Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Is Wikipedia a Reliable Source of Information?

One of the first websites that is likely to come up in an online search for information is Wikipedia, a Educational Technology for Teachers.
free encyclopedia that allows anyone to edit and add information. Much of this post is an excerpt from my book,

The allure of Wikipedia is that it is free and easy to find, and almost anyone can share their knowledge and post or edit an article. However, this allure has also led teachers to be wary of the reliability of Wikipedia's content. In a previous podcast episode, I discuss a test you can use to determine the accuracy of information sources, called the CRAP test. But Wikipedia is a different issue altogether.

While anyone can edit the pages, it's important to remember that changes on Wikipedia pages are monitored. One experiment that we conducted in class involved sabotaging a Wikipedia article for a University by changing the University's official slogan. It took only two minutes for the change to be corrected back to the original slogan. We tried the same change again, and again it was corrected, but this time it took a few hours.

Some studies have even found that Wikipedia is as accurate as other major encyclopedias and information (see Reliability of Wikipedia for more information). So if Wikipedia is just as accurate as other major encyclopedias, then why can't students use this information as a cited source? Is it that we just have a bias against sources of information that can be easily found online? One point to remember is that the studies featured at the above link are reported by Wikipedia, which has an interest in casting a positive light on it's own information. However, it is pretty clear with the way that things are reported, that Wikipedia is overall a very accurate source of information.

My suggestion for teachers is that right now it is probably best to allow students to use Wikipedia as a tool to gather preliminary information on a topic but not as a reference to cite within a paper. Instead, students should be encouraged to follow the references at the bottom of a Wikipedia article for more accurate citations. Even so, it makes me wonder at what point should we allow citations of Wikipedia articles in student papers if these articles are indeed as accurate as they are purported to be?

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