A few months ago I mentioned the fact that the use of Wikipedia as a source of credible information for students is something we should encourage. Whether we like it or not, we need to acknowledge that students are using Wikipedia, as well as other online sources that aren’t nearly as credible. Rather than ban
it outright, which would be like trying to fight the tide, we
should teach students to use online resources responsibly and critically.
Here are a few guidelines that may help students get the most benefit from articles on Wikipedia.
1. Citation link
Students will cite online sources but often will format the citation poorly. In the left hand navigation column (the “Toolbox” box) of the relevant article on Wikipedia, you’ll see a link titled “Cite this page”. Clicking it will provide you with a correctly formatted citation for that article in several different styles (e.g. APA, Chicago, etc.). It also includes a great explanation of why you shouldn’t be using an encyclopedia
as a primary reference.
2. Reference lists
Most good articles will have comprehensive in-text citations and complete reference lists at the end. Encourage students to use these and other cues to establish the credibility of an article.
3. Add and improve
Students should be encouraged to add to and improve the content available on Wikipedia. If they see information they know to be incorrect, advise them on how to correct it, checking grammar and spelling and adding references to back up their contention.
4. Follow up on external links
Encourage students to follow up on the list of external links and references at the end of each article. That way, they may begin to understand the academic discourse that leads to the clarification and discussion of ideas in a specific field, as well as read the original sources of information.
By discussing these issues with students and providing them with the tools to critically analyse and evaluate the usefulness of content, they may learn how to distinguish between high quality, credible articles, and those which should just be used to provide background information.
Edit (25/09/08): Here’s a link to an article discussing a “study” of the use of Wikipedia by students. It’s interesting because of the subject but also because it gives some insight into the research method used to come up with the data: