I recently had an interesting discussion with a history teacher about Wikipedia. We were in my library and a science class was doing some research. The science teacher told the students in no uncertain terms that they were not, under any circumstances, to use Wikipedia. This prompted our discussion with both of us (the history teacher and I) of the opposite view. We agreed that Wikipedia is in fact an excellent starting point for most research tasks, although it should never be the only source used. Every Wikipedia article includes references which are valuable resource for locating other relevant resources, probably more quickly and efficiently than the average Google search. So widely accepted is Wikipedia these days that even academic writing references it occasionally (I saw several terms linked to Wikipedia for a quick definition in INF530). But still, teachers at my school almost universally ban its use.
So I was very pleased to see this article in module 3: Librarypedia: the Future of Libraries and Wikipedia. The article outlines the projects going on as part of Wikipedia Library:
The Wikipedia Library is an open research hub for improving the world’s largest encyclopedia and connecting readers back to libraries and reliable sources.
[Wikipedia Library connects active Wikipedia] editors with libraries, open access resources, paywalled databases, digital reference tools, and research experts. It is a place for active Wikipedia editors to gain access to the vital reliable sources that they need to do their work and to be supported in using those resources to improve the encyclopedia. (Orlowitz & Earley, 2014)
Wow! The credibility of Wikipedia just took another leap. If some of the people writing and editing articles are being supported to access authoritative resources then I think it’s time for a change of attitude among teachers.
Of course we should continue to teach students to treat what they read on the Internet with healthy skepticism unless they can find other resources to back it up but I think it’s time we accepted that the self-regulatory environment and the enormous range of resources available to editors make Wikipedia the “first port of call”, just as the World Book Encyclopedia or Encyclopedia Britannica were in the past.