Do you / should you recognise use of Wikipedia as a source of content for student research projects?

For years, the answer was an overwhelming ‘no’.  It’s open-edit nature meant that it simply had too many inaccuracies and gaps in explanations and meaning.  Lines such as “This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations” or “This article needs references that appear in reliable third-party publications” don’t usually inspire confidence. 

Nonetheless, the fact remains – students use Wikipedia for their research and lecturers telling them not to is not a deterrent to their Wikipedia usage.  Now, with Wikipedia with us for a decade is it time to change our approach.

When asked by students I have suggested that Wikipedia is a useful source and starting-point for ideas and brain-storming.  The vast number of hyper-links available is particularly useful for chasing a train of thought. Some articles have extensive reference lists (many are reputable) that can be worth sourcing.   Having an army of editors to point out that a page needs references or is incomplete is warning itself to users that a page cannot be taken too seriously but yet might be worth exploring.  Using Wikipedia as a starting point in exploring concepts and ideas might cause students to return to the page later and suggest the appropriate edits that are needed.

Wikipedia has come a long way in its 10 years.  Now it has a range of useful features including an “in the news” and an “on this day” sections covering the latest world news stories and a list of historic (modern and not-so-modern) events that happened on this date in previous years.  It also has a range of sister wiki projects, some of which are most impressive indeed.  The following are worth a look:

  • Wiki Commons – a multimedia collection
  • Wikionary – an online dictionary covering 400+ languages
  • Wiki Quote – a selection of quotes from a variety of sources
  • Wiki Books – completed and work-in-progress, a great way for budding authors to get published and received feedback on their progress to date
  • Wiki Species – for those with an interest in flora and fauna
  • Wiki News – along with the latest world stories there is a chat facility to interactively comment on these stories
  • Meta-Wiki – a community space for contributors and anyone else to talk about Wikipedia itself
  • Wikiversity – a selections of learning tools and materials, comes with the by-line “set learning free”, part of the growing trend to freely distribute classroom content, also provides community space for educators to collect and interact

It would appear that the perspective of Wikipedia as a collection of unreliable and ill-considered content is a thing of the past.  However, it’s not quite formal, high-ranking academic peer-reviewed journal status either.

Nonetheless, Wikipedia seems to have an important role in providing content to think about – surely an important feature of any educational program.

 

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