Professors Learning To Embrace, Not Hate, Wikipedia

from the editing-professor's-views dept

There are plenty of Wikipedia haters out there — but they often seem to miss the point of the site. We’ve certainly heard of plenty of students who are told that they’re not allowed to cite Wikipedia, which seems silly. As long as people recognize what the source is and how it’s written, there’s nothing wrong with using Wikipedia as one source among many. It appears that at least a few professors are figuring this out — and one has taken the typical Wikipedian response to charges of incorrect data (that response being: well, if it’s wrong, fix it!) to the next level. Rather than having students just research something using Wikipedia, University of Washington-Bothell professor Martha Groom has them write up a totally new Wikipedia article or substantially improve an old one. In other words, if you think that Wikipedia isn’t very good, why not improve it? Not only is it probably a valuable exercise in learning how to present certain types of information, it helps the students have a better understanding of how Wikipedia content comes to be.

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Comments on “Professors Learning To Embrace, Not Hate, Wikipedia”

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Buzz says:

I dunno, Mike. I think you made this whole article up. I wanna see some sources. My students will never cite Techdirt. >_>

Sarcasm aside, I have an English teacher right now who absolutely forbids citing Wikipedia. I can understand the danger of citing it in regards to more historical topics, but I am a computer scientist. Most of what is written can be verified technologically rather than “just taking their word for it”, so it is harder to lie about tech topics.

Student 1 says:

Not a good source.

Wikipedia is NOT an acceptable source under any circumstances. It is however an appropriate way to find acceptable sources. If a student chooses to wikipedia a subject, and he or she then goes to the bibliography section of that subjects page, then, if there are reliable sources listed there, they may site one of THOSE sources, the original, hopefully peer-reviewed source. There is no legitimate argument that the wikipedia page itself can be used as a source because even if there are legitimate sources cited, they are interpreted by the poster and could misrepresent the factual data.

Beefcake says:

Re: Re: Not a good source.

JB, I don’t know if you were doing so on purpose, but if not I’d like to point out that you just made the case for Wiki-noia by posting for posterity that you think 1 in every 1,000,000 things you read on there is probably false. Can you back that up, or are you just making shit up? If you’re making it up, what are the consequences? How many millions of things have you read on there? Am I supposed to assume you would exercise greater scholarly discipline writing a Wiki entry than you do in a comment stream? Based on what?

Hence, the problem. The idea is wonderful. The world it’s being exercised in is not disciplined enough to make it more than a curiosity.

dorpass says:

Re: Re: Re: Not a good source.

Can you back up that Encyclopedias are more reliable than Wikipedia? In fact, can you back up that Wikipedia is as “undisciplined” as you imply? Techdirt has provided some information on that previously, but then again, it might be *gasp* biased and imperfect, so I am guessing you will just go ahead with saying nothing is perfect and Wikipedia sucks. Good for you, my imperfect friend.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Not a good source.

Dorpass, people who work for encyclopedias and the media have consequences for getting it wrong, and they have to answer to somebody when they do. Even so, they get it wrong because as you’ve pointed out– they’re imperfect humans.

So if people for whom there are immediate and real consequences are making errors and skirting disciplined scholarly and journalistic methods, imagine what John Q. Public is doing with no consequences and answerable to no one. You might as well ask the next vacuum salesman who shows up at your front door.

Strofcon says:

A futile effort, methinks...

In my experience, most professors won’t even let students cite a printed encyclopedia, due to a propensity toward unnecessary bias and a perceived tendency to print untruths.

Whether this is right or wrong, I won’t say (regarding the printed encyclopedia issue). I will say that I find Wikipedia to be far too subject to detrimental changes by the administrators, and thus should not be used as a professional reference.

My main concern regarding your post, however, is that there is little (if any) hope of convincing many more than handful of professors to allow Wikipedia citations; the dislike of Wikipedia simply runs too deep.

Ron says:

Re: A futile effort, methinks...

