Thoughts on Wikipedia

Wikipedia. The largest encyclopedia in the world. Of the world. For the world. We’re talking over 30 million articles in 287 languages, folks. Yet, in some disciplines and by some people, shunned as a source of information.

How then, is it useful for education?  An encyclopedia, by definition, is a summary of information about a plethora of subjects. There are the obvious things: 1) it’s a great starting point for finding general information 2) it can be useful in leading the reader to other possible sources. How about the not so obvious things? Let’s take healthcare as an example. Even if a healthcare professional holds the opinion that the information in Wikipedia is unreliable, you can pretty much bet that there are patients out there using it for information, and it is useful to know what they come to the table with. For students, this is a great starting point for basic information about a topic (disease state? medication? biological process?). What information is essential for the patient to have? What might they misinterpret? How could it be explained better? What references were used in the creation of the article (evaluate one or two). Is the information in the specific Wikipedia article accurate? If not…EDIT IT. Now we’re getting somewhere, aren’t we? Check out what is happening at UCSF, where they are doing exactly that.

What would you do in your own discipline? How could you not just USE Wikipedia, but PARTICIPATE in it?

Oh the thinks we can think, if only we try! ~Dr. Seuss

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Wikipedia

  1. Totally agree with you. I published an article in Wikipedia about four years ago. I recently looked at it … and there were over 100 edits – and the “article” was much improved. Moreover, the “history” page gave me contacts of people interested in the same thing I was that led to connections via Twitter and LinkedIn.

  2. I have heard of colleagues (in other departments) assigning their students to write a Wikipedia page. If their page is corrected or changed by others, they then learn that process too. I have thought about using this as a possible assignment for my online Public Sociology course. Also, I have heard Wikipedia is surprisingly accurate (though I don’t think students should cite it in papers, etc). Interesting thoughts on collective knowledge through Wikipedia.

    1. Agreed about citing it in papers – I would not be likely to cite any encyclopedia for such a purpose. As far as it being accurate, just like with most things, you can find studies in both directions – some saying that it is as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica, and others saying that the information is incomplete for certain disciplines. Whether this is reflective of expectations of different disciplines is also an interesting question. Thanks for your comments!

  3. I think Wikipedia is a great place to go for information. We use it frequently in my FRSC 202 course. Due to its ability to be changed, I wouldn’t categorize it as a credible source, and I think that’s the dialogue we open with our students. I once had a student “fact check” me in lecture about a date associated with a case. I acknowledge that some of my lecture material quickly outdates itself due to the very nature of Forensic Science and the continuation of the legal system. I asked where the student found the new information and was told “Wikipedia.” Classmates laughed, but it turned into a very informative experience for the entire class (myself included there). We found a more credible source – court transcripts – and were able to update the Wikipedia page with the court transcript information. I think this example of empowering students to use their knowledge and research skills can really be powerful.

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