And Don’t Use Wikipedia! Or Should we?

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve shaken my head and muttered when my kids come home from school to work on a project saying:

And we can’t use Wikipedia!

Pretty much happens each school year and uttered by most of their teachers.

Unfortunately most educators still fail to:

  1. Appreciate the benefits of Wikipedia as a reference source.
  2. Don’t understand how it can be used for writing projects.

As digitally connected educators, it’s important for us to keep addressing the misconceptions associated with Wikipedia.

And here’s how you can help!

Dierdre Shetler has written a great post on using Wikipedia’s Simple English feature with students for the Teacher Challenge ‘best of the web’s free tools for educators“.

She’s asked educators to extend the Wikipedia conversation by asking us to reflect on:

  • Why is Wikipedia sometimes considered an “invalid source?”
  • How is it that studies show that Wikipedia is just as reliable as a print encyclopedia?
  • When is it appropriate to use Wikipedia? When is it not?
  • How can we have this discussion with students?

Please share your thoughts by leaving your comments on this post or Deirdre’s guest post.

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13 thoughts on “And Don’t Use Wikipedia! Or Should we?

  1. Wikipedia is a great initial source of information, it can gives students a decent background into a topic or subject, however, I never recommend it as a source to use in writing essays, coursework or dissertations.

  2. Thanks Jason and I really think the key is students need to be taught the skills to question all information they’re provided with and never assume just because they read it in a book or on the Internet that it is correct.

  3. Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts and apologies for my delayed response. Very unlike me but was away on holidays then came down with a bad cold 🙁

    I don’t necessarily agree with you Jason regarding ” Due to anyone being able to post on the site, using Wiki as a source, can lead to the spread of misinformation” because there is a team of editors monitoring information being added and just because any one can post doesn’t mean the information they post will remain.

    However, it is no different from any other information source. We should always question information and never assume it is correct.

    Greg Graham’s post on Why I encourage my college students to use #Wikipedia as a “gateway” source” is a great example of how you can use it well. Thanks for sharing the link to your post!

    1. Sue, I agree. However, I have seen too many videos of the “fluidness” of Wikipedia. I have even been on the site when the topic was being updated so quickly that no team of editors could possibly keep up. Problem with opinions are, once they are shared, others who don’t know how to do follow up research tend to make misjudgements. I’m not trying to appear negative towards Wikipedia. I myself have gotten lost in time after hitting “open in new tab” a few times and reading up on topic after topic. That being said, I know how to do research papers so I know how to follow up on sources. Wikipedia does give sources, which is a major plus in its favour, so one can’t fault them for not trying. It is a powerful tool, one that can be used for great things or horrific things depending on who posts what.
      I remember one time a couple of years ago, I asked my younger sister how her classes were going. She responded that in one of her classes, her fellow students and she would go onto Wikipedia and mess with the pages because they felt it was funny. Anyone can be ANYONE on the internet.

  4. I LOVE Wikipedia. I use it almost every day. It’s the quickest way to find an answer.

    BUT I can’t see how you can use Wikipedia as a source in academic writing. WHO do you acknowledge as the source of the ideas in an article? The most recent author? The first author? The one who has written the most? The one who has edited the most? They could be all the one person, just using different IDs.

    Wikipedia is also EASY information, so I have no problem with teachers saying “No Wikipedia sources for THIS task” – but they should also show students how to use it productively, e.g. as a jumping-off point.

  5. The game is all about finding MY answers. The ones I deem correct, the ones I can assess and mark. It’s not about extending knowledge, creating new knowledge. It’s a sure sign that the teacher really is only interested in ‘the job’, not the future.

    Use wikipedia … who cares.

    1. Dean, there is a difference between a correct answer and a horribly biased and wrong answer. Due to anyone being able to post on the site, using Wiki as a source, can lead to the spread of misinformation. Granted, most ‘experts’ have their own biasness as well which can lead to this same problem, their papers need to be pier reviewed. This allows for a screening to take place to hopefully check for any biasness within his/her paper. Because anyone can be anyone on the internet, Wikipedia cannot be pier reviewed and thus gets eliminated as a source for students. I do use and encourage its use as a jumping off point to any research paper for anyone though as I believe that it has an amazing wealth of knowledge if cited properly. A teacher of mine used a great simile to describe Wikipedia once: “A paper is like a building. It needs to be pleasing to view and have a strong foundational support. Your writing provides the pleasantness and your sources provide the support. Wikipedia is like a body of water; it changes its shape constantly. DO NOT build your foundation out of water”.

  6. I am with Chris. Wikipedia is a great jumping off point for further research. If it is a well cited article then you have verifiable sources right there linked to the Wikipedia page. I put up a resources page for my computer lab students with lots of links to alternative sources where they can verify what they read on Wikipedia. There are very few sites that we can or should call the end-all, be-all for research. Multiple sources are the key.

  7. I teach my students 2 things…

    1) Always go to Wikipedia first. It’s most often the first Google result so don’t ignore it, and it can offer tons of information, links, reference, additional sources, etc

    2) Never stop at Wikipedia. 3-5 independent sources, minimum, to validate/verify information. You might have to look at 10 sites to find 3 with good information…

    I love Wikipedia. I review with them the history of the platform, how pages can be edited, etc. But we also talk about all the benefits of the site. We also spend a lot of time talking about the importance of multiple sources, regardless of Wikipedia use.

    Years ago I use to teach the benefits/perils of Wikipedia by having students edit a page about me. That was way back in the wild west days of the wiki…

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