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A tired topic: Wikipedia in graduate school

I don’t want to ever revisit this topic. Here goes.wikipedia-war-china-japan-rock-paper-scissors-demotivational-poster-1226442657.png

Each faculty member chooses to allow or disallow the citation of Wikipedia for different reasons. Here are my reasons with, of course, my rationale.

Wikipedia is a collective understanding of a topic. If a student cites such an understanding, then the citation is appropriate, provided the citation is complete with a date– dates are uniquely important with editable online content. If a citation of Wikipedia argues that information is an authoritative source, it’s wrong. Authority requires ownership of decisions and direct responsibility for what is claimed. To provide a citation to Wikipedia as an authoritative source reflects a misunderstanding of the media configuration in Inst Tech. In my courses, I ask that my students understand how the media works and what it means. So in my classes, inappropriate references to Wikipedia (Wikipedia as authority) are not permitted. My learners are expected to understand how media relates to information because that is a topic in Instructional Technology, and that includes understanding how a wiki, or any other real-time editable content, works. Having said that,Wikipedia is a wonderful resource to show what the public thinks about a topic, or what a group of people in the public think about a topic.

If one chooses Wikipedia as a source to show this, the date is extremely important. Public opinion changes and discussions naturally evolve. Therefore, I reject any citation of Wikipedia that lacks a date. Wikipedia also updates often. To present an argument that assumes otherwise is sloppy and misleading. Therefore, any citation to Wikipedia that lacks a date is not permissible in my courses. Again, doing so reflects a misunderstanding of the way information and media work together. Other instructors may accept such citations because what they teach is likely very different from what I teach.

The short answer one might get from some educators is that Wikipedia is a starting point but not an end destination—it should be used to find other sources. I don’t really buy into this either because at the graduate level, I expect more than following the work of whoever on Wikipedia. I expect my students to not release the responsibility of their understandings of topics to random individuals. There is no indication on Wikipedia about whether to not its sources on a particular topic are up to date. I suggest keeping that in mind when using Wikipedia as a launching point for research meant to have depth. It may or may not reflect the current state of public knowledge on a topic. Why do we want depth? Arthur Levine explains this better than I do.


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