Lesson plan on pitfalls of Wikipedia

iStock_000016046199XSmallFrustrated with your students ‘reliance on Wikipedia whenever they do research papers? Teach them about the potential pitfalls of Wikipedia with a lesson plan posted on the FactCheckEd.org website that draws on two controversies — Stephen Colbert’s on-air altering of his own entry and the false biography of John Seigenthaler.

Students discuss the ease with which false or misleading information can be added to Wikipedia and they search Wikipedia entries for inaccuracies. Students learn to be mindful of the motivations of those posting information. Using a tool developed by a CalTech graduate, students can discover the IP address from which Wikipedia edits originate and then identify the organization or company that owns the particular IP address.

FactCheckEd.org is an offshoot of FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the Annenberg Classroom at the University of Pennsylvania, which reports on factual inaccuracies in political debates, news reports and information released by companies and organizations. The aim of FactCheckEd is to help students learn to be smart consumers of information.

One case study in the lesson plan is on the hoax involving the Wikipedia biography of John Seigenthaler Sr. the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960’s. His Wikipedia biography indicated he had played a role in Robert Kennedy’s assassination, false information that went undetected for 4 months.


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