With 1108 votes cast, the results are:
The poll returned a close result, with 45% of respondents voting
‘yes’ and 55% ‘no’ and this is reflected in the views of academic
librarians in the University.
It is true that the format of Wikipedia gives it several
advantages over existing academic sources.
Its ‘live’ nature means that it is continually updated by
contributors and is excellent for picking up new and fleeting
jargon terms and usually up to date so that it can react to events
and changes in culture as they happen – something established
academic resources can’t do with their lengthy editorial
Wikipedia does have some validity in the research process with
advantages over existing academic resources. It’s a fine starting
point for a quick overview, to familiarise yourself with a topic
that may be completely new to you and with useful links to related
However, students following a course of academic study are
expected to explore and engage with a full range of material to
present a balanced argument and shouldn’t rely on encyclopaedias as
a single research source.
It’s also worth noting that contributors to Wikipedia have
dropped significantly in recent times and maintenance of the site
could become a real issue.
The key objection we have with students using Wikipedia as an
information source is the question of authorship.
Its contributors, however well meaning, are often enthusiasts
with no academic standing (although some entries are breathtaking
in the level of detail they contain) and herein lays the central
point of opposition – students following a course of academic study
are expected to explore and engage with academic sources.
Academic sources have an editorial element and in many cases
they have the extra element of peer review, which in simple terms
means that the information is verified by experts in the field. In
its current version, academics may contribute to it but there is no
overall peer review and editing. Until this approach alters,
Wikipedia is simply unreliable.
An alternative “scholarly” option is scholarpedia (http://www.scholarpedia.org/)
which has a similar spirit to Wikipedia but where contributors are
invited to write articles for it based on their credentials.
On a practical level we have no problems with students or staff
using Wikipedia (or Google) as a starting point, as they both can
give a valuable oversight of a subject.
However, we believe it is vital is that students are given the
opportunity within the curriculum to develop their
information-seeking skills to enable them to retrieve information
from a wide variety of sources – in whatever format – to evaluate
for relevance and authenticity.
They can then critically analyse the information and communicate
it forward in an ethical and legal manner.
Chris Lambert, Helen Curtis, and Tom Hicks
Academic Liaison Team, Learning
and Information Services.
17 February 2010
University of Wolverhampton, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 1LY
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