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Education The Internet

Professors To Ban Students From Citing Wikipedia 507

Posted by Zonk
from the we-have-these-things-called-books dept.
Inisheer writes "History professors at Middlebury College are tired of having all their students submit the same bad information on term papers. The culprit: Wikipedia — the user-created encyclopedia that's full of great stuff, and also full of inaccuracies. Now the the entire History department has voted to ban students from citing it as a resource. An outright ban was considered, but dropped because enforcement seemed impossible. Other professors at the school agree, but note that they're also enthusiastic contributors to Wikipedia. The article discusses the valuable role that Wikipedia can play, while also pointed out the need for critical and primary sources in college-level research." What role, if any, do you think Wikipedia should play in education?
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Professors To Ban Students From Citing Wikipedia

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  • by uber_geek9 (879433) on Friday January 26, 2007 @01:48PM (#17772656)
    We learned in elementary school that you aren't supposed to use an encyclopedia as a source! Especially one freely editable.
  • by Darvin (878219) on Friday January 26, 2007 @01:51PM (#17772740)
    I don't cite from Wikipedia, however i do use the sources and citations used from Wikipedia without mentioning the wiki article itself.

    I know many of my peers that use it religiously, and many of those papers are practically clones. However, if my lecturers started to try and stop the use Wikipedia for material, I'll be the first to point out that little hypocritical rule. My lectures use Wikipedia abundantly in their hand-outs, notes and references to their own work when lecturing!
  • by Rakishi (759894) on Friday January 26, 2007 @01:55PM (#17772852)
    Exactly, everytime I hear of this I wonder what sort of shit college this must be. Encyclopedias should be banned period, they are a reference to find other sources not a source themselves. Hell, even in middle school we were told that encyclopedias are not a proper source and not to use them as such.
  • Re:Seems Consistent (Score:3, Interesting)

    by krotkruton (967718) on Friday January 26, 2007 @01:58PM (#17772946)
    Not contrary to your statement, FTA: All faculty members will be telling students about the policy and explaining why material on Wikipedia -- while convenient -- may not be trustworthy.

    They will be explaining why material on Wikipedia may not be trustworthy. If they do this, then why do they need to ban Wikipedia from being used as a source. Shouldn't explaining Wikipedia's role and saying, "There are very few situations where it is acceptable to use Wikipedia, so if you want to be safe, just don't cite it as a source," be good enough to stop this so-called "problem"?

    And on that note, what makes a school changing its citation policy newsworthy? English departments do this from time to time and citation policies can change drastically from one professor to the next. Just because the source in question here is Wikipedia doesn't make it special. The students at this school have not been taught how to use sources properly, so the school needs to teach them instead of making a publicity stunt out of it.
  • Re:Sources (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ZachPruckowski (918562) <zachary.pruckowski@gmail.com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @01:59PM (#17772950)
    One major problem is that with all the WP mirrors, it's easy to find half a dozen "sources" that back WP up (being copies of a week-old version of WP)
  • by AxelBoldt (1490) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:22PM (#17773446) Homepage

    I've seen articles on there that authoritatively claim "the first one was built at..." with no dates and no citation. It may even be true, but there's no way to check. I just throw {{fact}} on those.
    I think citing sources is vastly overrated. So what if I can find a source that states the first one was built in 1768? Will you ever find out that the vast majority of scholars actually agree that the first one was built in 1762? No, because the cited reference won't tell you that. Only a thorough and comprehensive study of the literature in the field will tell you that. Here's my take on references in Wikipedia [wikipedia.org].
  • by IHC Navistar (967161) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:25PM (#17773498)
    Wkipedia should be used by students as simply a general guid to sudjects that they are not familiar with. I t should be the same as asking a freind who just happens to know alot about everything. It should be used as a basic, 'here's-the-idea' type resource. For example, if I had to give a report on the effects of.....say....."the influence of metallurgical advances on the evolution of cooking utensils", I would probably go to Wikipedia for a rough idea about coking utensils and metallugy. I know about metallurgy, but not enough to help with the specific application in question. BUT, if I go to Wiki for info on cooking utensils and, separaely, metallurgy, I would probably have a good idea what was going on, but nothing accurate enough to write a report on, but enough to get me headed in the right direction.

    Using Wikipedia as an encyclopedia is just asking for a problem. The Professors have every argument prohibiting it's use as a source or citation in reports. It's simply too inaccurate, and, from the student's vantage point, impossible to tell what and where *exactly* innacuracies are.

