Sharman Lichtenstein, a professor of information systems with Deakin University in Australia, has added herself to the long list of academics and teachers who ban citation of Wikipedia in her classes. Comparing the use of Wikipedia to choosing a brain surgeon who has merely read Wikipedia for training, Professor Lichtenstein misses the point of this particular resource.
Is Wikipedia 100% correct? No, of course not. Do our students cut and paste directly from Wikipedia into their term papers? Yes, along with the first three hits of any Google search and entries in SparkNotes. Should Wikipedia be the only source for student research papers? Absolutely not, but, the last time I checked, most research papers should probably have more than one source, shouldn't they?
Professor Lichtenstein says the reliance by students on Wikipedia for finding information, and acceptance of the practice by teachers and academics, was "crowding out" valuable knowledge and creating a generation unable to source "credible expert" views even if desired.
At the same time, though, she notes.
"My students say Wikipedia is a good place to get a general understanding of a topic," she said. "They get a good understanding of a topic and get more specific information elsewhere.
Shouldn't then the focus of research education and library science really be separating the wheat from the chaff online? Wikipedia is no Britannica, nor is it a peer-reviewed journal. However, it is a darn fine starting point for much more rigorous research, particularly if students are taught to look for citations of primary sources within the Wikipedia articles (and then to read those primary sources).
I've become a big fan of the word "discerning" lately. I think it applies to so much of what our students experience online, so here's my use of the word for the day: Students must become discerning consumers of information. Telling them not to use Wikipedia doesn't cut it. Teaching them to use a variety of sources of information and to critically examine the information they encounter on the Web is a lifelong skill that we have a responsibility to teach.