On Wikipedia

As a rule, teachers and professors tend to demonize Wikipedia. I guess this is somewhat justified since we don’t want our kids flocking to the site to copy and paste information for a research project (side-note: we can always tell when students copy and paste; we have our ways of revealing this information). But in reality, while e-graffiti is splattered throughout the site, the majority of the information–an overwhelming majority, in fact–is actually factual. Just because anybody can edit some of the articles doesn’t automatically make the information any less valid. [I should note, however, that certain articles, such as that on Barack Obama, are on “article probation,” which means they are watched very closely and that public editors may be banned for making “disruptive edits” So you see, there is a certain level of credibility at Wikipedia.]

What teachers and professors should do is use Wikipedia as a teaching tool. I can imagine, for instance, an English assignment in a Great Expectations unit in which the teacher instructs the class to read through the article on Charles Dickens, discuss the main points, and evaluate the information’s veracity.  Ah, critical thinking. Should Wikipedia be used as a  source for research assignments? I’m still going to have to say no; with assignments that require valid research, you don’t want to run the risk of including information that may be misguided, biased, or flat-out wrong, which is a small but nevertheless real risk you run with the majority of Wikipedia articles out there.  And anyway, students need to learn to use resources like electronic databases and–yes,  shocking as it is–books. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for some quick information for informal purposes, say you want to know where James Joyce was born or what exactly The Juliet Letters is, then Wikipedia is your best bet. It’s fast and [almost completely] reliable information.

Plus, it’s super easy to hyperlink to. Viva la Wikipedia!


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