers have taught the true meaning of giving on the Internet…..or actually given themselves. We all take, I haven’t met a teacher yet that hasn’t gotten a resource from the web, yet very few share and give back. The generation in our schools today are some of the heaviest users of Wikipedia and I hope that we’re challenging them to give back at least some of what they are taking. Wikipedia is a project waiting to be using in every subject I can imagine. There has to be away to use it in our schools. 

Many schools, including mine, have expectations that students put in community service hours. I wonder if there is a way to count Wikipedia editing as community service. I’d love to be on that interview:

“What community did you support?”

“A community of about 1 billion people.”



TED-ED launched their new site recently which has some interesting features and an interesting twist to the flip approach. I need to dig into the site more to see how it all works but from the readings I’ve done and exploring the website it looks be be a pretty useful resource. But teachers will be the ultimate judge of that! 

Raymond Tomlinson

And lastly the Internet officially received its own Hall of Fame. Great to see those who invented this thing be recognized. It has been fun to read through some of their bios. It’s great to see people like Raymond Thomlinson who years ago looked down at his computer keyboard for a symbol that would separate the username from the domain host. He needed a symbol that wasn’t in use yet and choose the @ sign. Forever changing the world of communication. There is a great article that I re-read every once and awhile called How the Web Was Won that talks a lot about the pioneers of the Internet and the early days. A great historical read if you are interested. 

My favorite part of the CoETaIL program that Kim and I run is coming up this semester. The 5th and final course for the certificate includes teachers having to apply what they’ve learned in the first 4 courses in their classroom.

Last week I met with Donna Hurst one of our EAL and IB TOK teachers and we hashed out a plan to use technology in meaningful ways with her 12th grade EAL students.

We settled on having the students study and learn vocabulary words not by looking up definitions in a dictionary, but instead by helping to create the dictionary itself. Donna found Wiktionary the sister site to the ever so popular Wikipedia. Within Wiktionary there is a section called Simple Wiktionary that is for English Learners. I love their tips for writing:

  • Keep it simple - Simple pages will be easier to read by people who do not speak English well. But that does not mean the definition has little content!
  • Write good pages - The best dictionary pages are clear and have enough detail to help the user understand and use the word. See also Wiktionary:Entry layout explained
  • Use the pages - These pages help people learn English. You may use pages from this Wiktionary to make pages in a different language. But you have to translate it to your own language yourself.
  • Be bold! - Be bold in creating new entries. It does not have to be perfect, because other editors can make it better. Just don’t be afraid to start new entries yourself.

A perfect place for English Language Learners to not only learn…but add value back to the Internet.

Even better yet was the fact that Simple Wiktionary uses the Academic Word List. The same list our students use and would be choosing their words from.

After we found the site we then starting thinking about how we could adapt the lesson to fit. Instead of having students do all the work, they would be reading the word page, assessing the content on it, finding out what was missing, and then improving the page. One common thing we found missing on all the pages was a sentence using the word. So, the students would write sentences using the word, we then found that some of the ways the students were using the word in the sentence wasn’t the same definition that was on the page, which meant that student would then have to add a new definition to the word. How about a picture, synonyms or related words? What I like about this project is that all of the pages are at different stages so the students have to assess the content of the page, and then add to it in a meaningful way and see if their changes stick.

Donna has set up an RSS feed for each of her students accounts on Wiktionary so every change they make she knows about, can check out and support them in their efforts. 

Overall…..a pretty cool and different way to do vocabulary…..even for a 12th grader.   

So I woke up this morning to find that my post last night on school’s taking control of their profiles has started a little conversation. I gave a talk on this topic to educators and administrators at the EARCOS conference in March that scared a few, made a few jump into action, and others left shaking their heads not knowing what to do.

So where do you start? First you need to understand that I work at a private international school. At the end of the day we are serving customers and need to understand where our customers are coming from and where they go to find information about our school. This is the reason why I think my talk at EARCOS hit home with so many. There are over 100 international schools that belong to EARCOS. We are all private, we all have customers, and in many cases we are completing with other international schools in our cities for those customers.

So the image of our schools might be different then those of a public school. Although I would argue that a public schools image has a lot to do with how students ‘feel’ about school to begin with.

