As Wikipedia has become more and more popular with students, some professors have become increasingly concerned about the online, reader-produced encyclopedia. While plenty of professors have complained about the lack of accuracy or completeness of entries, and some have discouraged or tried to bar students from using it.
“As educators, we are in the business of reducing the dissemination of misinformation,” said Don Wyatt, chair of the department. “Even though Wikipedia may have some value, particularly from the value of leading students to citable sources, it is not itself an appropriate source for citation,” he said.
The department made what Wyatt termed a consensus decision on the issue after discussing problems professors were seeing as students cited incorrect information from Wikipedia in papers and on tests. In one instance, Wyatt said, a professor noticed several students offering the same incorrect information, from Wikipedia.
There was some discussion in the department of trying to ban students from using Wikipedia, but Wyatt said that didn’t seem appropriate. Many Wikipedia entries have good bibliographies, Wyatt said. And any absolute ban would just be ignored. “There’s the issue of freedom of access,” he said. “And I’m not in the business of promulgating unenforceable edicts.”
Wyatt said that the department did not specify punishments for citing Wikipedia, and that the primary purpose of the policy was to educate, not to be punitive. He said he doubted that a paper would be rejected for having a single Wikipedia footnote, but that students would be told that they shouldn’t do so, and that multiple violations would result in reduced grades or even a failure. “The important point that we ...
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...ple University, said of the Middlebury approach: “I applaud the effort for wanting to direct students to good quality resources,” but he said he would go about it in a different way.
“I understand what their concerns are. There’s no question that [on Wikipedia and similar sites] some things are great and some things are questionable. Some of the pages could be by eighth graders,” he said. “But to simply say ‘don’t use that one’ might take students in the wrong direction from the perspective of information literacy.”
Students face “an ocean of information” today, much of it of poor quality, so a better approach would be to teach students how to “triangulate” a source like Wikipedia, so they could use other sources to tell whether a given entry could be trusted. “I think our goal should be to equip students with the critical thinking skills to judge.”
— Scott Jaschik
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