    I would NEVER and HAVE NEVER used Wikipedia as a 'source' of information. The only things I use it for is if I want to get a basic hold on a subject that I don't anything about. If you want accurate, buy the World Book or Encyclopedia Britannica encyclopedias.
  • by w33t (978574) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:28PM (#17773576) Homepage
    Perhaps wikipedia should have peer-reviewed revisions of certain articles.

    It would be neat if a group of accredited individuals would be willing to take the time to review certain popular articles and make expert revisions and release a "green" revision of an article. There could be a link on the article page saying, "click here for the peer-reviewed revision from 11-29-06" or something to that nature.
  • by serial_crusher (591271) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:32PM (#17773670)
    I hated it when professors would mandate that you couldn't have any sources from "The Internet", or had to have so many that were from "real books". Get with the times people. Sure, you could argue that "The Internet" as a whole is not reliable because crackpots can post their own web page. But is "printed media" as a whole any better? It's about judging the validity of an individual source, but these idiots didn't realize that "The Internet" wasn't one big source. In the case of Wikipedia, however, I have to agree that it shouldn't be directly cited. It's a frequently changing page which will allow for some inaccuracies. While the overall community tries their best to moderate it, it's feasible that some BS might make its way out there just long enough for a student to cite it in his paper. Any good Wikipediaer will cite sources for the information he's putting up there, so the student might as well follow the link and quote the other source if it's reputable.
  • by fantomas (94850) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:32PM (#17773696)
    We need to disentangle why Wikipedia (and other resources) might not be suitable for citing

    1. Rapidly changing content. Can be resolved be identifying which specific version is being referred to, like any other resource.

    2. Not authoritative. University level educators usually prefer only peer-reviewed material to be cited, or material to have been checked by some reasonably trustworthy rigourous procedure. This is where Wikipedia is potentially weakest, or perhaps most challenging of the traditional model.

    I can understand the college making its life easier by a blanket ban on Wikipedia, it's up to Wikipedia to raise its standards to be acceptable to academic institutions.

    In a number of cases I know of high quality articles, for example where the primary authors are world-renown in the field they are writing on. But the amount of work required to identify high quality articles is probably still too great for a harassed lecturer who has a hundred essays to mark amongst a thousand other jobs, I can understand them falling back on only accepting from known sources.

    My question would be: what does Wikipedia have to do to become accepted as an academic source?

  • by kenthorvath (225950) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:39PM (#17773836)
    I think that professors should assign students to contribute to Wikipedia as part of their grade. All entries and modifications should be run passed the professor first, of course, and all factual assertions should be cited - but I think that there is an enormous opportunity to increase the value of both the encyclopedia and the students' educational experience. Learning to write articles and express factual information succinctly is just too important a skill to forgo. Also, if Academia were to become more involved in the quality control of the encyclopedia, they might be more apt to use it.
  • by bknack (947759) <bknack@siliconsurfers.com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:52PM (#17774098) Homepage
    Might be interesting if students were asked to edit Wikipedia articles based on their corrected papers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:06PM (#17774352)
    I doubt this will even get modded up to the point where anyone will see it, but I've cited Wikipedia. It was for a math research paper; the Wikipedia article had a much clearer derivation of an identity than I could find in any textbook. I checked the math and found it believable, and it wasn't cited. I wasn't about to take credit for it myself; who the hell else was I supposed to cite? For that matter, how are students expected to deal with Wikipedia entries citing books they can't get their hands on, or websites that no longer exist? It's pretty harsh to think that a fact's probably out there, but you can't use it because you can't get to the original source. I know I'm in the tiny minority, but if I were grading a student who cited Wikipedia I don't think I'd blink. In some subjects (those esoteric enough that it doesn't occur to pranksters to vandalize them - I'm thinking specifically higher math) it's pretty well peer-reviewed.
  • Re:Everything! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dafing (753481) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:09PM (#17774432) Journal
    I love Wikipedia, right now I have about 200 bookmarked links in my browser, and every time I try and work through that, I end up adding even more! God, I can't believe how people can outright Ban Wikipedia for Schools and such. I think that I've learnt more from Wikipedia in the last year than I ever did from being at school. Given the chance of all that schooling or a Macbook Pro and Wikipedia, I know what I would choose and it would be cheaper!