Encyclopedias are (more or less) acceptable as starting points for basic undergraduate research, but never as a source. Setting concerns over bias aside, they give you the Reader’s Digest version of a topic, and citing them is just laziness, pure and simple. By forbidding encyclopedias as sources, the professor is simply ensuring that students do the actual work required of the discipline, which usually involves working with primary sources.

Criminologist Kelle says:

Wikipedia is NOT a source...

I’m a teaching assistant for the largest School of Criminology in North America and I have been reinforcing to my students over the past two years that Wikipedia is not an academic source that can be referenced in a research paper simply because the information may not always be verifiable. But while I caution them against using it as a source, I tell them that they can go there as a starting point to see if it can direct them to REAL academic sources. It’s like the rest of the internet; when used properly it can be a good tool, but they have to learn how to recognize good versus bad information.

TheDock22 says:

So nothing is citable?

In my experience, most professors won’t even let students cite a printed encyclopedia, due to a propensity toward unnecessary bias and a perceived tendency to print untruths.

Since everything ever written has been interpreted by the authors own point of view let’s just quit citing things in general. From now on, all published works should be from the author’s own mind and they should not research anything (obvious sarcasm here).

Strofcon says:

Re: So nothing is citable?

Congratulations on ignoring the phrase “propensity toward,” which happens to mean “a natural inclination or tendency toward.” Also, it’s interesting that you find the word “bias” unworthy of note.

I have no problem with “interpretation of data,” but “bias” is a problem since it lends itself to the forcing of one’s (usually unfounded) opinions on the reader.

Just because I claim that one source has a tendency to be overly biased doesn’t mean I oppose citing sources that interpret information.

Max Powers at (user link) says:

Using Wikipedia in a different way

I think this article was about a professor who had students submit their own original article, thereby learning from the experience.

It’s nice to see professors that come up with something original for their students to do that pertains to the real world.

The first time I went to Wikipedia and learned that the content was supplied by others, that was enough for me. I mean why bother? I’m surprised it became as popular as it is today. I guess that’s why I’m not a rich Internet guru.

Matt says:

Let the paranoid be paranoid. They can spend hours pouring through books to find out something that takes the rest of us a ten-minute lookup on Wikipedia :-). Especially with tech-related topics, the Wikipedia articles are generally more complete, clearer and more correct than articles in “official” books (which, especially for textbooks, do not have to be “peer-reviewed” like some of you suggested).

Anonymous Coward says:

“Wikipedia is NOT an acceptable source under any circumstances. It is however an appropriate way to find acceptable sources. If a student chooses to wikipedia a subject, and he or she then goes to the bibliography section of that subjects page, then, if there are reliable sources listed there, they may site one of THOSE sources, the original, hopefully peer-reviewed source. There is no legitimate argument that the wikipedia page itself can be used as a source because even if there are legitimate sources cited, they are interpreted by the poster and could misrepresent the factual data.”

Your opinion holds no weight. You didn’t cite anything at all and therefore, we must assume everything you said to be false. You provided no references to other peer-reviewed sources to support your thesis which undermines your comment.

obilesk says:

Re: Re:

I hate bad grammar. The most irritating thing about trying to read through a comment stream is having to trudge through each horribly written line like a it’s a jungle adventure gone awry. WHY CAN”T ANYONE WRITE ANYMORE?? Is it really that difficult? Granted, our American education system is a joke, but knowing the difference between you’re and your, and there and their, just isn’t that damn hard. It’s one thing if it is clear shorthand or whatever, but if one is trying to make an intellectual statement or argument, it is nearly impossible to take him or her serious when half the shit they type makes no sense. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Sorry. All done now.

RandomNeko (profile) says:

Wiki Garbage

As a student I think Wikipedia is garbage.

Trying to change any information without admin status will usually get your change reverted by the admin that created that page. Arguing in defense of your edit is like screaming at a brick wall. I think to some of these people its a matter of pride, like their own 15 seconds of fame. No matter how wrong their article is they will not allow anyone to change it.

