I am an educator who has a rocky relationship with Wikipedia. I’m not ashamed of my relationship; I swear. I just know I can’t take my sweet Wiki everywhere. I’m not being derogatory or snooty; I love Wikipedia. I really do. There are just some truths I have to accept about the relationship.
1. In my everyday life, Wikipedia is one of my favorite websites of all time.
I love using Wikipedia to look up random stuff. What was that show on PBS with the math Detectives? Wikipedia knows. Is a koala a type of bear? Wikipedia knows they aren’t. Gregor the Overlander was an amazing children’s series that was written by the woman who wrote the not quite as awesome but still good Hunger Games. When I couldn’t remember the name of the young princess in the Overland Chronicles, Wikipedia had me covered! I can get on Wikipedia and fall down the rabbit hole. I love it!
I have a little secret for you. If you are ever bored, try clicking random article. You’ll be smothered by cool, random information. Warning: You may lose a lot of time, but new knowledge is worth it. You are so very welcome my Dear Read.
At home, Wikipedia is my everything. In the classroom? Well that is a horse of a different color.
2. Wikipedia is inappropriate in the classroom or formal research.
The awesome thing about Wikipedia is that anyone can contribute. The bad thing about Wikipedia is that anyone can contribute. Sometimes there are inaccurate or vandalized articles. In Wikipedia’s defense, there have been great improvements over the years. The vetting process for contributors and article accuracy has come a long way. There is a dedicated community that keeps the articles updated, accurate, and documented with extremely valid, reliable sources. I love that there is a community who is committed to keeping the free online encyclopedia updated and accurate. If that is the case K. Renae P., why do you stand by the assertion that Wikipedia is inappropriate in academia? Great question Dear Reader!
3.There is a lot of plagiarism on Wikipedia.
More than anything, this is my main argument against Wikipedia in the classroom. I’ve heard many educators complain that “Wikipedia is not peer-reviewed” or “professionally vetted” (which is pretty valid in my opinion). Not me, my stance is plagiarism. Many of the articles borrow heavily from other authors; repeating word for word other authors’ thoughts and research. That alone makes it a source not citable or reliable.
I am not saying that makes Wikipedia a worthless source of information; I’m saying it is more appropriate to cite the original source. Most of the great, informational articles on Wikipedia have an outstanding reference list. However, if you visit some of the cited websites, books, or journals, you will see that the original Wikipedia article was heavily inspired by others’ words. I argue that those sources in the reference list should be cited and not my beloved Wiki. That brings me to my next point…
4. Wikipedia is a great place to start.
Most of Wikipedia include well written, highly researched, and well thought out articles. If you scroll to the bottom of the article, BAM– you have an entire reference list at your disposal. Don’t go reinventing the wheel. Work smarter, not harder. Go to the source. Read, use, and appropriately cite all the sources you use*.
5. Wikipedia has tons of primary sources like images, videos, important documents, and artifacts. The images on Wikipedia are usually high-quality and public domain.
Some examples of great primary sources from Wikipedia:
1. Audio of Theodore Roosevelt talking about the right of the people to rule. That’s his actual voice! Teddy’s voice is higher than I expected.
4. Old News Reel about the New London Tragedy: Natural gas has no smell naturally. Because of this natural gas explosion in 1937, the distinct smell of rotten eggs was added to natural gas so that we would be able to detect a gas leak.
There you have it. I love Wikipedia, but I don’t want my students citing it. I love reading the articles informally, but in formal settings, I just don’t think Wikipedia is proper. I believe that the primary sources are great, and the reference lists are often a an amazing resource; on the other hand, I better not see Wikipedia in my students’ bibliographies.
If Wikipedia were a person and we were dating, he’d break up with me for being wishy washy. But I can’t help it. Our love is complex and complicated. I’m not going to lie. I like it that way.
*Hey students, please stop copying from Wikipedia. We teachers know you use it at home (Yay!), but don’t take the words verbatim. If you’ve done it a lot and never been called on it, I’m sorry. You should have been.
Originally posted November 23, 2015. Updated April 21, 2015.