Allow Amphi Students Access to Wikipedia

Allow Amphi Students Access to Wikipedia

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Amphitheater Community started this petition to Steve Frost and

Wikipedia, a free Internet-based encyclopedia started in 2001, is written collaboratively by a diverse group of moderators and regular users. It is a special type of website designed to make collaboration easy, called a wiki, and is the fifth-most popular website on the internet. (1) There are an estimated 5.8 million articles in the English Wikipedia, covering nearly all imaginable topics in the arts, sciences, and beyond. (2)

Current Amphitheater Public School District policy prohibits student access to Wikipedia while logged in to the district network or while using district computers. As the students, teachers, and parents of Amphitheater School District, we believe that this policy unreasonably prohibits student access to information, restricts teachers’ abilities to educate students on proper online research practices, and erodes parent confidence in the district’s ability to stay competitive with neighboring districts that do allow access to Wikipedia.

One of the reasons cited by the district for restricting access to Wikipedia is that the information presented on the site can be edited by anyone at any time. While it is true that anyone with internet access can edit Wikipedia pages, blatantly false or incorrect information is quickly removed by Wikipedia’s team of 200,000 editors. For every user editing Wikipedia pages with false, misleading, or biased information, there are many more “volunteers who are constantly questioning, demanding verification for and keeping in check” any edits and additions to the site. (3)

Wikipedia is a tertiary source, which means that it is an index or consolidation of other sources, all of which are cited at the bottom of Wikipedia’s pages. Other examples of tertiary sources include almanacs, textbooks, and encyclopedias. In fact, in 2005 the British journal Nature compared the accuracy of scientific entries between Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica and found little difference in accuracy. (4) A follow-up study by the University of Oxford in 2012 confirmed these results. (5)

This petition does not seek to introduce Wikipedia as the main source of student research. However, restricting Wikipedia also restricts a teacher’s ability to educate their students about responsible online research. Currently, Amphi students have access to thousands of for-profit websites which purport to have accurate information but do not have the strict policies and standards of Wikipedia. According to the American Association of School Librarians: “Filtering websites does the next generation of digital citizens a disservice. Students must develop skills to evaluate information from all types of sources in multiple formats, including the Internet. Relying solely on filters does not teach young citizens how to be savvy searchers or how to evaluate the accuracy of information.” (6, original emphasis) Restricting access to Wikipedia sends a poor message to students about online responsibility, factual accuracy, and the critical consumption of information.

A final consideration is that Amphitheater Public School District is the only public school district in the greater Tucson area that restricts student access to Wikipedia while using district resources. We understand that the district has only the best intentions in mind for their stance, but according to the district’s policy for uses of technology in the classroom (Section IJNDB), the district states: “We firmly believe that the valuable information and interaction available on the worldwide network outweighs the possibility that users may procure material that is not consistent with the educational goals of the District.” (7) Despite what the district, its educators, and its parents might want for their students, Wikipedia is undoubtedly a part of today’s post-high school research. Clearly, the use of Wikipedia is consistent with the district’s educational goals. Restricting student access to Wikipedia not only does a disservice to students when they continue their academic career beyond high school, it adversely impacts the district’s ability to remain competitive and create digitally-competent graduates.

Wikipedia reflects the collaborative effort of hundreds of thousands of people to compile the knowledge of humanity, and for this reason can be viewed as one of the most important tools of our time. We believe restricting student access to this incredibly important resource is a poor policy choice and should be rescinded.


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