Friday, January 26, 2007

Inside Higher Ed | A Stand Against Wikipedia

Inside Higher Ed | A Stand Against Wikipedia
As Wikipedia has become more and more popular with students, some professors have become increasingly concerned about the online, reader-produced encyclopedia.

While plenty of professors have complained about the lack of accuracy or completeness of entries, and some have discouraged or tried to bar students from using it, the history department at Middlebury College is trying to take a stronger, collective stand. It 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.

There was some discussion in the department of trying to ban students from using Wikipedia, but Wyatt said that didn’t seem appropriate. Many Wikipedia entries have good bibliographies, Wyatt said. And any absolute ban would just be ignored. “There’s the issue of freedom of access,” he said. “And I’m not in the business of promulgating unenforceable edicts.”

Wyatt said that the department did not specify punishments for citing Wikipedia, and that the primary purpose of the policy was to educate, not to be punitive. He said he doubted that a paper would be rejected for having a single Wikipedia footnote, but that students would be told that they shouldn’t do so, and that multiple violations would result in reduced grades or even a failure. “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....


Anonymous said...

Agreeing (almost) wholeheartedly on this one. Especially in a history department, at anyhting above primary (elementary) school, Wikipedia is out for citing.
On the other hand, I'd like to see people encouraged to use Wikipedia wisely. Teach people to use it as a diving board. If you're completely lost and google didn't help, read the Wikipedia article and see if the links are useful. It usually has a bibliography, so you can check it out. And it mentions this related thing, I should probably read more about that.
Wikipedia is a research tool, not a research source.

Adri said...

I've always said students can start their research to get a broad grasp of topics from any encyclopedia (online or in paper). The thing is for the students to understand that research does not stop with an encyclopedia. And they should also know that some are better than others and it's important for the teachers/librarians to teach students how to evaluate their research tools.