The good Doctor Tinworth, my wife Lorna, has told me many times how Wikipedia is becoming a battleground in universities, particularly in the sciences. More and more students are handing in papers which cite only Wikipedia as a source. Anyone who knows anything about how scientific literature functions, and the fundamental concepts that underpin it, can see that as a problem. Wikipedia is closing the specialist students’ minds to potential information, not opening them to it.
In light of Lorna’s comments, danah boyd‘s contribution to a discussion about the role of sites such as Wikipedia on the Britannia Blog makes a lot of sense:
Why are we telling our students not to use Wikipedia rather than educating them about how Wikipedia works? Sitting in front of us is an ideal opportunity to talk about how knowledge is produced, how information is disseminated, how ideas are shared. Imagine if we taught the “history” feature so that students would have the ability to track how a Wikipedia entry is produced and assess for themselves what the authority of the author is. You can’t do this with an encyclopedia. Imagine if we taught students how to fact check claims in Wikipedia and, better yet, to add valuable sources to a Wikipedia entry so that their work becomes part of the public good.
And perhaps that’s a good route for educators to take: move from step one (reject) to step two (embrace and extend). It’s a blue monster moment all of their own.
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