Better answers from a community you don’t know

It should come as no surprise that I would pay homage to a community when it comes to getting better answers.

There is a terrific source that isn’t recognized as a source in academia.  That’s Wikipedia.  There was a time when even the name would raise the hair on the back of academic necks.  Those powerful arguments – you know them – it’s not credible, anyone can create an entry, the content may change from day to day, … are actually good recommendations for any web based resource that you may elect to use.  The fact that the project is due Friday, will be marked over the weekend, and then returned on Monday should not be missed in this discussion.

I still remember a session with David Warwick working with some terrific students and our superintendents talking about Wikipedia.  His premise that it is one of the first and best places to start research still resonates with me.  He even encouraged the students to edit and add articles that they feel that they have an expertise about. 

Like any other search engine, Wikipedia has a simple search box but extends your ability to find content with advanced searching tools.

In addition to searching, the portal page is a great start to narrow your searching by topic.

Wikipedia, itself, includes a statement about using its content for Academic use.

So, given this, why use it?  Check out this story about How today’s college student use Wikipedia for course-related research.

That many search engines will return Wikipedia articles among the top hits should be no surprise.  In terms of readability, since the content is populated by community, it is easily understood by those visiting.  It’s not necessarily the wild west as some people would have you believe – there are standards and pages that don’t meet the standards are flagged.

So where does the power of use of Wikipedia lie?

In the content provided by the community.

Unlike a traditional encyclopedia that is pretty static in terms of its content, any good Wikipedia page is a wonderful collection of links to offsite, first person resources and each article concludes with references to these first source links.  These links that are acceptable to academia are shared and published by the researching/building community.

For a timely example, check out the Wikipedia page for Justin Trudeau. It’s a perfect example of how quick to respond to world events that Wikipedia can be.

I would defy anyone to find that wealth of resources in the first 10 hits of a Google search.  Built on the wisdom of the community, this is a great portal to all things Justin.  As he moves closer to accepting the office of Prime Minister, yes, it will change.  As you should expect the page is already updated with information about the election that was held two days ago.  Check it out for a confirmation of the value of Wikipedia.

There are still those who don’t accept this as a legitimate source.  I think, that in the year 2015, it’s a disservice to students to not dig into how it works and how it can work for them. 

2 thoughts on “Better answers from a community you don’t know

  1. nodding madly at my desk! 🙂 Yes, and I work through this with my students when I get the chance (reasons I want to be a librarian #kajillion). The resources that the authors have referenced are where I often send my students. I always say that wikipedia is an amazing beginning point for your research, not the end point. I was lucky enough to hear the amazing Anita Brooks Kirkland speaking about Wikipedia at the OLA superconference (2005, maybe?). She really got me thinking about looking at the references, and who was posting them, and how kids could learn to edit and….it’s a great tool, and we do a disservice to our students when we say “no” categorically, without looking at it with them.


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