Lately there have been alot of people who make it their mission to post incorrect information as well. If you look up the group ecyclopededia dramatica you will find a group of human beings dedicated to destroying wikipedia by posting bad information, deleting good information, and generally making an ass of themselves whenever possible.

I am going to stick to a encyclopedia for general information and I will read credible journals and research materials when I need to write a report for class.

Torazarot says:

student use

We’ve certainly heard of plenty of students who are told that they’re not allowed to cite Wikipedia, which seems silly.

Seriously Mike? It’s silly to not allow students to cite an information source that can be written and changed by anyone, anywhere? I teach at a university and absolutely forbid students from citing Wikipedia, but not from using it. Just as Criminologist Kelle said, I tell the students it’s a great starting place when researching an unfamiliar topic, but by no means should it ever be cited. I also forbid students from citing encyclopedias, newspapers, and magazines, because they are simply not scholarly sources. Do you think that’s silly too?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Wikipedia and use it daily, but it has no place as a reference in scholarly papers. I do like the idea of having students write their own articles for it. I’ll have to use that in class at some point.

His Shadow says:

“Dorpass, people who work for encyclopedias and the media have consequences for getting it wrong, and they have to answer to somebody when they do.”

Have you ever researched the way schoolbooks are written, printed and sold? That is a horror show that gets none of the scrutiny the supposed problems with Wikipedia seem to recieve. Wikipedia is the Encyclopedia Galactica compared to the garbage teachers use to teach children. It is up to the minute, never mind up to date, and vigorously reviewed. Claims to the contrary are simply ignorant.

Novis (user link) says:

We need a better Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia since it provides a great amount of useful information and a place where people can share their knowledge with each other. Unfortunately, as we already know, the reliability of information provided by Wikipedia is sometimes questioned.

I think Wikipedia needs to change some of their concepts (or innovate as Steve R. said). However, it will be very difficult, if it is not impossible, to make radical changes to Wikipedia.

For this reason, I started a website called Ezclopedia ( The website is still in alpha version and has only basic functionality. I will develop more features based on feedback from authors and users. By listening to authors’ and users’ needs, I hope Ezclopedia can be a better alternative to Wikipedia. Please check it out, I will really appreciate your feedback.


guybarf says:

abt weaky wiki

The problem HERE in africa is not the veracity of the virtual or the printed! it is you got almost only wiki handy and current: it takes centiuries and centimes, in millions, to reach your real library: so tell me, what should a student do to deposit his/her thesis in 12months!maybe judge his mastery of doc/research techniques while days of handier accuracies!

medusa IV says:

Wikepedia has no moral values

Here is one taken from a Wikipedia User Talks web pages…at the end the wikipedia editor said sorry behind the lines but not reflected here..

In fact, the vanity of wikipedia editors (like you) can already be felt unconscious on their(your) part while the other party is suffering from hypertension because of such stresses. If there are health related reasons done by editors of Wikipedia to their clients this has to be voiced out worldwide through the net. Better Quality Management has to be practised! Your posted warning images are terrifyingand demeaning. How about your being a Croatian- Singaporean-German? Does that exempt you! You ought not receive the benefits of the discoveries that XXX awardees are given plus your flock as well as your future generation. Wikipedia must establish a quality control management in dealing with clients that includes the younger generation and the adults. It seems that this wikipedia bruhaha is only for warring girls and boys! It has no right trail to follow and no ethics to observe. Automatically -here is for you- you idiot- thing. We are not learning anything here when it comes to ethical values. Instead of making the insult and all your surprising stupid gimmicks why dont you help in editing the text… if you are really capable of doing it. That solves the problem. Why talk, talk, talk and here is for you! As change is the motto of the new President of the USA, I wish that he will look into this problem as Wikipedia is US based. The US is very much concerned about Human Rights and Values World wide, Wikipedia through her editors is not. I think its time to change the President of Wikipedia… an honorable black one will be good. But the outgoing has to be audited for the millions and for human rights violations due to mismanagement of Wikipedia. These are SOPs, isnt it? I hope that the part of the donation which is now in millions that Wikipedia has received will be devoted to changing your rules and infrastructure so both parties will have harmony and better quality management not the warring kind.
XXXXXXX are you sending me new messages? How come that when I open the discussion page of XXX there is this post that says I have a new message! What are you trying to insinuate. I cannot find one here. Are you playing bad games with me? You editors, you are already of age and you know what respect is . I think you can also be tried in courts by all your clients that you have terribly insulted. I dont think the customer is always right is working here. Harassment has started in the US as a law and other countries have adapted it. Dont tell me that Wikipedia editors are exempted!

