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OK, finally some decent stuff on Wikipedia.
The latest Pew report on Wikipedia is here about Wikipedia.
It shows that 36% of American adult internet users (36%) consult the socially driven
online encyclopedia Wikipedia. On a “typical day in the winter of 2007, 8% of
online Americans consulted Wikipedia.”
Hitwise found similar data which is referenced in the Pew report.
RANT follows.
Lately some educational institutions of all types and levels have discussed or actually banned Wikipedia. Amazing! Apparently they haven’t thought through the research process or their role in educating students to learn how to research. Banning Wikipedia is moronic. Contextualizing it is the right thing to do. I once was invovled with the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest (CED), a tool that helps lawyers to frame their questions in an area of law. Wikipedia does the same thing for general knowledge. How are you supposed to find stuff if we ban the finding tools!? You would rarely quote The CED on court but it was a great access point to various domains. Wikipedia does the same, and besides. It’s rumoured to be used quite a bit in the various search engine algorithms.
Of course university and college students shouldn’t be citing WIkipedia as a source (unless of course they’re in library school! grin). Banning it won’t help them. Using encyclopedias to frame a research task and then going to other secondary and primary sources is the right or at least a good path. Removing access to the framng tool doesn’t help at all! I wonder if people are just having kneejerk reactions to this rather than taking responsibility for graduating information literate folks. It’s easier to make soundbite rules than to actually build a solid research curriculum. Some of the shallow thinking here reminds me of the silly comments on the Nature comparison of Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia. Yes, they’re about equal in terms of mistakes as long as you you start with EB. Since Wikipedia covers such a wider domain of information, there’s just no comparison. EB just as huge holes.
I wonder what would happen if we passed a law like NLCB, but required that what was tested was research skills – and that it was funded properly too. Hmmmm.

Posted on: April 29, 2007, 4:01 pm Category: Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Andrew Hiskens said

    Jimmy Wales was presenting in Melbourne last Friday (27 April) and said precisely the sort of things you’re saying. He certainly didn’t think it was appropriate to cite Wikipedia at college level!

  2. Well said as usual, Stephen. I encourage and actually require my students in my research methods class to start with an article from a general encyclopedia as part of the research process, even if they know about the topic they are researching. Encyclopedia articles, including Wikipedia, are great sources of key words and concepts that will improve the retrieval of relevant information from other sources of greater research value. I do as you suggest and tell students not to cite general encyclopedias like Britannica or World Book or Wikipedia in their papers.