Does Wikipedia have a place in the classroom?

31 01 2009

I am a college student. When I was in high school, Wikipedia became more and more popular as a source of information among my peers. I was among the few in my age group to be suspicious of Wikipedia. The thought of anyone being able to edit what so many consider absolute fact was frightening to me and still is today. Even today, as a junior in college, I see many of my peers regarding Wikipedia as the gospel truth on everything. It is a quick way to push actual research out of the way.

I certainly think that Wikipedia has its place. I believe that it is excellent as a starting point for research, to point people in the right directions. I believe that it is good for looking things up quickly, when accuracy is not necessary or the subject in question is unimportant. I really love social media. I love how democratic the internet is and that everyone gets an equal voice. However, I think that Wikipedia is an exception to that rule. Everyone having an equal voice on Wikipedia may not be a good thing. Hacks, propagandists, vandals, and just plain idiots can post anything they like on Wikipedia. Since so many people take Wikipedia so seriously, it has the potential to become a frighteningly powerful tool for misinformation and propaganda.

How would I approach Wikipedia? With caution. Everything that is printed there should be taken with a grain of salt. I would not use it as a source for a paper or some other assignment. I do use it for research. I use it to give me a general idea of the subject at hand and then use the references at the bottom of the article to find better, more accurate information that will probably become by cited sources.

I think that Wikipedia has its place in academia, but that place is not as a primary source. It is a search tool and can be used for a very limited summary on a given topic, no more. We have to be very careful about what we read an believe on the internet, as well as what we repeat and pass on to others.

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