Because they are anonymous so they can do it. I think this will be one of the changes that Wikipedia will undertake! I saw in TV in the USA a company that mentions about specific killer genes. Once thrown in public/crowd the individual that will be killed or be badly damaged is the individual where this specific killer gene was specifically tailored for and the rest of the people will not be affected. With all these advances in science in individual specific targeting, can we not reveal the names and true identity of these abusive anonymous wikipedia editors? I am sure it is always possible!

Why do you have to remain anonymous? How can you use that experience with Wikipedia in case you look for a job or apply at schools or go abroad. People will doubt about you. You may be loyal in your work but your employer is not sure of your credentials especially if he got information that you were once connected with the wikipedia business e.g. he may think you are biting when his back is turned, etc. I think it is much better if intelligience agencies by governments like the USA, will penetrate the wikipedia internal system and identify people practising human rights violation and release their immigration histories for their identification and inform port of entries locally and abroad of their presence. They can even do collaborative work with child molesters internationally, how about these wikipedia editors practising harassments (this come in various forms). They need to be Tagged! Be considered as the Most Wanted in this category.

I just read the so many web sites condoning wikipedia even child pornography. I would suggest that someone will boldly create a web site where a list of Wikipedia editors who practised harassment online as well as violators of human rights will be made available worldwide. And for the faults done by Amatulic it must be graded to what extent did amatulic did that blunder but it does not exempt her to be included in the proposed web site. She has to be included there.

I hope that there will come a time that educational institutions, for most dont believe in the accuracy of the information as discussed in the internet and media worldwide or if there are verifiable ones, they are just duplicates of what were taken from outstanding newspapers as well governments worldwide will condone the immorality and the human rights violations of wikipedia so it will no longer function. Even sponsors of this kind(as decribed above) of wikipedia will also be charged- isnt it? Its just like sponsoring something illegal. Are they not aware that Wikipedia (this apply to almost all Wikipedia editors that I suppose are being encountered by anyone. I believe the victims have the same feelings as mine) are trespassing human values and rights. They donot have respect at all. Its a chaotic lawless country.

Being shamed in the net for the worldwide audience carries a big penalty. There is no law that protects behavior. Is there one? Unlike genes. So harassment can come in here. It says there is no personal attack but look at what they are doing at the talk page I felt I am stoned. That is a personal attack! How about throwing stones at you just like what the other countries are doing to their criminals in public parks? This is no joke!

Instead of using the donations in providing a venue to create and support this type of war, it could have been much better if the money was provided for the Victims of Katrina!

The knowledge derived from Wikipedia has to be verified by a university professor at least an expert and one still has to spend time going to library in order to complete it. So Wikipedia is not really serving its purpose. It gives fragmented information and it makes the person lazy rather than go to the library and make personal consultations with bonafide experts.

Pre December 25 important statement and reminder
As my pre December 25 statement: It is never a privilege to be a wikipedia user. It creates stresses and violations. Well better try it if you wish! I would suggest to Wikipedia Editors that before you post a warning or stamp your warning sign use the words: Please in your first statement but at the end of your statement dont forget the word Sorry.

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