Wikipedia Is All Right, After All

Once a year in elementary school, I remember having a reference unit where we learned how to look up information. The difference between an almanac and an encyclopedia was very interesting and relevant back then. It became decidedly less interesting and relevant once Wikipedia came around.

Much to the chagrin of educators, Wikipedia made many reference books obsolete. Students could find anything they needed to know about a given topic with a single search. But teachers were wary — perhaps with good reason. Anyone could claim to be an expert on Wikipedia, writing and editing articles, seemingly with free reign. But as the years passed and Wikipedia matured, that fear became unfounded. Wikipedia’s administrators provided close oversight of content, and articles became as reliable as any textbook. But still, the question remained: should students be allowed to use Wikipedia?

Rhett Allain, an associate professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, argues yes, usually. It depends on the assignment. For assignments where students have to look up factoids, it is most efficient. For an exam or a longer assignment, such as an essay, it provides important background information. In such cases, it should never be a student’s only source, but it is a foundation on which to build a deeper understanding of the material.

From Wikipedia, a student can go on to other sources to read arguments and criticism. My favorite part about

Wikipedia was always the citation section, because it allowed me to read directly from the source, bypassing the dreaded Wikipedia altogether. But I might never have found those sources without it.

Claire Perlman

Claire Perlman is a senior at UC Berkeley who covers Technapex's higher education beat. She is majoring in English literature and worked at her college’s student newspaper, The Daily Californian, for two years as a science reporter and news editor. She is currently working at UC Berkeley’s Mark Twain Project transcribing Twain’s letters and unpublished manuscripts.

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About Claire Perlman

Claire Perlman is a senior at UC Berkeley who covers Technapex's higher education beat. She is majoring in English literature and worked at her college’s student newspaper, The Daily Californian, for two years as a science reporter and news editor. She is currently working at UC Berkeley’s Mark Twain Project transcribing Twain’s letters and unpublished manuscripts.
  • RightCowLeftCoast

    Readers should look for Good Article and Featured Article designations for those who seek a truly well done article. Also, as was stated in this blog, always see the cited sources; from there, one can tell the quality of the content.

    • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

      There is an article on Wikipedia that underwent the “Good Article” review, even though the article erroneously said that Richard II was king of England at the time of the Battle of Crécy. That mistake wasn’t caught, but the “Good Article” flag was still slapped on the content. The mistake is still there, long afterward.

      • http://twitter.com/sparkintheashes John Warr

        Oh Its better than that. It is currently a Feature article, the best of the best:

        [Featured articles are considered to be the best articles Wikipedia has to offer, as determined by Wikipedia's editors. They are used by editors as examples for writing other articles. Before being listed here, articles are reviewed as featured article candidates for accuracy,]

        the real question though is how much else in this particular article slipped through.

  • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

    Claire thinks it’s “free reign”, so I’m not surprised that Claire also believes “Wikipedia’s administrators provided close oversight of content, and articles became as reliable as any textbook.” Wrong on all counts. Poor Claire.

  • metasonix

    This poor girl is being misled by the few academic figures who go around raving about Wikipedia. In actual fact, most college instructors would fail anyone trying to use Wikipedia as a “source”. It is not reliable, it is full of weird biases, and it contains millions of articles that are utter crap.

    “Wikipedia’s administrators provided close oversight of content” is a load of bull. Most administrators don’t do ANY article checking or correcting. If an error is corrected, it is usually a blind accident.

    Why are the most clueless, blind Wiki fans from UC Berkeley?

  • Thomas R

    “articles became as reliable as any textbook”

    There are some pretty bad textbooks that’s true. Still I do agree the citation sections are often useful. And on issues that don’t directly involve humans (math-terms, names of rivers, etc) it’s alright. It also is better than most anything if you want to research animated sitcoms, video-games, certain sports, and most anything teenage boys care about. If the issue relates to politics, religion, medical researchers, business, or to an extent women it’s not so good.

    BTW: I am a Wikipedian of like six-years standing and I’ve created over 2,000 articles.

  • Edward

    “Wikipedia’s administrators provided close oversight of content, and articles became as reliable as any textbook. ” That betrays a deep misunderstanding of how Wikipedia works. Administrators do not judge content, only behaviour.