Friday, February 20, 2009

Wikipedia, you win.

Project Information Literacy, at the Information School of the University of Washington, has released a new progress report on its qualitative study of the research and writing habits of undergraduates. There's a lot of food for thought in there, but I want to highlight the role of Wikipedia.

What's amazing here is how well undergraduates use Wikipedia. As Joan, a commenter over at ACRLog, noted, they're using Wikipedia exactly how one should use any encyclopedia - to get background information and find some initial citations. The students interviewed even called it "presearch."

I have had a quite negative attitude about Wikipedia - I come from a social science background, and social science is not Wikipedia's strong suit. There's something about the Wikipedia community understanding of "neutrality" and "authority" that makes inaccurate claims about the Higgs boson particle or the Batman villian Clayface unsustainable, but that allows an entry like war to become a misguided amalgamation of ideological hobbyhorses.

But if students are going to be as responsible as this new report indicates, then I'm going to have to be responsible too - and that means not giving up on Wikipedia. Instead, I'm going to have to get my hands dirty and edit those entries myself. Good research practice deserves high quality free information, so I'll do my best to contribute.

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Libri & Libertas: Books & Freedom in a Web 2.0 World by Laura H. Wimberley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 3.0 United States License.