While the academic world continues the ongoing debate on whether Wikipedia is a reliable reference tool, the History Department at Middlebury College made a decision this past January to ban students from using Wikipedia as a citable source in their papers and exams.
As a librarian, I feel that Wikipedia is a great starting point tool to use for a research assignment or paper. Many Wikipedia articles provide good background information on a topic (especially useful if you are not familiar with a topic). For further reading on a topic, Wikipedia articles also provide links to other online sources and references to print sources.
I also think that Wikipedia is a great tool to use for critical thinking assignments. For example, students can research a particular topic by first going to Wikipedia then verify the facts and information found on Wikipedia by using at least several primary and secondary sources.
For further reading on the Wikipedia debate and how it is used in colleges and universities, take a look at:
- A Stand Against Wikipedia Inside Higher Ed.com – Article includes various feedback from educators and students.
- Wikipedia: Press Coverage – Links to articles from 2001 – present.
What do you think of Wikipedia? Feel free to comment on this post.
4 thoughts on “Is Wikipedia Trustworthy?”
I’ve found it to be increasingly reliable. It can be a good starting point, like you said, but not necessarily as a citable source. The sources in the wikipedia articles themselves are great research tools along with using what is discussed in the articles to give ideas for further research.
I think the history department at Middlebury College has done a service for students by creating its new policy not allowing students to cite Wikipedia as a source, while still allowing students to use Wikipedia as a tool for further research and investigation. The fact that professors will be discussing the new policy and why it was inacted, with their students, is an important step towards information literacy.
I am pleased that the history department has taken action in attempting to deal with this global Internet community of information. A community which grows FTL (faster than light) or if you are from the south, faster than Kudzu.
Since the least experienced students often turn to Wikipedia, I fear that not letting them cite it will simply lead to their copying from it without a citation. Of course, I can still Google individual sentences and phrases to turn up the source, but banning Wikipedia simply puts a “Catch-22” into the process of teaching and verifying beginning research writers’ “fair use” of sources.
So far, Wikipedia has been a helpful source when I have used it, though I haven’t run into any editing wars, so far as I could tell. Nevertheless, it is an encyclopedia–and one written by volunteers rather than paid professionals–so it is background at best.
I often use Wikipedia as a starting point for research. Accuracy concerns aside, the encyclopedia/broad overview style of the entries is a good place to start. If I am helping a medical student I often look up the terms just to see WHAT something is!
Though useful as a starting point, I would not base my entire paper on the Wiki.