General Question

mattbrowne's avatar

Reliable or not so reliable - Why is the majority of teachers or professors dubious about their students using Wikipedia?

Asked by mattbrowne (31648points) April 30th, 2009

From Simple English Wikipedia: Wikipedia aims to be the ultimate learning resource, the sum of all human knowledge. Yet many students may have difficulty understanding the complex language used by the English Wikipedia. They may require a simpler version, which is easier to understand and which should still provide them with the information they need. The Simple English Wikipedia is an encyclopedia to help make this happen, to provide students and learners of English with a simple, free resource.

Concepts such as open source, copyleft, collaborative writing, and volunteer contributions for the public good are sometimes new and unfamiliar ideas in educational settings. Wikipedia offers an opportunity for educators to explore concepts of public trust which are likely to continue growing in prominence throughout the lives of today’s record population of youth.

Is Wikipedia accurate and reliable?

Generally, yes, Wikipedia is accurate. Wikipedia is developing rapidly, the reliability of the encyclopedia is improving all the time. Because readers compare articles to what they already know, articles tend to become more accurate and detailed. Certain articles about many of the major sciences were developed from other free or public domain encyclopedias. This provides a reliable basis upon which encyclopedia writers can develop more current information. Wikipedia is cited almost daily in the press.

On the other hand, it is possible for an article on Wikipedia to be biased, outdated, or factually incorrect. This is true for any resource. One should always double-check the accuracy of important facts, regardless of the source. In general, popular articles are more accurate because they are read more often.For this reason, factual errors are spotted and corrected in a more timely fashion. In particular, there may be a Western bias since that is where most contributors are from.

What is your opinion? Is Wikipedia overrated? Is there a danger that libraries will soon be seen as uncool or outdated?

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26 Answers

casheroo's avatar

You can still use Wikipedia, just go to the source of the information on a particular Wikipedia article. I do find it silly that you can’t use Wikipedia though. I just encountered that for the first time.

oratio's avatar

I trust wikipedia just as much as any source. In several aspects it is superior to most. It changes dynamically. If something of significance happens in the world, it will instantly be on wikipedia. I have seen how quick error get corrected. Errors in a printed book cant get corrected, and there are such errors. Yet we trust these books.

I concur that one should double check information and that it goes for any source. It’s frightening how wrong facts can be in news paper articles sometimes, and yet wikipedia is questioned and seen as unreliable. It’s not often newspaper come back and say that they were mistaken. Only when they are forced mostly. Wikipedia corrects it very fast.

lazydaisy's avatar

I think because Wikipedia can be edited by anyone it is considered unreliable. It is a good starting point, but should be followed by further research.

oratio's avatar

I think that most people who considers wikipedia unreliable lack some understanding on how dynamic it is. I think a good challenge for anyone that doesn’t trust wikipedia to go into the article of G.W. Bush and state that he is lactose intolerant, and see what happens.

girlofscience's avatar

Good lord. How many times are we going to go through this.

Wikipedia is a fantastic resource for casually understanding and learning about topics.

Teachers and professors are not extremely dubious about its content.

The simple fact of the matter is that it is not a primary source, and therefore, cannot be cited in research papers. (And neither can any other encyclopedia.)

That’s the only issue. It is a great resource for anything other than citing in papers.

cwilbur's avatar

Wikipedia is quite good at correcting itself when it’s wrong, but that correction doesn’t happen immediately. Sometimes it takes minutes; sometimes it takes weeks, because nobody noticed; and sometimes an article is wrong on a deeper level.

(When you have an edit war between an actual authority who is up to date on an obscure subject and an enthusiastic amateur who has lots of time on his hands, the enthusiastic amateur tends to win.)

But even then—the common rule that you cannot cite Wikipedia as a source, but must verify the information elsewhere, well, that sounds just like the rule that was common when I was in school that you could not cite any encyclopedia as a source, but had to verify the information elsewhere. Relying on one source of information, even one with the aura of truthiness that Wikipedia likes to project, is just plain bad research.

Sakata's avatar

“Why is the majority of teachers or professors dubious about their students using Wikipedia?”

Does Wikipedia check for grammar errors? Maybe that’s part of it too.

hug_of_war's avatar

Wikipedia is fine to get an overview or find links, and stuff like that, but I can easily find errors and I only have one area of expertise, so if i can find mistakes, anyone can.

Bagardbilla's avatar

Biases exist on many levels, (personal, national, cultural, even linguistical [is there such a word?])
Therefore Wiki reflects those, true knowledge is based on truth. If you believe Socraties, and his idea of ‘dialectic materialism’ (that truth lies in-between what you know and it’s opposite. You take that middle ground, find it’s opposite and you’re that much closer to knowing truth… so on and so forth).
So Wiki reflects those biases and to a certain degree most people of intellect realize that Wiki is NOT an end and say all. Perhaps just a start.
Also sometimes majority only means All the fools are on the same side!
My 2 ¥

dynamicduo's avatar

Wikipedia is great for a casual interest, but when it comes to actual credibility, it’s not a credible source. For me this is a combination of the fact that anyone can edit it, but more important is there’s no guarantee that the page I read at Time X is the one you’re reading at Time Y, unless my link was to the exact timedate version of the page I consumed. However, the resources that one finds when looking at a Wikipedia page (external references) are a solid source of information written by a credible identifiable person and in a fixed unchangeable form, thus referencing books is better than referencing Wikipedia because the chances are much higher that a) the information will be of higher quality, and b) that you and I will read the same things.

