Saturday, May 3, 2008

Wikipedia, friend or foe

I have recently found that some of my faculty colleagues are leery of allowing students to include Wikipedia references in their papers. I don't blame them. Some of the content in Wikipedia is well established and supported, some content isn't. Sometimes students don't know the difference...or, more accurately, how to determine the difference. And, it is important for them to learn how to determine the difference because we are getting more and more of our content via online sources. So, instead of not allowing students to reference Wikipedia:
  • Allow students to reference Wikipedia as long as they can find two non-Wikipedia sources to support the Wikipedia reference

  • Have students find -- and support with other resources -- the problems with a Wikipedia reference (sort of a WikipediaBusters activity)

  • Have students figure out the biases implied in a Wikipedia entry (e.g., was the entry written by a man, or a Democrat, or someone living in the United States, or someone who doesn't like cats, and so on), and then rewriting the entry to (1) minimize the bias, or (2) reflect an alternative perspective

  • Have students fix a Wikipedia entry, after all an expectation of the Wikipedia community is that participants contribute

I like Wikipedia, and think it can be a great first step in students' writing/research long as they know that anything they read on the Web (or in print, for that matter) is mediated by the author's perspective and biases, and may or may not be accurate. I think activities, like those listed above, can help reinforce this, and also reinforce that they are eligible contributors to community resources, such as Wikipedia.

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