In the comment that Doug Johnson left he asks what steps I think schools should take, where should they start?

The long and short of it: Start where your customers (students) are! You need to start shaping your school’s profile in those social-networks that your students use. Internationally, that mean Facebook. I encourage you to go to Facebook and start searching high schools that you know (this is more of a high school thing).

Why Facebook? Internationally that’s where our kids are. In a presentation earlier this year to the high school student body I asked them how many had a facebook page. Easily 95% raised their hands. That should be a dead give away to the school that this is where the students are, this is where they find, and look for information. Ask the students at your school. What is the “hot” social space for them…and then get there!

Case in point. This comment written on the wall of a group started by students.

(Taken from an open group on facebook without permission)

Step 1

High Schools especially should start by creating a group on Facebook that they can control the content on. Then invite their students to join. Not sure if you have noticed or not, but teenagers like to belong to groups. Most schools have a PR department or a communications department. These spaces I believe should fall under their responsibility. We expect the PR person to work with the media including local television stations, newspapers, etc. Their roles need to be expanded to understand these new media landscapes.

Why start a new group?

You can’t stop students from making groups on Facebook about your school, but what you can do is make a group that future/present/past students will join and try and make it the most popular group. Why? So when a person on Facebook searches for your school your group…the one that the school controls comes up first. If the person can tell that this group is ran by the school they will be more trusting of that information then of the information found on student groups (in theory anyway).

A great example of this is the International School of Kuala Lumpur. Their Alumni members started a group on Facebook as a way to connect students. It is ran by the Alumni Coordinator, a woman by the name of Toni who I met while doing my EARCOS presentation in KL. I used ISKL’s site as an example of what can happen when schools take control of this area.

The group has over 1,300 members. All are past or present students and staff. Personally I think using Facebook as an alumni site is a fantastic idea.

  • Connect current students with those who have graduated and are in college
  • Connect past students to each other
  • Connect past teachers with students
  • Organize reunions, parties, etc in one simple place that gets the word out to your student community.

So now when students go to Facebook and look for groups at ISKL the first one they come to is this Alumni group, ran by a person who has a vested interest in the school.

Now, we haven’t even talked about teachers. With more and more international teachers (and people in general) creating Facebook accounts what a great way for an international school to connect with future teachers during the recruiting process.

You can’t stop students from using Facebook, but you can create a group that is the number one site when they search.

Step 2

Search Often: Schools should run searches on all major search engines to know what people will find when they are looking for your school. Using these results from different search engines a school can do its best to control the content on those top sites.

Use RSS Feeds: Using RSS feeds from sites such as Wikipedia allows a school to track changes on their school’s page. Mark Ahlness talks about this in the comments on the last post:

I created a page for my school on Wikipedia a couple of years ago,
follow changes regularly via rss – you know, the stuff a responsible
open wiki contributor would do.

Using RSS feeds from search results as well as using the RSS Feed from Technorati (you never know who will blog about the school…some of our parents are bloggers!). The RSS Feed from a Google Search on the school’s name. A Yahoo search, a Google News Search and a Google Blog search. Why not? You set up the feed and then can browse it every morning. You know what’s being said on the web and who’s saying it.

Know your audience: Signing up for a simple tracking program like Google Analytics
and install it on the school’s home page. This can give a school great
data. Know what key words get people to your
site, know what they are looking at, how long they are staying and what
seems to be the most popular. From there a school can create an online
profile that gives people the information they want.

Understand Students: Understand students today. Be connected to them, listen to them, where are they at online? What are they talking about? Where should the school be?

Doug Johnson asks this questions:

How does one make changes on privately controlled online spaces like
personal social networking sites, newspaper blog posts, “rate your
teacher” sites, etc?

The first thing you need to realize is you can’t control it. But you can have conversations about it. I have talked to a couple of our students who have started social-network groups/sites and talked about how the space is affecting their personal profile. Forget the school…hit them where it counts. Their personal profile. I’ve talked about this here and here.

As for Rate My Teache
. What could a teacher do about this? Is this part of a teacher’s online profile? Have any teachers talked about this, used this site in a positive way?

