On our first day of Study Skills in 2008, our lecturer said "DO NOT use Wikipedia as a reference." To be honest - I haven't touched the site since hearing this. I did not even understand that it was a huge source of collaborative information, from people all over the world - if that isn't social constructivism, I'm not sure what is! Vygotsky would be proud! Since undertaking this course, I have delved into Wikipedia as a basis for information that I don't understand fully. I then continue my research from other, more 'reliable' sites like .gov, .org and .edu sites. However, I recently had to find out information on the Titanic disaster for my year four class and went straight to Wikipedia. I was amazed at the countless citations, contents section and photos - what an amazing resource! I even found a photo of the suspect iceburg, with red anti-fouling paint scraped along its length. The image was grainy and hard to see, but I showed it to the students anyway and they were amazed - partly because they didn't realise that cameras even existed in 1912! Here is the link to the huge coverage of the Titanic on Wikipedia, and the photo I was talking about is above.
Most students wouldn't understand the concept of wikipedia, unless they were participating in their own class wiki and had probably had the connection pointed out to them. For me, realising this connection was a 'light bulb' moment, one that I am sure students would have too. I feel that using Wikipedia as a hook to begin a class wiki would be extremely engaging - they can actually see the end product, on a massive scale. Wilipedia is an excellent starting point for research, the information is quick and easy to find, and it is also easy to see what is and isn't referenced. Numerous links to other Wikipedia pages provide extensive coverage of the one topic, and the simple to use contents area in large topics makes it even easier to navigate.
It is imperative to guide your students in the use of Wikipedia, to explain about referencing, how anyone can chage the information, and to begin to get them to understand about plagarism. In saying all this, an ideal wiki task that fits both the engagement theory and Oliver's, would be for each student to start their own wiki page and begin to conduct research, using Wikipedia and other sources, on a topic that fits within their unit. They would need to include references, images and video, and to then give input to their peers' wikis about their chosen topic. My class could have used this idea instead of a power point presentation and an information report on a disaster that they get to choose. This would be much more engaging, and the input from their peers covers the collaborative working component of the engagement theory (Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1999).
Overall, Wikipedia is a winner for me - if it's referenced!
Kearsley, G. & Shneiderman, B. (1999). Engagement Theory: A framework for technology-based teaching and learning. Retrieved July 17, 2009, from