The Rutgers Library has released a video trying to discourage students from using Wikipedia in their work (via Digital Inspiration).
I think their bottom line is correct – there is a great wealth of resources for college students and they should explore those. I also hope the fact that they based the entire video on citations from Wikipedia was intended as a humorist twist or as an attempt to show that even Wikipedia is supportive of their criticism of the source.
However, I have a couple of thoughts that I think are many times lost in the discussion of Wikipedia in academic setting. First, I still feel uncomfortable with the complete dismissal of Wikipedia instead of teaching the student to consume it in a critical fashion. From my TA experience, especially with introductory classes, students refer to the Wikipedia no matter what. Perhaps because it is there and it is “digestible”. Smarter students use it as a starting point for their explorations, others paraphrase, and the laziest simply copy-paste. I think the video above is aimed primarily to this last category, who I think in a minority these days (perhaps thank to videos like that I must say). Even though I am not sure that I am a big fan of using encyclopedias as a resource in academic settings, I do think that there is a growing acknowledgment that Wikipedia is there to stay and students are going to use it. And I see more lecturers encouraging students to use Wikipedia critically, emphasizing that it can never be the sole source. So that is good.
My second thought is probably less common and it is aimed more at the academic community itself. The main complain of the community (as it is also reflected in the video) is the quality of the content and the lack of peer review – both of which are legitimate concerns. I wonder though, why, instead of fighting the phenomenon, the community would not get more involved with it and develop mechanisms of crediting participation on one hand and signaling quality on the other? Instead of fighting students using the Wikipedia, why not trying and make the relevant resources there of a quality that would meet the necessary standards?
I think that signaling quality is an easier part of this question. Already today, the Wikipedia is using various tags and signals to indicate quality of the articles. Moreover there is at least one attempt among the blogging scientists to create a system to tag the content. Combined with ideas about time-stamping information, I think there are technical solutions to those concerns. The later point, about crediting scientists for their contribution to open sources, such as Wikipedia, is much trickier. That requires challenging some of the very well established patterns of thought.
What do you think?