Libraries will always be here in some form. Libraries are much more than big mounds of information, they also contain the wisdom of finding and accessing that information. Librarians are excellent resources, and while there’s no doubt that we can create predictive technologies that may suggest other topics/books of interest, it will take a lot of time and effort, compared to asking a librarian today.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

you love your Wiki quotes don’t you, Matt? XD

I like wikipedia. It’s always a solid starting point for assignments if you really don’t know a lot about a particular subject to start off. Shouldn’t be the end all, though.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 – Yes, but I’m aware of its limitations too.

Darwin's avatar

I like Wikipedia. It is a very useful starting point when learning about a subject. However, for a research paper for school or for publication, the cited sources should always be read and analyzed, and you should do your own search for information on the subject. This is in case the Wikipedia article is incorrect, incomplete or biased, or the writer missed an important paper on the subject.

nomtastic's avatar

we are all clear, then, that this is not a question of accuracy but of accountability. this material can’t be sourced, and the content on the site is changing constantly.

oratio's avatar

@nomtastic I agree that there is the question of accountability. That favors traditional sources. Traditional media is accountable, and sometimes gets sued. But they they still sell news like the ones they previously got sued for. The books with errors don’t get recalled or thrown away. They are still out there, even if they are erroneus not matter how accountable the company is.

It doesn’t happen with wikipedia. It simply gets changed. Most articles in wikipedia is referenced, often heavily. It’s not made up by the whimsy opinions of some Ms. S.Carolina or the work of net vandals. That goes in there sometimes, but gets corrected. Not in the speed of light, but it does.

If one rely solely on wikipedia or any single source for a paper, I think that person should be failed. Not for using wikipedia, but for lacking any sense of critical thinking.

What you read and how you assess the information you get anywhere is your own responsibility.

So, yes, wikipedia is a great starting point. The references included is a good place to go after that.

simpleD's avatar

Wikipedia is not going to go away, and prohibiting it’s use by students will be ineffective. What will be effective is teaching students to think critically—to automatically question the veracity and relevance of any information, be it from wikipedia, fox news, their teachers, or their parents. Foster their curiosity and give them the tools they need to discover their own truths.

mattbrowne's avatar

@simpleD – Wonderful answer, thanks! I really think some teachers do overreact. They fear anarchy. But when students are capable of critical thinking, the fear is rather baseless.

oratio's avatar

Maybe a big part of the mistrust is that it is untraditional. That there are no persons directly accountable and it offers valuable information that is available for free.

fireside's avatar

Maybe part of the problem is that it signifies a superficial attempt at research. That’s not what school should be teaching.

oratio's avatar

@fireside True. I think @simpleD‘s answer was great in a concise way.

I see good points made by everyone. I feel a bit defensive about wikipedia cause I feel that it is treated with unjust suspicion, and I think it signifies an aspect of the web that is so wonderful. I think it means so much that people from Peru to east Russia can go in and get the same information in an instant, whether you can afford books or not.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i think it’s most important for teachers to stress smart use of wikipedia. there is a lot of bullshit information on there (i’ve seen the bassist of a band referenced as royalty of an australian flip-flop cult, which was interesting to say the least), although there is definitely reliable information too. i don’t think students should be forbidden to use wikipedia, but research is not just going to the internet’s encyclopedia and writing your report based on that (as awesome as that would be). wikipedia is basically the common enemy of teachers often because students abuse it, using it as their only source, and not checking up on the ‘facts’ wikipedia uses.

i’m lazy, so i use it a lot anyway, but with caution

mattbrowne's avatar

@Sakata – Well, maybe ‘why are the majority of’ is the better option. I was thinking sort of mathematically: there is 1 set of teachers and professions and the majority of this 1 set ‘is’... I also think the verbal noun using requires students’ ending with an apostrophe (possessive). I could check with Jeruba. She’s the number 1 expert on Fluther.

bea2345's avatar

Libraries will be around for a while yet. They still have not improved on the traditional book which can be read as long as there is enough ambient light.

Allie's avatar

I have professors who let me use wikipedia for papers as long as I check the sources that it cites.
On the other hand, this is why a lot of teachers don’t let you use wikipedia.

Darwin's avatar

@Allie – I must admit, though, that it is a very nice quote, and I suspect if Jarre were still alive he might wish to have said it.

My daughter’s teachers do not allow her to use Wikipedia, but they have never objected to her use of the citations given if she has tracked them down and read them.

oratio's avatar

Yes. Seen that one. It speaks for itself, and I think it’s sad in two aspects. One, it kills the credibility of wikipedia, and two, it says something about the quality of these journalists work and their lack of professionalism.

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