This entry is offered as a discussion starter. Over the last couple weeks I have chatted with several colleagues about what position we should take on student use of the Wikipedia online encyclopedia. Recent articles in the mass media, including a cover story in the Village Voice, have focused attention on problems related to this product. Many faculty have not heard of the Wikipedia, or if they have, they are not clear on what it really is or how articles are authored, posted, and edited. Last semester two students in my course listed Wikipedia articles in their term paper bibliographies.
The premise of the Wikipedia is that a community of interested people over time can work seriously to edit, fine tune and develop a consensus on the content of encyclopedia articles. However, there are many questions about the credentials of article authors, about the possibility of pranks, hoaxes, inaccuracies, and even intellectual vandalism. The Village Voice reports that author who has contributed the greatest number of entries is 17 years old.
On the other hand, a recent study by Nature found that Wikipedia articles on scientific topics were nearly as accurate as Britannica articles.
We could alert faculty to the controversy about the Wikipedia, point out that students can consult it to get background information, while understanding the questionable authority and constantly changing content. We could point out that at the college level, even Britannica articles and subject encyclopedia articles should be used for background as a point of departure for serious research and not as a source for term papers. We could publish the alert on our web page and request that Dennis Slavin broadcast an email message to faculty.
Here are some links for useful background, which could be included with the alert.What do people think. I suggest putting this on the agenda of an upcoming IS division meeting. Thanks to Stephen Francoeur for his help in gathering links and brainstorming on Wikipedia.