In this clip from Jon Stewart’s show (I wouldn’t want to fail to mention the source), U.S. Senator Rand Paul is criticized for his plot summary of a movie that is quite similar to that found on the movie’s Wikipedia page. However, rather than discussing the appropriateness of the Senator’s reference, I’d like to instead focus on the value of Wikipedia as an educational tool. The Director of Educational Technology at my school told me in a conversation recently that, “it used to be that teachers overwhelmingly forbid the use of Wikipedia as a source of information, but that’s changing.”
If I were a teacher and evaluated a paper with Wikipedia as a source, I’d have some questions. However, in the same way a student doesn’t cite “Google” as a source, Wikipedia can still be a great resource for students for a variety of reasons:
1. Almost any person or topic is addressed on Wikipedia.
2. Although imperfect, Wikipedia more times than not has reliable information that is cited.
3. The layout is pleasing to the eye; articles are organized into themes and categories.
4. Articles aren’t unnecessarily long. A student can get some general familiarity with the topic without spending a lot of time.
5. Links on links on links. Most Wikipedia articles have a healthy amount of sources to back their assertions. This is a great way for a student to reach a more scholarly source.
Students can save valuable research time by using Wikipedia as a tool to find more acceptable sources if they don’t like the results from a search of a scholarly database. I think there’s a perception by many educators that Wikipedia is a “bad” tool. Like a search engine that can provide both valuable and despicable information, the tool itself isn’t good or bad; it’s just a tool. Using Wikipedia as a source or, worse, quoting from it without attribution is bad. However, using Wikipedia to find that one source that makes your project great and not just good… that makes all the difference in the world.
PS – This assignment was adapted from Jane Hart’s 10 Tools Challenge: http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/blog/2013/01/08/take-the-10-tools-challenge/