Is Wikipedia a reliable source?

In the April 24th podcast, there was talk about editing Wikipedia and the man who made 1 million edits (I still can’t read this article, btw, even with my VPN on. I’m so curious!) I know that it was not the main topic of discussion, but it made me think more about Wikipedia. Personally, I love Wikipedia and use it frequently as a quick little tool whenever something pops into my head and I want to know a little more about it. I probably use it as much as I use any search engine and more often than a dictionary.

But I am often left wondering about Wikipedia as an educational resource. I am an early elementary school teacher, but if I were anywhere between upper elementary to high school, I think I would not let my students cite Wikipedia in a paper or project. I see the value in it to “go further” or as a starting point for research. But I wouldn’t be satisfied with my students stopping there or believing everything they have read on Wikipedia. The fact that it is user generated is a blessing and a boon. It means that there will be more information, and that information will be timely and from many different sources. On the flip side, it might be objective, also means that the information will be subject to error or could still possibly be outdated. However, most of us know from personal experience that Wikipedia is updated constantly, faster than we can imagine. As for the information being objective – we read academic journals and editorials that are someone’s opinion. But in those cases, we know that it is someone’s opinion, and more importantly we know whose opinion it is.

I know for sure that The New York Times Company does not allow Wikipedia to be cited as a source, and it is possible that other news outlets have the same policy. So if it cannot be used as a journalistic source, can it be cited as an academic source? The advent of Wikipedia began as I was just finishing or graduated from college, so I don’t know how university professors feel about it. I looked up Wikipedia’s own thoughts on the topic – which are here. They give some good tips: Do your research properly and wisely. Remember that any encyclopedia is a starting point for research, not an ending point. (which funnily enough is what I thought in my first paragraph) They also say: Use your judgment. Remember that all sources have to be evaluated.

It’s good advice.

As teachers, how do we help students understand how to use Wikipedia responsibly?

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