The “controversy” over Wikipedia has now hit the local evening news. I guess that means that it is big time now. A typical Wikipeida story now seems to go like this: professors or teachers somewhere have decided to ban Wikipedia as a legitimate research source. They have finally discovered that there are actual errors there. Cut to shot of a bewildered student saying “I though it was a reliable source.” Cut back to a shot of the Wikipedia site, with a voice over that says “Wikipedia agrees with this ban.”
This seems to be a “throwing out the baby with the bath water” scenario. The baby being Wikipedia, and the bathwater being bad research techniques that are being used by students in schools and colleges today. Let’s look at this a little closer.
Wikipedia contains errors. But so does any journal or encyclopedia that you can pick up off of the self at any library. That’s just a fact of life. Humans make errors. Information changes. Printed materials will go out of date, after all. Some studies have found Wikipedia to be more accurate that Encyclopedia Brittanica online, actually. Instead of spending time pointing out the inaccuracies of any one source, why don’t we teach students how to search multiple sources to determine what is accurate, and then go with the accurate sources?
I think Wikipedia is a great source, especially for rough drafts. Here is why:
- It’s always more current than most other sources. The editors keep it up to date pretty well. At least quicker than most published sources can.
- Context, context, context. And hyper links. This is the greatest advantage of Wikipedia. The authors have easy methods of linking words inside of articles to other articles. This gives readers an immediate sense of how one article relates to the existing body of information. Follow the links to gain a great set of connections for constructing learning. I’m a big believer in constructivism, so this is huge in my book. Wikipedia is a lean, mean, built-in constructivism-spittin’ machine, in my opinion.
- References. Wikipedia articles frequently have a vast lists of references at the end of many articles, which gives the reader an instance list of other references to look at. This is why I say Wikipedia is a great source for rough drafts. Final drafts should always contain a large number of diverse sources, probably none of which should be Wikipedia. Wikipedia can change, and if the specific information you were referencing in your paper is changed, your whole paper might fall apart.