Monday, April 2, 2007

Professors oppose scholarly use of Wikipedia

Professors oppose scholarly use of Wikipedia
Peer review Web site provides useful information, though not necessarily reliable, according to some professors
Harry Hoover
Issue date: 4/2/07
Section: Features

Wikipedia is used by millions of people around the world as a quick and easy source of information about hundreds of thousands of topics.

According to the Web site, Wikipedia is a "multilingual, Web-based, free content encyclopedia project�written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world."

Kevin Carosa, a freshman in business management, said Wikipedia is a "great resource for general information."

He said he uses it mainly for his amusement, but uses it for academic purposes as well.

"I mainly search my interests like rugby or soccer or movies," Carosa said. "But I used it for English class to get some background information on different animals too."

Steven Horton, a senior in environmental technology, uses Wikipedia for similar reasons.

"I use it for looking up random information," Horton said. "Like if I want to find out about a musician, or a historical event, or some random location I use it."

However, many in the academic field are known to discourage students from using Wikipedia as a credible source of information. Jon Thompson, an English professor, has a different view on the topic.

He suggests Wikipedia to his students because "many students do not consult encyclopedias or dictionaries when there are terms that they're unfamiliar with. So part of it is an effort on my part to encourage students to expand the boundaries of what they know by getting into the habit of consulting reference material."

Thompson did note though that Wikipedia is widely believed to be unreliable and said he he treads lightly with the site.

"Wikipedia is spotty in terms of its reliability," Thompson said. "You have to be selective about how you use it."

When it comes to important research-based essays, Thompson does not accept Wikipedia as a source.

"I would expect that people would use more conventional, quality controlled sources," Thompson said. "In fact, I would expect that they go well beyond encyclopedias of any kind, whether online or print, mainly using criticism itself."

Carosa agreed with Thompson about using Wikipedia as a source.

"I don't think it is reliable because people can edit the entries so you can't be sure about its reliability," Carosa said.

He said he believes it is much better to get information from an academic journal than Wikipedia.

"Most of the entries are probably correct, but due to anyone being able to edit it you just can't be sure about," Carosa said.

Horton said he has not experienced negativity toward Wikipedia with his professors.

"My professors don't really give a crap about it," he said. "I've seen some people throw in a Wikipedia article for a source on a presentation and [the professors] don't seem to mind."

Despite his accepting professors, Horton said he still stays away from Wikipedia for his papers.

"I usually stick to the library for those, but if you check out the sources for the articles on Wikipedia, some could be valid," he said.

Thompson admitted Wikipedia is still a valuable resource for many purposes.

"It's really primarily useful as introduction to a subject, a kind of USA Today sort of introduction to a subject," he said. "Although, one wants to be aware that you might want to cross-reference anything that seems to be important or questionable."

Thompson said using it casually and judiciously is useful, but he has a greater purpose in suggesting it to his students.

"The main thing is to try to encourage students to look up things they don't know. If they can do that they can be well on their way to expanding their horizons," he said.

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