Wikipedia: What's good for the goose?

Most people have probably heard the expression, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." Really, we're talking about double standards.

Most people have probably heard the expression, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." Really, we're talking about double standards. I had an interesting Twitter exchange last week with @maciekzielinski after I posted my rant asking, "Will Wikipedia ever be legitimate?" and found myself fairly irritated, not just with @maciekzielinski, but with most of the educational establishment with whom he agreed.

Here's how our exchange went:

@maciekzielinski: Don't think wikipedia can be a source, it's just useful as starting point for the search of the net. School should teach that #OER @mrdatahs (that's me): I have to disagree-students need to learn to critically evaluate, but Wikipedia is one of the richest single sources online @maciekzielinski: I use wiki every day, I love the idea, very useful, students should know it, still it is not legimate enough to be a source yet

And there's what got me. I'm not picking on @maciekzielinski, either. His view and practices are widely held among teachers: "Let's use Wikipedia all the time, but let's not allow kids to use it as an actual, citable resource."

I believe there is approximately one person on this planet who doesn't use Wikipedia. That person would be my wife. As I was grumbling about 21st Century learning and double standards in education, my wife, eyes slightly glazed with that I'm-7-months-pregnant-and-don't-really-care-about-your-technology-nonsense-but-I'm-making-conversation look, asked, "So what exactly is Wikipedia?" At least that warranted a good chuckle out of the kids, but I don't call her my Lovely Luddite for nothing.

My wife's technophobia aside, though, Wikipedia enters most of our lives as a quick (and sometimes in-depth) source of information on a very regular basis. As one reader of last week's Wikipedia post put it,

However for "legitimate" uses like school papers and professional research, it is by no means the be all and end all. In fact, no one source of information should be, as you well know. But it is a good place to find references to other works, every bit as good as the card catalogs of old that we pre-computer students had to rely on. In fact it's probably better in that you don't have as many false leads. And I think it is quite pointless to take this lead-generator away from students. We are supposed to be teaching them to take advantage of all leads when researching information, not detracting them from it.

Because Wikipedia is not the be all and end all of information, I don't have a problem with requiring students from finding some of their sources from leads other than Wikipedia, in fact that would do them some good. But it does them no good to take that source away from them completely.

Like the encyclopedias and almanacs we all needed to cite in our bibliographies and works cited pages 20 years ago, if Wikipedia provides background information, leads to primary sources, and valuable facts and data, then our students should be able to cite it. How many teachers look up unfamiliar topics or enrichment activities in Wikipedia? How many teachers referred to Wikipedia for their masters course work or professional development? Daily definitions or background for class discussion?

No, it isn't the "be all to end all," but it is legitimate and should be citable, even if it's citability is accompanied by requirements for additional primary sources of information.