    Now, I am not a fanboi, I do understand the concern for accuracy. But to outright ban it? Wikipedia is my first and usually last source on anything, mainly because I just use it to learn for myself, not for a paper or whatever, and because its got a consistent, easy to use interface. I do try google to find my information but I find so many sites that tell you the same thing again, in different words, that its not worth trying to see if "Wikipedia was wrong".

  • by xianfa (974194) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:19PM (#17774646)

    It would be better to live within your means and have a parent stay at home and provide schooling

    I hear you on that one. My wife teaches our 10 year old daughter at home. We have felt that it is the best in the long run, because we can tailor her learning to her individual learning style. We also get the added benefit of picking the curriculum. I was actually quite suprised at the number of high quality teaching texts available, which public school systems seem to ignore (probably through sheer laziness of the purchaser). My daughter has the advantage of being able to take science classes with marine biologists at our local aquarium, as well as ecology/botany classes with a wildlife biologist at a local state park.

    The issue of one income is a tough one, however I was fortunate enough to A.) never had two incomes (she went to college, then we had a child) and B.) I make a decent living.

    I think public schools are just becoming free daycare centers. I am in the fortunate position of having friends who teach in the public school system, at the elementary and high school level, and it makes me thankful that my wife is passionate about teaching our daughter. The problems they have with school administrators/parents/children are unbelievable. It seems that schools are more interested in not getting sued, than actually teaching children.

    To anyone in this forum thinking about homeschooling your children, I say it is rewarding, but check your local laws. Some States, here in the US, are quite hostile towards homeschooling, and other States are quite supportive.

  • by Hierarch (466609) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `adeeNniatpaC'> on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:34PM (#17774950) Homepage
    There are times when it's appropriate.

    I'm a doctoral student in networking. Last year, I had occasion to write an online survey paper on networking traffic models. I used primary sources for everything I could find, and then I used secondary sources for a few papers that were unavailable. During peer review, a few readers complained that I didn't provide derivation or citation for things I'd consider to be required background material (such as the mean inter-arrival time for exponentially distributed arrivals). For those points, I provided a link to the relevant Wikipedia article on, say, the Exponential Distribution [wikipedia.org]. These were all collected in a dedicated “Informational Resources” section, and were all from Wikipedia.

    They weren't exactly citations, they were more a matter of, “If you're reading this paper and you lack the fundamental background, here's where you can catch up.”

    I wonder if that use would fall under the ban in TFA?
  • Re:Use it properly. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EastCoastSurfer (310758) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:42PM (#17775106)
    Responding to AC heh. It's not that I think there is something inherent about a library that is good for research, but I can't imagine that all research is either a) searchable online or b) available online. Online research sites like citeseer, google, and yes even wikipedia are great starting places for doing research. But to only use those is to miss out on a lot of other research that is out there.

    It's not about saying it was harder back in my day. You could even argue it was easier since there wasn't nearly as much noise back then.
  • by ElectusUnum (520161) <matt@hevanet.com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:22PM (#17775876)
    My teacher decided against a textbook and saved us all a lot of money by providing links to wikipedia articles on each topic we cover. Obviously not ever professor out there is up in arms, but I do realize that the subject of the class matters a lot (I'm taking a computer science course).
  • Re:Use it properly. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jfmiller (119037) on Friday January 26, 2007 @05:08PM (#17776706) Homepage Journal
    With the Disproportional penalties for plagiarisms in Academia I, and many other students have been counseled to note meticulously everything we read or even touch on a research topic. Even if one never intentionally refers to it anything one reads is likely to be part of the thought process, and God forbid 3 words from a well know internet source end up in the same order in your paper and you haven't listed it the best you can hope for if to flunk the class. I would advise all students to add a line or foot-note to every paper saying "Wikipedia pages titled '...' were consulted in the research for this paper" even if you don't actually quote or paraphrase it intentionally. You never know a phrase like "enlightened traditional ideology" might trip the plagiarism meter on the overzealous and inaccurately paper checker your Prof. got from a box of Crackerjacks.

    For my two cents writing research papers is Academic Hazing and has no real value in undergraduate or professional level education.
  • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @05:40PM (#17777180) Homepage Journal

    I absolutely encourage students to use Wikipedia - just not to cite it. It's a great way to find sources, but it's not a primary source. And we only want to see primary sources cited.

