Wikipedia has been the go-to source for many people over the last decade. Despite it being considered non-reliable, it is still one of the first places people look due to its ranking so high in search results. Academia is one of the industries that have not had a good relationship with Wikipedia throughout the years but this could be changing thanks to recent trends.
Due to Wikipedia not being considered a reliable source, many colleges and universities have banned its use by students for research projects. However, the Los Angeles Times recently reported that some college professors are actually using Wikipedia for classes, something that would not have been allowed just a few years ago.
Even though academia has shunned Wikipedia in the past, there seems to be a growing trend to allow its use in schools. There are many reasons why this could be occurring but here are some of the most common.
Wikipedia Now Being Edited by Experts
Wikipedia is no longer edited by a small group of editors. Many of them are experts in professional fields such as physicians, lawyers, and even professors. This pool of editors volunteers their time to make improvements to the site, editing existent content and creating new pages.
Wikipedia has become so difficult to navigate because of its vast rules that people even turn to professional Wikipedia services. That means you now have volunteer editors as well as outside paid editors contributing content to Wikipedia.
Editors Are Becoming More Diverse
A study by MIT found that Wikipedia is skewed toward technical, western, and male-dominated subject matter. This is reflective of the male-dominated editor pool. Over the last couple of years, Wikipedia has become more diverse thanks to “edit-a-thons” that have focused on removing gender bias from Wikipedia.
When you bring diversity into any situation, you will have more of an unbiased view. The same applies to Wikipedia. With editors of all genders, races, religions, etc., you will have more of a neutral point of view with articles, making them a more reliable and accurate account of history.
Students Now Editing Wikipedia as Class Assignments
Evidence that Wikipedia has become more acceptable in education can be seen in how many students are editing it as a class assignment. I am not talking about using it as a reference, but learning how and performing edits to the online encyclopedia for class credit.
Wikipedia has worked with the academic community for some time now, even creating Wikipedia projects to help teachers use it for assignments. Some of the most prominent universities even employ “Wikipedians in Residence” who work within the college to help students and teachers with Wikipedia.
Students Learning to Use Wikipedia the Right Way
Despite earning more respect in academia, it is still not advisable to cite Wikipedia for class assignments. This is due to the open access format where anyone can edit. Citing Wikipedia directly is a no-no but there is a way to use it as a starting point which many students are now taking advantage of.
According to the guide to using Wikipedia in academia, always go directly to the Wikipedia article about the topic you are researching. Then, scroll to the bottom under the “references” section. There you will find a list of all the reliable sources that you can use to cite in your paper. Students learning to use Wikipedia correctly are causing professors to trust its use more and more.
What Will be Next for Wikipedia and Academia?
I highly doubt that Wikipedia will ever be used as a direct citation for research. However, more educational institutions will likely move closer to allowing its use to begin your research. In addition to class projects where students edit Wikipedia directly, academia is likely to produce future Wikipedia editors from those who enjoyed using it for class projects.
What has been your experience with using Wikipedia in the classroom?