Sunday, July 25, 2010

No Wikipedia = Bad Teaching?

Posted by Chris at 12/11/2007 8:28 AM ...

One of Wikipedia's co-founders, Jimmy Wales, claimed this week that teachers who don't allow their students to use Wikipedia are bad educators. His claim is that despite questions about the accuracy and authority of Wikipedia articles, and the editorial wars that plague controversial topics, teachers should allow students to use his site as a stepping stone to other sources.

I respectfully submit that Mr. Wales is out of his freaking mind.

To me, the problems with Wikipedia dictate that only older, more sophisticated students who have the ability to evaluate the quality of the articles should be allowed anywhere near the thing. In fact, Mills Kelly at Edwired uses Wikipedia as a tool to teach his college students how to evaluate sources. College students being a bit different from the "young" students Wales seems to think Wikipedia is appropriate for. The comments over at Blogenspiel discuss the problems with students' use of Wikipedia: inaccurate information, cliches, vandalism, poor sourcing, etc...

One of the things that I repeat to my students over and over - at the collegiate level, encyclopedias are not appropriate basis for research papers. The only thing they are allowed to use an encyclopedia for is to find sources in the references section of the articles. This is true for Encarta
, Britannica, World Book, Citizendium, or Wikipedia. Of course, I spell out the penalties for use of encyclopedias in both the syllabus and assignment instructions. For their Annotated Bibliography, for example, including Encyclopedias will earn them a zero for the assignment. Why? Because the assignment tells them they have to have a certain minimum of journal articles, books, etc ...

Dr. Kelly does have a good point about teaching students to evaluate sources, though, which is why I like the approach of The Western Civilization Webography Project. It provides a database of website content evaluations and a rubric for students to use in evaluating new websites. If I can find a way to work it into a class while addressing my institution's FERPA concerns, I'll be adding it as part of my courses' research assignments.

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