There is a disconnect between how students are taught to use Wikipedia and the way that they actually use it. The notion of an encyclopedia that anyone can edit has led teachers to warn that Wikipedia is unreliable and should never be used or cited as a source of serious research. In reality, most of us use Wikipedia all the time in our research. Defenders of Wikipedia’s contribution model even point out that democratization of contribution is beneficial and necessary for the level of breadth, depth, and reliability it has achieved. If Wikipedia’s open contribution model doesn’t stop researchers from using it, why are students taught to avoid it?
Our recent research sheds light on a way to bridge this disconnect between how Wikipedia is taught and how it is actually used. Despite the instruction received, focusing on Wikipedia’s contribution model does not impact the way that students use it. Students who attend to the contribution model when selecting sources for research are no more or less likely to find it helpful or citable as those who do not pay attention to it.
Rather than discouraging students from using it, educators should give students a nuanced view of the benefits and drawbacks to encourage them to properly incorporate it into their research process. (And yes, Wikipedia does have a place in the research process.)
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