Saturday, September 17, 2011

No, Wikipedia is Not the Devil

Where I work, when we teach students about the various types of resources that are useful for academic research, we like to mention Wikipedia. We like to bring it up because everyone uses it, which is fine as long as you don't just stop there.

This post on SF Novelists, although discussing a different sort of research from what most medical students will be undertaking, nicely sums up what's good and not as good about Wikipedia for research, with a nice breakdown of the main types of problems you tend to see with articles there (roughly, arguments over subjects on which people have strong and divergent opinions; sloppy and/or incomplete articles where someone just tossed something on the page so there'd be a page there; and outright vandalism, where people add incorrect and/or irrelevant information to an article on purpose for the heck of it).

It also discusses the ways Wikipedia is useful (broad range of articles, easy to hop from one topic to another, and even the incorrect information can sometimes lead you to useful additional resources).

I may just refer students to this piece in future, and save myself 10 minutes of talking. While they're reading it, I can be reading internet comics. Everyone wins!


jtfburgess said...

You've stumbled on a pet peeve I have. I recommended wikipedia's references and external links sections as great starting points for finding scholarly sources to a patron last week. She acted as though I'd offered to sell her LSD or something. "My professor said NO WIKIPEDIA". It look a long time to explain the difference between using a source for research and referring to it in a paper. In the end, I think she just went along with it to placate me, sure that she would be punished for even thinking about that devil source. I'm not disparaging her intellect; it's the laziness of instructors who can't bother to be nuanced in their directions that draws my ire. If you don't want to deal with giving your students a nuanced understanding of information source evaluation that's fine. There's a whole building on campus filled with people who love to do just that. But don't use authority to make students afraid to explore all the information sources out there. Let them expand their minds! On second thought, maybe I was trying to sell her LSD. Library Science Disimprisonment.

A'Llyn said...

Now that's LSD I'm proud to promote to students. :)