    I agree with this in principle, as any encyclopedia is a tertiary source. But if a student wants to read and cite a primary source that the institution's library doesn't have an annual subscription to, what should the student do?

  • by Warg! The Orcs!! (957405) on Friday January 26, 2007 @05:46PM (#17777268)
    ahh, but history is fascinating. I get the point about the repeated lie becoming the truth. One of my favourite questions is...

    Who won the First World War?

    Most US/UK/French people asked would say "We did". The 'truth' is that no-one won WWI: it was a draw. All combatants agreed to stop fighting on 11/11/1918. The fact that Germany was royally shafted afterwards is a separate issue. The lie that Germany was beaten in WWI persists to this day and says quite a lot about our own need for self-validation.
    History is not about dates and battles, these are the punctuation in the story of our time on Earth. The real history is what lies between them - power, money, greed, lust, fear, anger and struggle. All good stuff and quite entertaining.
  • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @06:22PM (#17777894) Homepage Journal

    It is generally accepted that George Washington was the first president of the US. At what point do you take your reference to or cite that would be authoritive?

    To back up an assertion that George Washington held the first office of POTUS and that George H. W. Bush held the 41st, we can cite a page on whitehouse.gov [whitehouse.gov]. If someone later discovers whitehouse.gov to be unreliable, the article remains open to competing sources added to the article or (in cases of the most often vandalized articles) to the article's talk page.

    Unless you actually witnessed the event yourself, you can not be sure it actually happened as others may have stated.

    Wikipedia doesn't give a d*mn about truth [wikipedia.org]. The goal of an encyclopedia is collection of verifiable information. For instance, the scientific theories of aether [wikipedia.org], phlogiston [wikipedia.org], and heat as a fluid [wikipedia.org] are no longer considered "true", but it is verifiable that at one time, those theories were widely accepted.

  • by HiThere (15173) <charleshixsnNO@SPAMearthlink.net> on Friday January 26, 2007 @09:32PM (#17779816)
    Wikipedia *isn't* a primary source. I doubt that it's even a secondary source. Tertiary or later would be more accurate.

    OTOH: What *IS* a primary source? If you're an archaeologist, it's going on a dig, and it's what *YOU* dig up. Then there's what someone you know well claims to have dug up. But do notice that these primary sources are:
    1) limited, and
    2) not dated.

    Well, in chemistry or physics, it's the experiments that you, yourself, have performed. Much more widely replicable, but the subtlties of interpretation are dictated by the texts you have read. (They *SHOULDN'T* determine the result...but I occasionally repeated experiments until I got the results that I *ought* to get.) Texts, again, are not primary sources.

    Isaac Asimov was a professor of BioChemistry (at Columbia?) and he wrote an couple of articles on tracing plagerism in textbooks by the errors that they include. Textbooks seems to rarely be primary sources. (My favorite was called "The Sound of Panting". I don't know if it's currently available.)

    Stephen J. Gould wrote an article on tracing the heritage of scientific articles by the metaphors that they used. I forget it's title. Again the theme was how rarely articles, books, etc. were written relying solely on primary sources.

    So library books aren't primary sources either. Neither textbooks not journal articles. Some of them may be first generation copies, but you can't easily tell. And then there's the cases of scientists with reputations who make up their facts. (Medwar?)

    Primary sources are definitely preferable. But when it costs a few million to run the experiment there are few students that can afford them. (I'm thinking Tevatron, etc., here.)

    So the question, then, is more "How do you validate the trustworthiness of you data sources?" (After all, that's *why* primary sources are better.)
  • by crashnbur (127738) on Saturday January 27, 2007 @03:25AM (#17781758)
    I wrote many papers when I was in high school in college, and nearly every instructor gave the same warning: the internet can be a valuable guide, don't trust anything you read without something solid to back it up.

    But perhaps more importantly, the information contained in any encyclopedia is usually a summary of sorts, based on information gathered from a multitude of more credible and valuable sources. A WikiPedia entry is therefore, in many ways, like a student's paper turned into a professor for grading: someone did a little research, organized their findings into a convenient arrangement, and turned it in (with the chance of the effort being rejected).

    So, what role should WikiPedia play in education? As a guide, at most. A WikiPedia entry, like any good encyclopedia entry, will associate its topic with various keywords and other topics relevant to the research. And always, always check the citations!

One of the chief duties of the mathematician in acting as an advisor... is to discourage... from expecting too much from mathematics. -- N. Wiener

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