Here’s the scary thing. I’ve looked up pass teachers on the site and would say that the kids have it pretty much right! Is that something to be scared of? Or an honesty that we should recognize?

So to Conclude:

Understand you can not completely control a school’s online profile, but you can do your best to make sure that the right information is at the top.

Understand and talk to your students. I do all the time in the hallway. Had a talk with kids today about why they aren’t in Wikipedia fixing the information. It’s THEIR school that this is being writing about. Put them in control, show them how they can be in control. Give them the power they want. Treat them like the tech savvy kids they are and allow them to help you….not work against you.

Put someone in charge and take control of your school’s profile. If you don’t do it now…tomorrow might be to late!

Who is controlling your school’s online profile?

In my presentation to educators I usually say:

You need to take control of your online presence, because if you don’t…someone else will!

Do schools have someone looking after their online profile?

Do we need to create a new position in the communication office?

I just got done editing my school’s wikipedia entry where someone had put false information on the site. It was brought to my attention today by a teacher who was told by a student about the edits made to the article.

Funny enough as I’m writing this blog post I go back to the page to find more edits made that are false. I quickly go to the history page, see that the person editing the pages is logged in as user: shanghai12345, and quickly undo their edits again.

I’m loving this! They make an edit I click on the history, click undo, write a quick summary of my edit and click Revert. The real information comes back.

Schools need to understand where students go to get information about their school.

Schools need to understand that if you don’t control the school’s profile students will.

How is your school represented on Facebook?

How is your school represented on Wikipedia?

How can your school leverage these places as communication avenues?

How can your school leverage these social-networks for learning?

If someone at your school isn’t asking these questions…isn’t actively creating and managing your school’s online presence then the school is allowing students past/present/future to create it for them.

If school’s are not going to adopt and take these spaces seriously…then they will allow these social places to run the school’s image. Someday I have a feeling that will ruin a school, an administrator, or a teacher. We are only at the beginning of the use of these tools. Take control now or forfeit your online profile to others!

Yesterday in my presentation I talked about how educators and schools view Wikipedia. Where some schools have blocked the site and other schools have not blocked the site. How some teachers are allowing students to use it as a research site, while others are not.

This is still in debate, but I think we’re missing the bigger picture of what Wikipedia or Wikibooks allows us to do. We need to quit looking at Wikipedia as the end result and instead look at it as part of the learning process. Why not go to Wikipedia and use it as a learning device. Use it in our classrooms as part of the learning experience.

We talk about how our textbooks can not keep up with the changing nature of information, that information changes at to rapid of a pace. That non digital text is out of date by the time it’s in print. The image to the left is of an Astronomy book that is currently for sale here at the conference. This is the newest textbook produced by this company (Full Disclosure: I did ask permission to take this photo).

Why are we so afraid of Wikipedia. Why aren’t we using Wikipedia to study, for example Pluto. You could have your students read the text and read the Wikipedia article and then compare and contrast. I’m not saying everything in the textbook is bad, there might be information covered in the textbook that is not covered on the wiki page. If that is so, your class then is able to contribute their findings to that wiki page.

The problem is we view Wikipedia as a research site, rather than a site waiting to be edited. If you view Wikipedia and Wikibooks as a place to write the text rather than read the text, we change the Wikipedia from a place you go to gather information, to a place you go to write about, evaluate, and add information. That is a mindset that is very powerful. Engaging students in the writing of a Wikibook, or a wiki article could be used year after year as information changes. Your lessons might change, your content might change, but the learning goal could remain the same.

We need to change our mindset, students want to create and contribute, they are already doing it in spaces like myspace and youtube, why not allow them to create and contribute to the largest single web site, or to create the next textbook. Empower students in the learning process and at the same time teach them how to analyze this information. Let’s face it…whether Wikipedia is blocked or not in your school, it’s still the number one or two link when you search from home…and that’s reality!

[tags]earcos07, wikipedia, wikibooks[/tags]

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Our web designer here at school just e-mailed this to me.

LogoGollum Browser works best with Firefox and opens and overlays a layer on Firefox that allows you to quickly and easily search Wikipedia articles. If Wikipedia is blocked at your school is this away around it? I was impressed with the speed. Wikipedia is blocked here in China, but I had no problem accessing it through this site.


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