Thursday, July 27, 2006



How do we teach our students to evaluate their information?
How do we change prevailing attitudes (especially in institutions of higher learning) to them?

I had an interesting conversation at my family reunion regarding wikipedia. My cousin, a professor at a California State University, was rather outspoken about the fact that the university has banned Wikipedia. Any paper with a reference to Wikipedia can not receive a grade any higher than a “B”. His point was that as a “source” the information has not been validated. While I appreciate the need to verify information I am wondering about the impact of this policy. My argument at the time was that Wikipedia is a great source to review and use to move through to other references. I felt the university policy denied or at best discouraged access to a wonderful source of information and perhaps more importantly to the discussions which center around the creation of many of the articles regarding important topics of knowledge. By default the policy and accompanying attitude probably means that the university professors are not contributing their knowledge base to this growing information portal. So I am saddened and not sure how to answer the second question above.

What can I do?
First, I still need to understand more fully how Wikipedia works. In the meantime, since the conversation with my cousin, I have been viewing some Wikipedia articles and have found the discussion tab and the reference section are wonderful resources. As an educator I need to spend time deconstructing Wikipedia articles with students. As a person who cares about this wonderful source of information I have a responsibility to work in my own areas of expertise providing references for the articles.


Karl Fisch said...

I think almost any time the words "university" and "banned" appear in the same sentence, it's a bad thing. I think they are missing a wonderful teaching opportunity by having such a blanket policy. I would also question what kind of criteria they have setup to determine what is a "valid" source. Surely if they have "banned" Wikipedia, they must have a clearly defined set of criteria that Wikipedia didn't meet - and all of the other "traditional" media sources have . . .

Barbara said...

Of course one professor can not speak on behalf of the whole university but the prevailing message was "anybody" can write a wikipedia entry and it is not peer reviewed... Sad I know..But I also think that things are evolving so quickly that unless you truely make an effort to understand and keep up decisions are made based on first impressions. Things are dismissed out of hand based on problems that take place during their early development.