Education/Newsletter/March 2014/Teaching students to use Wikipedia critically as a first source in research

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by Laura Pérez Palacio

While the use of Wikipedia as a platform for writing is well-established, there are other ways to use it to encourage critical thinking in students.

I teach English to university students studying lower-level English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL) at Tecnológico de Monterrey Mexico City Campus. During this semester, my intention has been to use Wikipedia intensively in combination with other digital sources of information. The course has had a thematic focus on the life of Nelson Mandela and the history of South Africa. What follows is a summary of this experience up to now.

One of the objectives of the course was for students to prepare a presentation on one of the aspects included in Wikipedia about South Africa and Mandela. Students did research in other sources to verify and augment, combining the information in order to provide their classmates with the most updated and reliable information. In the final part of the course they will a similar exercise on Mexico’s economic and political situation as a comparison.

Wikipedia has been very useful to teach vocabulary to talk about the life of remarkable people. Learning new words to refer to historical and economic aspects of a country profile became part of the course too. Concepts such as “gross national product” or “GNP” which does not easily translate through dictionaries were more easily compared and learned through Wikipedia. We have also used this resource to revise the most important verb tenses and written paragraphs and summaries on the topics, movies and photos. Even the most dreaded part of course, exams, have been prepared about the life of those people closely related to Mandela. Last but not least, the relevance and legacy of Mandela to the world has been emphasized based on what we have found in Wikipedia.

Finally, I would just like to stress the versatility and availability (both in terms of ease of use and cost) of Wikipedia for EFL teachers since we can find almost anything we need, adapt it, and use it for the benefit of our students.