Wikipedia becomes concern for professors

By Mallory Terrence
December 6, 2007

MCT campus/Wichita Eagle

Wikipedia, the constantly growing web-based encyclopedia, has many college professors concerned about the content of their student’s papers.

The free online encyclopedia is composed of peer-reviewed publications that allow anyone to contribute information. There is no criterion required to create or edit an existing page on Wikipedia, leaving many to question the reliability and accuracy of the site.

Although articles do have links to related sites and are cross-referenced, there is no way to know whether or not the information is accurate.

“I have stopped using Wikipedia. I had used it as a reference but then I found out four of my six references were bogus,” Jennifer Osinski, graduate student, said.

As of November 2007, Wikipedia had approximately 9.1 million articles in 252 languages, making it one of the largest online resources.

According to comScore Networks, Wikipedia was ranked in the top ten most popular Web sites in the United States. With 48.3 million unique vistors in August 2007, Wikipedia is listed above The New York Times.

Many college professors have banned the use of Wikipedia for all classroom related projects and papers. Professors have fears that students will learn false knowledge, take the easy route when researching and even possibly plagiarize the information found on Wikipedia.

“Wikipedia is worthless,” Megan Clementi, mathematics professor, said.

Not all professors dislike Wikipedia. In fact, one professor has turned her student’s last assignment into a Wikipedia creation.

The University of Washington-Bothell’s Martha Groom is requiring that all of her students produce a Wikipedia page or dramatically change an existing one, in place of the traditional term paper that is worth 60 percent of their final grade.

Professor Groom’s students in her environmental science and globalization class have to write a minimum of 1,500 words on a topic related to globalization or sustainable development.

History professor Mary Jean Lavery warns students to be careful when using Wikipedia. Professor Lavery does not ban the use of Wikipedia but recommends that students use back up references to veritfy the information.

“I would take off points on a paper if Wikipedia is the only reference used or if it was overused,” Lavery said.

Wikipedia’s commitment is to allow every single human to freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

“Some of Wikipedia is credible, and some is not. I am always suspicious when I come across something with no references. A good Wikipedia article doesn’t state anything that isn’t sourced,” Brian McNeil, a member of the Wikimedia press team, said, in an email interview.

“Wikipedia can be like a chain saw, a very useful and powerful tool that is dangerous and can kick back and damage the user if not handled carefully. I do allow students to use it with proper attribution,” John E. Lindros, history, politic science and business professor, said.

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Mallory Terrence

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