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Top level Technology

Wikipedia is a one-of-a-kind collaborative effort to create an online encyclopedia. With a little effort, it can be used offline in schools.

Wikipedia - Open Content for schools
Wikipedia is an astonishing resource. Currently (July 2004) it ranks as number 600 in the world for website traffic, not a small achievement for a project maintained by volunteers.

Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) is a copyleft encyclopedia that is collaboratively developed using wiki software. This means that anyone, including you, can make changes and add information. Wikipedia is managed and operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. In addition to standard encyclopedic knowledge, Wikipedia includes information more often associated with almanacs and gazetteers, as well as coverage of current events.

It seems strange that such an effort, with no overall Editor, can reach quality standards necessary in a school environment. To answer this, I can only request that you visit it yourself, at http://wikipedia.org/ and look some things up that you know about and verify the accuracy. If it is wrong - please fix it ..

For schools that are unable, through cost, speed or other reasons, to access Internet during school hours, this entire resource, because of its Open Content licence, can be installed locally.
The Chicago Sun-Times has a nice article on Wikipedia - a quote :-

Still, I stress that Wikipedia is clearly one of the Internet's top five information tools. No other free online resource -- none -- can give you such a quick and useful briefing on practically any subject you can think of.

What are the steps to do this ? First of all - the software needed (all for a Unix platform) :-
  • apache - a webserver
  • mysql - a database server
  • php - a scripting language with database access capabilities
  • mediawiki - the Web front end for the database content, Written in php - available at ftp://ftp.wizzy.com/pub/wizzy/rpms/

This just gives you the capability. Next, you need the content - all the stuff typed in by people all over the world. This is available from Wikipedia as a weekly snapshot, from http://download.wikimedia.org/ - available as a compressed MySQL database dump. The English version of the encyclopedia, without all previous historical edits, runs about 220 Megabytes. It takes about three hours to load this snapshot into MySQL.

Optionally, you need the pictures - another 4 Gigabyte download available from the same page.

With these pieces, anyone on the school computer network can access and research any subject on Wikipedia.