I was at a workshop where a teacher got a little irate when discussing using wikipedia for research. She said that her school does not allow students to include wikipedia in their works cited lists. She was not entirely opposed to students using wikipedia as a starting off point for research, but that it couldn’t be considered a trusted source of information and that many academic librarians would agree with her.
I used to share this teacher’s view point and role my eyes with disdain whenever I saw a student using wikipedia for research, but now I’m not so sure.
From what I understand, educators are concerned about their students’ use of wikipedia, because a wiki, by its very nature, can be edited by anyone.
I think the anxiety that arises from this stems from the fact that most teachers are control freaks. They have to be. I remember having a nightmare before my first day of teaching where I asked the students to work on some activity and they all refused and then left my room and what could I do about it. We work so hard to establish routines and rules in order to have orderly classrooms so that we can then focus on the actual teaching. Of course we’re control freaks!
But the thing is, what makes a wikipedia article, which can be edited by anyone, less valuable than a published book. Let’s consider the accessibility issue for one thing. I think some people would argue that because getting your work published in a traditional form like a book is less accessible to the general public, the information contained within the book is more reliable. In order to be published, the book must be edited and contain a list of works cited, so our students can trust the information within the book.
I argue that this is an awfully elitist way of looking at knowledge and information. I think that in the years to come, there will be a shift away from this line of thinking.
I propose that the very fact that wikipedia can be edited by anyone and that there are thousands of volunteers who maintain the site may make wikipedia more trustworthy than many single-authored books that are currently sitting on library shelves with copyright dates older than most of our students. And yet I’m sure that most teachers would be more comfortable with the mildew scented book, because that’s what we’re used to.
Wikipedia itself states that it should not be used for primary research, but then, what source should be used for primary research? We want our students to look at multiple sources of information. I wouldn’t want a research paper with one book in my student’s works cited page anymore than I’d want a student citing one wikipedia article.
I say rather than make value-judgements about “good” and “bad” sources of information, we should focus our time teaching our students to make those distinctions on our own. We should also educate ourselves about sources of information like wikipedia.
I think it’s a great idea to direct students (and yourselves) to the following page so you can see what the advantages and disadvantages of wikipedia are. It will also help answer some questions and give you some good guidelines to share with students about evaluating the credibility of wikipedia articles and about research in general.
Here’s an interesting article to consider: How (Much) to Trust Wikipedia