Why don't teachers like Wikipedia


Jan Hodel

Dr. des Jan Hodel is a research associate and lecturer at the Center for Political Education and History Didactics of the University of Education of the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland and the Center for Democracy (ZDA) in Aarau. Studied history, journalism, geography and biology in Friborg, Berlin and Basel. In 2012 the doctorate on Internet use of young people for historical learning takes place under the title "Shortening and linking: History as a network of narrative fragments How young people use digital network media for the preparation of lectures in history lessons". He is co-founder of hist.net, the platform on the subject of historical studies in the digital age. www.hist.net/jan-hodel/

- A problem?

Especially with historical topics problems can arise due to the type of information that Wikipedia offers: It concentrates on factual statements, overrepresents the history of events and in its claim to completeness it neglects the particularity and perspective of history. How can history didactics deal with it?

History is more than a list of events (& copy Bundesarchiv, picture 146-1972-062-01 / photographer: o.A.)

Can you, should you, should you trust Wikipedia when it comes to history? As part of my research, I asked an 18-year-old student shortly before graduation - let's call her Maria - which tools she preferred to use to obtain historical information. [1] As expected, Maria mentions Wikipedia, but has one caveat: she would give other sources of information for lectures in history classes. "Because my history teacher, he hates Wikipedia anyway," says Maria and can even understand this aversion to a certain extent, since anyone can edit the content of Wikipedia.

Especially with historical topics, so Maria, this is sometimes problematic because of the "different opinions on certain topics". However, these reservations do not prevent them from using it: "It's just the easiest way ... Of course, sometimes you pay attention [and] then you go to other sites to take a closer look". Like many of her classmates, Maria learned to deal pragmatically with the imponderables of obtaining information on the Internet, and in particular on Wikipedia. To be sure, she compares the information found with similar statements from another source. This does not completely rule out errors, but usually fulfills the specific everyday use.

Critical readers may argue - not entirely unjustified - that it is by no means certain whether Maria (or other students) really make such comparisons or only pretend to do so. It also remains unclear under what conditions they do this and what criteria they use to achieve what results. All too often Maria shouldn't make any comparisons, as she concludes her remarks on Wikipedia with the statement: "I've never, so I've never somehow felt [...] at Wikipedia [.] That it was crap, what they wrote there. " Here, too, one could argue that Maria is hardly sufficiently qualified to finally assess the quality of the content of Wikipedia articles. However, it is probably in a position to assess whether Wikipedia provides information of sufficient quality for its needs.

Because the online encyclopedia is helpful if you want to look up something briefly, to make sure or to get an initial overview. In everyday life - especially for school purposes - their use has proven itself. Maria's experience can be generalized in this regard: Only very rarely do the pupils come across information that turns out to be incorrect or useless when used in and for the classroom. Why should Wikipedia be questioned when it has proven itself in everyday use? That is precisely where the real problem lies.

"But Wikipedia told me that". This parenting postcard is a funny way of looking at a popular opinion: "That was in Wikipedia - so it has to be right" License: cc by-nc-nd / 2.0 / de (Carolyn Sewell www.flickr.com/photos/pedestriantype/ )
Because from a historical and historical didactic perspective, Wikipedia has some problematic aspects. The quality of the entries in terms of their correctness and usability is only the smaller, but more obvious part of the problem. Above all, this consists in the expectation that users have to check whether the content of Wikipedia is suitable for use. It is more problematic to assess the fundamental effects on the handling of history, which arise from the popularity of Wikipedia and its specific properties as an endless interactive hypertext. On the one hand, these effects threaten to undermine the achievements of historical research efforts and the results of historical didactic considerations of the last decades: Aspects of everyday or gender history are neglected compared to approaches based on the history of events. And the factual, objective language allows history to appear as an accumulation of factual statements ("as it really was") instead of as a construct of current knowledge interests. On the other hand, they also enable new and unfamiliar forms of historical knowledge that are difficult to assess in terms of their opportunities and risks. Whether Wikipedia should be seen as a blessing or a curse for learning history depends on the ability of users to deal appropriately with their characteristics and peculiarities.

Wikipedia and the "Do it yourself" ideology

Assessing Wikipedia articles is easy and difficult at the same time. Thanks to the archiving of older versions and the discussions surrounding the facts presented, the creation of each article is transparent and understandable for all interested parties. But the openness to participation for all interested parties leads to an unmanageable fragmentation and heterogeneity of Wikipedia. At its core, it is only held together by the common idea of ​​an "encyclopedia" [2] and a small set of basic rules. Each article has its own genesis and is shaped by a different group of employees with different qualifications. [3] It is therefore practically impossible to make general yet concrete statements about the quality of Wikipedia articles.

This is already clear from the steadily growing amount of information that is concerned with history in Wikipedia. An estimate based on a representative sample assumes that 20 to 25 percent of the articles deal with history in the narrower or broader sense. [4] In addition to articles on historical events or epochs, this includes articles on people, locations (settlements or buildings), institutions or objects that play a role in history or whose history is part of the article. If you take this estimate and extrapolate it to the current inventory (end of August 2012) of 1,453 million Wikipedia articles, it becomes clear what amount of information is involved here.

It therefore makes sense that the history editors of Wikipedia are faced with an almost impossible task. The editorial team consists of volunteers, some of them historians, who have little more in common than the desire to improve as many articles as possible on history, to write them more understandably and to back them up better with sources and literature. If you take into account that the editorial team revises between five and fifteen articles per month, it becomes clear that this work will probably not be completed in the foreseeable future.