Yet another academic against Wikipedia

Yet another academic against Wikipedia

Summary: 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.

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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.

Topic: Collaboration

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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37 comments
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  • Good Starting Point

    Wikipedia is an excellent resource to use as a starting point for any research, so long as you understand that the articles are not necessarily written by experts in the relevant field.

    It's main failing is that any subject that has a political slant is often biased one way or the other while editors fight over what constitutes NPOV.
    nmh
    • Not everything a kid writes or researched is a major term paper. For daily

      homework, you do not need any more than wikipedia.
      DonnieBoy
      • Why encourage bad habits?

        For a teacher to accept poor or substandard work is to teach poor or substandard work. It owuld be far better for students not to have homework at all than to treat incorrect homework as acceptible.
        bernalillo
  • RE: Yet another academic against Wikipedia

    I completely agree, Wikipedia (among others) is a great starting point for research.

    If you get a lot of papers from students with direct copy & pasting from Wikipedia and a few other search engine hits, it doesn't mean Wikipedia is bad, it means the students aren't taught how to write a proper paper and do good research.
    Madjia
    • For daily homework, Wikipedia is enough. Teachers can not give more

      interesting homework, knowing that kids can find information quickly. Kink of like Engineering students being able to do a lot more advanced homework than was possible when all they had was a slide rule.
      DonnieBoy
      • Except that in this case the "calculator" is

        much less accurate than the slide rule. No one at wikipedaia is goiong through to verify the entries. I find inaccuracies on a regular basis. Do I use it as quick reference? Sure. I even correct information in it from time to time. But, I never stop there on anything of importance. Come on Donnie, quit being lazy.
        bernalillo
    • Teaching sudents how to do research

      "...it means the students aren't taught how to write a proper paper and do good research."

      Absolutely true. Telling students to produce a paper or report, and not teaching them how to research material beyond Wikipedia or other easily accessed online resources, will always result in mediocre results.

      When I was in school (before the Internet), my teachers went over the processes involved in producing a good paper or report. First, decide what to write about (unless the topic is assigned). Do an outline to organize your main points. Rearrange the content of the outline so it flows properly from introduction, to main topic and supporting material, to a summary and your conclusions. Add your citations at the end. Most of all, my teachers told us to use more than one resource; usually, a minimum of three.

      I have to wonder how many teachers who complain about Wikipedia and other such resources have actually prepared their students in this way?
      maryp1
      • You are apparently not paying attention to what she is doing.

        What we teach them and what they do are very different things. Just ask any parent who's kid is in jail.
        See, she HAS taught them and IS teaching them that Wikipedia is not good enough to use as a valid source. I suspect that she has told them it is OK to look at it to get an idea of what is there, but why should she accept it as a source? Would your teachers have accepted "the guys down at the pool hall all say this is right" on your papers? Because essentially, that's all wikipedia is.
        ajole
  • Wikipedia can often be the ONLY source for homework. These teachers are

    just jealous because it is easier to find information these days. They want the kids to suffer the way that they did. Kind of reminds me of an accounting teacher that I had who banned calculators.

    Now, if it is more than just daily homework, you should have more than one source probably, but, Wikipedia should be one of them!!
    DonnieBoy
    • Then you have no understanding of learning

      [i] These teachers are just jealous because it is easier to find information these days. They want the kids to suffer the way that they did. Kind of reminds me of an accounting teacher that I had who banned calculators.[/i]

      What kind of drivel is that? You do not understand learning, it would seem.

      Not allowing calculators forces a student to learn the [i]concept[/i] of what is going on in an equation, the understanding of numbers and the process behind using them.

      Typing numbers in fields online when calculating amortization schedule does not teach a student anything, and they would be totally lost if needed to do it in the field when the calculator is forgotten or quits working.
      GuidingLight
    • Unreliable info has ALWAYS been easy to find.

      Back in the day... When I was a kid I could always ask mom , dad, uncle Earnie or my friend Mike for information on any topic I was supposed to write about. My teacher would not allow these people as sources though because, "They are unreliable."! This precisely why wikipedia should not be allowed. It is written by those same people. Garbage in, Garbage out.
      bernalillo
    • Info is easier to find?

