Wiki letdown

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My son came home from school yesterday with a tale of woe. His teacher rejected his use of the Wikipedia article in his report. His bibliography has to contain an encyclopedia, and his teacher didn’t approve of a web site as an encyclopedia.

For one thing, she requires that the bibliography include the date that the article was updated. My son told her it was updated yesterday—by him. She didn’t understand and couldn’t comprehend that he had updated an encyclopedia.

In contrast, Ross Mayfield’s 5th grader is working on a blog in class.

October 12, 2006 10:23 AM

My 12 year old got my IP blocked at Wikipedia this week when he screwed up something trying to edit an article. It's a little disconcerting that a teacher is that out of touch. I'm not sure either of my kids even know what an encyclopedia is.

October 12, 2006 11:50 AM

No offense, but wasn't this the obvious response? How many times has it been said that Wikipedia should never be used as an official reference. It should only be used as an informal resource, i.e. to do some initial gathering. Even Jimbo Wales has said this.

October 12, 2006 5:52 PM

I think I may be missing some satirical intent in your post but, just in case, I have to agree with the above comment. I get irritated with constant sniping against the extraordinary resource that is Wikipedia. I believe it knocks normal encyclopedias into a cocked hat in terms of breadth of coverage and ripping through the limitations, elitisms and prejudices of the canon. I use Wikipedia as an informal information source almost every day of my life (rather like walking into a bar and asking people about a subject I think they might know more about). However, it is not appropriate to be citing Wikipedia as source in an essay and it is right for the teacher to try to teach a pupil about proper citation. The reason Wikipedia has zero authority as a source is summed up in your sentence: "My son told her it was updated yesterday — by him". If we followed a Wikipedia friendly citation convention, bibliographies would look like this: Fields, Helen. "Virtual Healing." U.S. News & World Report 18 Oct. 2004: 70. Smith, John. Conversation in the toilet in McDonalds, Yesterday. Brown, Jim. Drunken argument over dinner, fortnight ago last Friday. Various. "Western Sculpture," Wikipedia.

October 12, 2006 5:54 PM

Well, they wouldn't look exactly like that, because they would have spaces between the lines!

Adam Kalsey
October 12, 2006 7:24 PM

The update he made was the addition of a link. "Cavilier" is a term used in the article and through the discussion page he found that many kids his age were using the article as a source for their reports. He didn't know what the term was and thought that other kids wouldn't either, so he linked the term to its Wikipedia entry. It's silly to think that a printed encyclopedia is an acceptable source while an online resource is not. The amount of peer review completed for a wikipedia article is immense and continues on a daily basis. The comparison of a wikipedia article to a conversation in a men's room is absurd to say the least. One is a conversation with a random person who may not know anything about the subject at all. The other is a conversation with thousands of people, many who are experts. It's important that multiple sources be cited in any essay. One single source isn't ever guaranteed or even likely to be accurate. Every day the New York Times publishes a list of errors in previous articles. Errors ranging from the trivial like a misspelling of a person's name, to significant factual errors. Were a student using one of these articles as a source, they'd have an error. Wikipedia is no different. It's a source. It's not *the* source. But I contend that it should be allowed as an encyclopedia resource. It's not appropriate to use an encyclopedia entry in a Ph.d. paper, but it's probably okay for a 5th grade report about a world explorer. And if an encyclopedia is an appropriate resource, there's no reason Wikipedia shouldn't be considered. Finally, I'd suggest that the way you'd cite Wikipedia is... "Baseball," Wikipedia, Oct 12, 2006,

October 13, 2006 2:09 AM

The amusing thing is that, if Wikipedia were a physical, printed book (or volume of books), whose articles could be indirectly edited by its readers by sending in additions and corrections to the editor, it would probably qualify as a "real" encyclopedia, no questions asked, just as Webster's or Britannica.

October 13, 2006 3:58 AM

eh. Good points on both sides. Me thinks 5 years from now, the Wikipeida will probably be generally accepted as an informal resource, like the vast majority of magazines and news-papers, but not as a scientific-journal or verifiable encyclopedia. To pull this into perspective though: when I was in 5th grade (I'm 23 now) I needed 508-papers (or something similar) for teachers to even accept my homework and essays typed. Today I'm sure it's quite the opposite, and thats how the technology-argument has progressed. To be fair to the teacher, I didn't understand the concept of a Wiki either, the first time I saw one - and I'm a web-developer. It'd be nice if elementary school teachers were automatically in-touch with the real-world their allegedly preparing children to live in, but my experience is thats NOT the case. I suppose thats why god created parents... :-P

October 13, 2006 5:14 AM

While taking a summer history course, the class was expressly told that Wikipedia was not to be used as an official reference. It could be, the professor, told us a good place to start but that we had to rely on established web sites for our bibliography. Maybe by the time your son gets to high school or college that will have changed.

October 16, 2006 8:00 AM

Methinks you shouldn't provide so many details. A resourceful hacker might have just discovered your son's IP address. (Discussion about how IPs are insignificant to hackers ensues)

October 18, 2006 4:49 PM

Wikipedia is a nice resourse for finding other things, but anyone who thinks it's reasonable to cite it doesn't understand what "authoritative" or "accurate" means.

October 21, 2006 2:43 PM

Adam Kalsey, I certainly wouldn't like to have come to a parent conference. Think about it. This isn't that big of a deal. Teachers have a much more pressing load than you can imagine.

This discussion has been closed.

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