To Wikipedia or Not?

I can remember when Wikipedia first came out and our English department had forbidden the use of it by our students.  I didn’t question the new rule and told all of my students the same thing…NO WIKIPEDIA!  I guided the students through research reports in Chemistry and biographies in Math and upheld the rule.  Two years ago, I decided to research exactly why our students couldn’t use this online encyclopedia.  Well, turns out that anyone can edit an article.  They have editors that manage what is posted and can delete posts if necessary.  The average editor is a 26 year old male graduate student.  I suppose they won’t catch everything.  Even so, this is what the students are gravitating towards.  They are using it no matter what teachers or professors say.  Some students just won’t cite the work from Wikipedia in order to get around the rule.  In my small amount of 13 years of teaching, I have found at least five papers plagiarized directly from Wikipedia.  All in all, I see no problem with it.  If one of my students were to write a biography on Archimedes, he will find general information that is useful for a biography.  With that said, if I had a student writing a paper on the analysis of medieval pigments, I would not expect them to be utilizing Wikipedia.  All things considered, in my classroom, it is okay to look up something on it and even cite it in a paper; however, it may not be the only source. I have since gone back to the English teachers and the policy of the school at this point in time is that all students are allowed to use Wikipedia as a general source of information as long as they have other sources.  I think it is quite fair.   Take a look at this article from  What do you think?  What do you allow in your classroom?


Think Wikipedia Isn’t Useful to Students? Think Again

Leave a Comment Posted by on June 18, 2012

Here’s a nice infographic showing facts and information about Wikipedia. A couple of things really caught my attention:

  1. 8 out of 10 students turn to Wikipedia for their first source of research.
  2. Fewer teachers are banning Wikipedia from being used for research.
  3. 56% of students will halt research if little information is found on Wikipedia.
As educators, we need to help students become better researchers, showing them that while Wikipedia is a resource, it is not the end-all-be-all and should be thought of as such. Most teachers require several sources to be used while doing research and Wikipedia is the king of citing other sources at the bottom of every page. This makes Wikipedia a great starting point for any research, not an ending point.



9 thoughts on “To Wikipedia or Not?

  1. I’m a big fan of wikipedia when used “properly.” I think it can be a great starting point – almost like a dictionary to get the basic understanding of a topic and then use “real” sources to get to the heart of the subject.

  2. There seems to be a negative view of Wikipedia in the education world. I think it is more important to teach kids how to assess the information, rather than forbid the entire site. Many times there are links to useful sources at the bottom of the articles. Also, Wikipedia is a great way for students to assess the information and make their own edits (based on research) to improve the content.

  3. I found that infographic so telling, especially about halting research if it can’t be found on wikipedia. I have seen that a lot with my eighth graders. For my junior high English students, I have two rules about using Wikipedia.

    (1) It cannot be a source for essays. The topics they need to choose have to be “academic” enough so that Wikipedia is not a source. However, they can use Wikipedia as a jumping off point, since a lot of articles have links on the bottom or other citations. I do it this way because I want my students to know that Wikipedia. An be edited by anyone, so information can be incorrect, but it can also provide enough information to lead them in the right direction.

    (2) Students can use it for their own informal informational purposes, but should not take the article as Gospel (i.e., double check the information with other sites). This way, they are learning to be aware of the information they read and to double check information elsewhere.

    • I often have students who say there is not enough information on the Internet of a particular just because they couldn’t find it on Wikipedia. Crazy, huh? It is important to teach them how to research but allow them to be responsible for themselves. I also like them to use Wikipedia as a jumping off point, the only difference would be that because they did use it, I want them to list it in the references. I normally request at least three references. With that said, I am certainly not an English teacher and usually only assign very short research papers or an autobiography here and there. I suppose English teachers would definitely have different rules entirely. 🙂

  4. Tanya, I have to be honest and say that as a high school teacher I hated when my students used Wikipedia (granted, that was over nine years ago now). I think it was because I didn’t see it as that reliable a source. Even now, when I look at the information on the Virtual School entry or the cyber charter school information on the Charter School entry, I’m reminded of the fact that neither of these entries are that reliable or that accurate. I wonder how many other entries suffer from the same issues.

    I’ve often decided that I was going to take it upon myself to re-write both entries (or at least the Virtual School entry, and then the section on cyber charters from the Charter School entry), but every time it seems that the deluge of deadlines prevents it.

  5. Tanya,
    I was an English teacher and I can tell you that in my graduate level English courses, our Professor told us a scary tale. One semester she told her students not to use Wikipedia for a source. Earlier in the semester, she has unbeknownst to her students, posted false information about Chaucer on Wikipedia under biographical information. Well, as you probably have guessed, one, not so bright student, chose that information for their report and never checked it. The student received a failing grade on the report and had to resubmit on a different topic, but she had made her point. Anyone can post. Wikipedia does have staff that check facts, and rely on others to check facts, but that could take weeks or months to get it corrected. How much damage could be done in that amount of time?
    I always got groans from students when I said no Wikipedia, so basically, I decided I would let them but I would make it a miserable process (aka more work). I told them that they could use a Wikipedia source, if they could find that same fact, stat or quote on 3 other websites. They would have to list all four in order to receive credit. One bright student asked, “Mrs. Rose, if you can find it on three other websites, then why bother with Wikipedia?”
    Why, indeed, my friend. Why, indeed.

    • That is a great rule for an English teacher! My point is that if you tell a student they can’t do something, it makes them want to do it more. In my class, being math and not English. I allow it. It can’t be your sole source of information, but they will go there anyway so why not include it?

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