      Yeah right, because looking in a book, using an index, and reading is so much harder than looking at a screen, typing a boolean string, and reading...
      I am so jealous!
      And no, Wikipedia shouldn't be one of them; just as their friends aren't a source, nor are you.
      ajole
  • RE: Yet another academic against Wikipedia

    The gate keepers of information are always opposed to new sources because they threaten to undermine the existing power structure. Academics as we know it is toast shortly.

    Within 15 years information that cannot be sourced online will be considered (at least by the general public) not to exist (hence the importance of things like Project Gutenberg). Nobody, or almost nobody, will be citing offline resources.

    Research projects will most likely begin with constructing a set of instructions for a search program of some sort that will call up relevant information related to the topic. Quality research will depend on quality search instructions.
    txscott
    • True, but ...

      "Nobody, or almost nobody, will be citing offline resources."

      Faculty, staff, students, researchers, UFOlogists, etc., will still cite research from peer-reviewed journals that provide their content online. The delivery of research work will evolve to the new medium, but the process through which research is vetted, will remain unchanged.
      constantgeographer
    • But Wikipedia isn't even CLOSE to a quality search.

      It's like saying 87% of the people polled say...insert factoid here. Doesn't mean it is true, or correct. Academics aren't against new sources, just sources that are so often incorrect, misleading, biased, or based on popular vote. If popularity is how we determine what is correct; we'll all be writing "I seen Johnny at the store today" and spelling words like IDK or IMHO. There is a place for those things, but it isn't in schools, or in the work we turn in to teachers and bosses. Seriously, would you base your future employment on a Wikipedia fact? Would you make a 3 million dollar decision based on what Wikipedia says? As many have said, informally wikipedia has value, but not in anything that really matters.
      ajole
  • The problem with wikipedia is that

    you cannot tell the accurate information from the inaccurate
    information. And there is far more inaccurate information in
    it than its defenders would like to admit.
    frgough
    • Prove it...

      I've seen no solid proof of innacurate information outpacing accurate information.

      People say it. No one proves it.
      BitTwiddler
      • Here's proof

        Inaccurate information about Taner Akcam on Wikipedia resulted in his civil rights being suspended for a number of hours at a Canadian airport. There is a bona fide case of inaccurate information "outpacing" accurate information. You sit unaffected by this, tut-tutting about an absence of proof. Well, there's your proof. Now how will you change the argument, since that is what you and people like you will do. You've formed an opinion that Wikipedia does more good than harm -- with an equally lacking amount of proof.
        thekohser
  • Good for her!

    Wikipedia is fine IF the topic is not controversial. Look through the HISTORY of the "Messianic Judaism" or "Intelligent Design" articles. You wind up with a bunch of extreme partisans who savage any edit they don't agree with. Often a small group of like-minded individuals--including at least two administrators--"sit" on the article and gang up on anyone with a contrary view until the person stops contributing.

    Regarding use of "primary articles", huge portions of Wikipedia are unsourced. WP doesn't allow original research. Most hobbyists don't have the "latest and greatest" books on a particular subject, they have whatever lay-level books they found at Half-Price Books.

    Historically, PROFESSORS routinely did not allow use of encyclopedias as sources because as SOURCES they are too superficial and using them does not adequately train UNIVERSITY STUDENTS to RESEARCH.
    Rick_R
  • What is it with these anti-wiki people...

    Are they moaning because the info presented isn't controlled by THEM or the government, and thus being molded to say what they want them to say?

    No reference is 100% accurate. That's why you use more than one.

    For me, Wikipedia has become far more useful and informative than any search engine, including Google. Search engines have become the domain of the advertiser. It's impossible to find any useful info with a Google search any more. You can spec the search to death (-buy -price -sell -order -buynow) etc... and yet you still get 100 ad's to one hit of useful info. They have found ways around our modifiers it seems.

    And every selling site has the word 'review' embedded in it whether it has reviews or not.

    Search engines are now useless. I use Wikipedia as a reference for info and it hasn't let me down at all.

    I really dislike the attitudes of these academic snobs.
    BitTwiddler