Wikipedia: Should students trust it?

Summary:Should Universities ban use of Wikipedia in classes?

Jimmy Wales, co-founder Wikipedia, admonished Microsoft for its efforts in seeking to correct what it deems to be inaccuracies in a Wikipedia entry, as I discuss and analyze in “Can Wikipedia handle the truth?

Conventional media “wisdom” is in accord with Wikipedia’s Wales. Google News headlines today include: 

"Microsoft tried to doctor Wkipedia"

"Microsoft under fire for Wikipedia laundering"

"Wikipedia blocks a pay-for-play scheme"

Many organizations and individuals are frustrated by the inability to be directly sourced for Wikipedia “encyclopedia” entries which purport to state “facts” about them.

Wales’ flawed Wikipedia editorial philosophy—see ““Is Wikipedia ‘knowledge’ merely third party hearsay?”—is spurring the ire of institutions of higher learning.

Universities are “taking a stand against Wikipedia,” according to “Inside Higher Ed”:

The history department at Middlebury College voted this month to bar students from citing the Web site as a source in papers or other academic work. All faculty members will be telling students about the policy and explaining why material on Wikipedia, while convenient, may not be trustworthy.“As educators, we are in the business of reducing the dissemination of misinformation,” said Don Wyatt, chair of the department. “Even though Wikipedia may have some value, particularly from the value of leading students to citable sources, it is not itself an appropriate source for citation,” he said.

The department made what Wyatt termed a consensus decision on the issue after discussing problems professors were seeing as students cited incorrect information from Wikipedia in papers and on tests. In one instance, Wyatt said, a professor noticed several students offering the same incorrect information, from Wikipedia.

“The important point that we wish to communicate to all students taking courses and submitting work in our department in the future is that they cite Wikipedia at their peril,” he said. He stressed that the objection of the department to Wikipedia wasn’t its online nature, but its unedited nature, and he said students need to be taught to go for quality information, not just convenience.

Wales, himself, agrees with the Middlebury College no Wikipedia here stance.

In “Social freeloaders: Is there a collective wisdom and can the Web obtain it?” I cite Wales asking that college students refrain from citing Wikipedia as a source of academic research:

Speaking at the Annenberg School for Communication, Wales said that while Wikipedia is useful for many things, he would like to make it known that he does not recommend it to college students for serious research and that Wikipedia has considered putting out a fact sheet on the site, it would explain the nature of Wikipedia and why it’s not always a definitive source. Teachers could hand it out, he said.

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Topics: Open Source

About

A former ZDNet blogger, Donna Bogatin is the founder of online directional media properties VIPOffers.com and UrbanSavings.com. In addition to her own ventures, Donna has been advising companies on Web-based business development since 1997, when she created and led an "Internet For Entrepreneurs" workshop for the Small Business Administra... Full Bio

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