Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Schools and standard news sources discourage use of Wikipedia

School systems report that they discourage students from citing Wikipedia as sources in research papers, largely because of Wikipedia's "amateur" origins and its admitted "lack of credibility" which is more of an admitted lack or guaratee of credibility.

Wealthier public school systems often purchase professional databases (such as World Book Online) whose information has supposedly been validated. Students may not always be able to use these easily from home, however.

In the old days, back in the late 1950s to 1961, in high school, I went through the exercise of keeping bibliographic information from published books and periodicals on index cards. Whole class periods were dedicated to making these cards, which had to be turned in with term papers. We were expected to go into DC (on the bus -- pre Metro days) and use the old library on Mass. Avenue and 9th St, as the libraries in Arlington then were much less adequate.

Likewise, professional news organizations don't allow citing of Wikipedia (or sites like mine) directly, although they can certainly use "accredited" sources that we often provide ourselves as references, and they can get the idea to cover a subtle issue from us in the first place.

Wikipedia raises an interesting philosophical question: should a speaker have to "earn" the right to be in the public space, or should material itself have to earn that right? It sounds like an incredible question to ask now. The freedom to publish democratizes the Internet and prevents one group in power from controlling what is published. But it is harder to say what is really credible.

For schools, where curriculums are politicized in the cultural wars, restricing accepted sources to those that have been officially "published" in the traditional manner may seem convenient. But the broader and controversial material from amateur sources is still out there.

Here is an interesting essay from Robinson Secondary School, Fairfax, Va. (almost adjacent to the George Mason University campus), school paper Valor Dictus, "Student Wikipedia Use on Rise," article by Chris Rice, at this link. (This is a blog on The Washington Post site.)

I have an earlier post about Wikipedia and "democracy in publishing" and Open Source, based on an ABC Nightline story, here (look for Sept. 13)

Update: 03-22-2007

NBC Nightly News had another story on the reliability of Wikipedia on March 22, 2007 . There is a correlated news story by Lisa Daniels and Alex Johnson, "The Word on Wikipedia: Popular online encycloperdia, plagued by errors, troubles educators", at this link. Many schools are not allowing Wikipedia to be cited as a primary source, although better Wikipedia articles often themselves point to conventional sources (which I also try to do on my own blogs).

Picture: actual index cards from a Va and US Government Class in 12th Grade, probably around December 1960, Washington-Lee High School, Arlington VA.

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