Wikipedia And Academia

The Wikipedia discussion at the Chronicle yesterday failed to get me change my basic view of Wikipedia, which is that the errors are too random and the editing too chaotic. I understand that all sources have errors and that all sources need to be examined critically, but with Wikipedia you never know if some interesting tidbit you just read is true, totally off the mark, or somewhat true but distorted in some way. For the folks who say all sources have errors, that’s true but it’s impractical to ask people to be critical of and to fact check everything. I do agree that Wikipedia is ok for a first look and to help one find and delve into other sources.

When I talked about Wikipedia with first year students this semester, I told them my professor with scissors story and asked them what was wrong with Wikipedia. They quickly replied “anyone can edit it” so it seems at least some students on my campus know about the dangers of Wikipedia. (I hate when people overgeneralize and say stuff like, “today’s students all just use Wikipedia because it’s easy and they’re all idiots. Besides they’re the net generation and you can’t stop them and this is how everything’s going so get used to it.” Arrggh!)

Chronicle discussion participants noted that Citizendium is an academic spinoff of Wikipedia that will try to address some of these concerns by adding more oversight by experts. I’m not sure that will work but I guess it’s worth a try.

The idea that Wikipedia is more accurate with scientific information because scientists know how to collaborate more than humanists came up. Hmm, I find this idea curious and would like to learn more.

Ritchie Boyd noted that a recent study found students to be lacking in information literacy skills and asked this interesting question: “How do you think educators might reconcile the need to teach content and at the same time provide the literacy skills to sift thru the content?” The responder, Alexander M.C. Halavais, replied that professors should “stop teaching content.” He immediately backed off that statement as too strong, but still gave primacy to teaching process over content. I know a lot of people think that, but I disagree. I think that having a strong knowledge base of content helps immensely in detecting misinformation.

One thought on “Wikipedia And Academia”

  1. I think “you never know if some interesting tidbit you just read is true” is a bit strong. Most of the major Wikipedia pages work hard to have solid citations to back up major assertions or sections.

    I would agree that “if there isn’t a good citation, you can’t check if some interesting tidbit you just read is true”.

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