Written by Harold Henkel, Associate Librarian
As part of the Library’s finale event for National Library Week (see article) on April 15th, the Library announced the winners of the essay contest on the same topic as the debate: Scholarly Research in Higher Education: What should be the role of Wikipedia?
Dr. Carlos Campo presented certificates and prizes ($100, $50, and $25) to the first, second and third place winners:
- 1st Place: Julie Woodruff, School of Undergraduate Studies, English Major
- 2nd Place: Yanina James, School of Undergraduate Studies, Professional Communications Major
- 3rd Place: Seth Bridges, School of Psychology & Counseling, Doctoral student in Psychology
Later in the event, Julie Woodruff read her essay and joined the faculty debaters for audience Q & A. The complete event may viewed at http:www.regent.eduadminmediafmsvodsinglePlayerURL.cfm?address=9000288.
The Library is proud to publish here the three prize-winning essays:
Julie Woodruff: Starting Points
When a student enters the Regent University Library website and clicks into the databases icon, they have the option to begin with “starting points.” What is a starting point? It is a place to begin. New media technologies are re-creating the academic environment and Wikipedia is a leader in this online learning environment. There is no resisting the change that new media is bringing to academia and technology will continue to change the scholarly environment. In the online world of articles, books, blogs and wikis, a place to begin is crucial. Wikipedia is that place to begin.
The historic Socratic method teaches that discussion, including question and answer, is the method that best highlights new ideas and brings greater understanding to an audience. The learning occurs through the sharing and discussing of ideas. Wikipedia serves as a communication technology that allows for the sharing and critiquing of information about various topics. It is a place where all can come to edit, share, gain and critique information. Wikis have made the goals of post-modernity possible by allowing for the voices of many people, educated or not, to be heard. Culture is an influential and ever-changing factor in academic study. Wikipedia open information environment allows for a more culturally influenced perspective as it does not limit information sharing to a particular group, educated or not. The presentation and critique of various ideas is a cornerstone in higher education, and technologies like Wikipedia help make new ideas and perspectives available.
Still, Wikipedia is not peer-reviewed or mediated. The only mediation is the editing available to everyone at the click of a mouse. No standard specifies what can or cannot be written or what topics are appropriate for discussion. Therefore, a Wikipedia user accepts the risk that information found on Wikipedia is possibly erroneous. It is not appropriate to cite Wikipedia information as bona fide knowledge or as a primary source in research. Even Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia, did not create Wikipedia to be used as a scholarly source. He claimed, “The goal is to give people a free encyclopedia to every person in the world, in their own language. Not just in a ‘free beer’ kind of way, but also in the free speech kind of way.” The goal of Wikipedia is to provide information to everyone as an avenue of free speech, not necessarily a scholarly source. A student who relies on Wikipedia as a primary source in their research is not being scholarly but instead lazy.
Wikipedia is not a qualified scholarly source, but is best used as a place to begin. Today, research occurs more often at a computer than in rows of books at a library. Wikipedia is an excellent online environment to start researching with. It allows for a broad perspective on information sharing for a student to define a niche and begin research. It is a starting point, not an end point.
Commonly known as the most unreliable source for scholarly information, Wikipedia has made its way onto every internet capable database in the world. Whether our searches are scholarly or trivial, Wikipedia has become a so- called “quick stop shop” for instant information. However, the continuous question remains and can be applied to every area of life and study, is easy access to information ever a reliable source? The name itself, Wikipedia derives from the words wiki, describing a website or similar online resource which allows users to add and edit content collectively and also from the Hawaiian word wiki wiki, meaning “quick” and also encyclopedia. Though allowing unrestricted editing of content can present dangers, as far as providing undeniable and factual information to its readers; is Wikipedia completely useless to us?
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, clearly expresses that his “readable product” is not meant for those us who have unending access to resources of information, but for those who without Wikipedia would not have access to information that could potentially save the lives of many (Henkel, 2010). This statement has developed into one of Wikipedia’s foundational truths as it has grown into one of the largest reference web sites, attracting nearly 68 million visitors monthly as of January 2010. Moreover, there are more than 91,000 active contributors working on more than 15,000,000 articles in more than 270 languages. Furthermore in this statement by Wales, it can be seen that the purpose of Wikipedia is not to be the top scholarly source for information, but to provide some type of information were it is most limited.
As students with countless amounts of scholarly sources at our fingertips, our professors push us to take advantage of those many resources, such as books, reviews and journals because they are available. Yes, it is easy for us to equally take advantage of online sources, such as Wikipedia, however it can be better put to use as a comparative resource rather than a main source of information. Wikipedia can still be used, but if its information does not line up with a more scholarly source then it can be of no real help to you. As stated by Albert Einstein, “Information is not knowledge”, therefore it is up to us to separate information from knowledge. Only true sources of information help you tap into needed knowledge. Educators are aware of this by telling us to not use Wikipedia as a source. We must have a hunger for the truth in every area of our lives, or typical information will never help us reach knowledge. The process is long and can be stressful, but the benefits are never short term and understanding anything through search and discovery is always better than easy access.
These days, there is a Wiki for just about anything: from music groups to video games, one can simply type into their browser the name of just about any subject along with the word “wiki” and be rewarded with a Wiki page dedicated to that particular topic. With the advent of socially editable online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia, academics are faced with the decision of whether or not to utilize this readily available tome of mass knowledge in order to write term papers, perform research, and gather recent updates regarding favorite topics; however, the academic community has been slow to embrace or acknowledge the validity of the multitude of online Wikis as sources of information. Why is this? What risks do professors and researchers see that the average student with a paper due the next day fails to understand? What prevents a researcher from referencing a Wiki page at the end of their documents?
The fact that Wiki pages are available for editing by any person leaves the validity of the content of articles up to serious debate. The dearth of peer-review of the information contained within Wikis presents a problem within an academic community predicated upon such scrutiny. Sometimes, information is added to a page as details become available or when sufficiently corroborated evidence is sparse. This can lead to a miscommunication of facts that can affect how people understand certain situations. Alternatively, this can lend itself to the risk of someone editing a page in a biased manner, entering information that aligns with their interpretation of facts rather than in an unbiased, objective manner. One could even go a step further and suppose that for whatever reason someone may alter the contents of the Wiki page in order to deliberately deceive visitors to that page. Researchers naively relying on such sources are thus vulnerable to misinformation that could alter the contents of their scholarly work. But is there any benefit to the use of a Wiki page for the researcher?
When an edition is made to a Wiki page, a request for a citation regarding the new material is often made. The individual will have the opportunity to provide the source of their information, and a reference citation (sometimes taking the form of a hyperlink to the source) will be noted at the bottom of the page. If provided, these sources might be utilized as primary or secondary material that is of some value to the researcher. Thus, as a direct information source, Wiki pages can be somewhat risky; however, as a conduit through which one might expedite the process of research, Wikis may present some value. By their very nature, Wikis will likely never be admissible as citable sources in and of themselves within an academic realm; however, their role as a limited guidepost for further research will likely persist for some time to come.