"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
February 19, 2007

Wikipedia Not Suitable As A College Reference

Wikipedia has a great many merits – convenience perhaps being the greatest, the potential subversion of unjustified hierachies being another (though I’m less convinced about now). But, the danger is always present that Wiki-dependency might shortcut the educational process, both for college students and lifelong learners. Rick Mansfield has higlighted an example of a college […]

Wikipedia has a great many merits – convenience perhaps being the greatest, the potential subversion of unjustified hierachies being another (though I’m less convinced about now). But, the danger is always present that Wiki-dependency might shortcut the educational process, both for college students and lifelong learners.

Rick Mansfield has higlighted an example of a college discouraging students from citing Wikipedia in assignments [Link No Longer Available]. Whilst I don’t agree with Rick about encyclopedias not being suitable for references, since some subject specific ones (a commeter cites the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy also deserves a mention) are representive of the latest thought – I do concur with his assesment of Middlebury’s actions.

Any Encyclopedia should act as the first, not last stop in a research project, especially at college level or above. All my theological college papers in Biblical Studies and Theology started with a review of the ISBE. This helped me first familiarise myself with the scholary debates, but also allowed me to suppliment and interogate the set reading lists. But, the real work (thinking and learning) started when one was faced with primary texts and live, current debates. By the time I had a little experience in marking papers, it was pretty easy to separate those essays trapped at the encyclopedic/dictionary level from those that had grappled more profoundly with the question.

Under all this is an issue that maybe isn’t stated often enough or clearly enough. Education, real education, transformative and horizon expanding education, is hard work.

If your goal is to be well versed in theology and culture (or Biblical studies, or church history, or whatever), it will take time and it will take effort. There is always the option of being an imposter or a charlatan – pretending to be well read and so on; lots of people take that road I guess. But, to do it for real is not easy, not convenient and not without sacrifice.

That’s why I think it not only right, but important for tertiary institutions to clamp down on Wikipedia and help students learn to use it responsibility. This isn’t a question of intellectual elitism, it’s a question of intellectual honesty.

Responses
Adam G. 16 years ago

When I started college in 1994 in Missouri, the Internet was a new thing. I remember overhearing the librarians discussing what “URL” stands for and how it would be appropriate to list a “URL” in the works cited. One day I was using the college Internet (none of the students I knew had it on their home computers yet) when I very disgruntled fellow student asked me how to look up Colin Powell on the computer. He seemed to resent being given an assignment involving looking up info on a computer, especially with this completely alien thing called “the World Wide Web.” How things have changed! I agree completely that Wikipedia should not be used for college projects. Leave it to us bloggers!

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Adam thanks for your comments and yes I can also remember some very interesting conversations when first trying to reference online material in essays.

R. Mansfield 16 years ago

Fernando, perhaps I should have been more specific in my post. I agree with your statement about specialized encyclopedias. I was speaking more of general encyclopedias such as the Wikipedia and Britannica–both of which can be used as starting points of researh, but not final sources.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Sounds like we are in agreement then.

Interesting side-story. When I was a theology undergrad, one the students with the best GPA my college ever saw used to use his NIV study Bible as his first move on all Biblical studies essays (he Majored in OT. He would go from the study Bible notes to a first draft, then hit the library journals and commentaries to pad that out. He managed to produce some really well written essays but it was startling how little breadth there was to his reading.

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