Wikipedia's Function in the Digital Age

Wikipedia's logo, a globe of puzzle pices with several pieces missing.
Wikipedia's logo

As an academic, I've struggled with students using Wikipedia as a primary source for many papers, projects, and speeches, despite my verbal warnings and trips to the university library to learn about reputable and academic sources. I've angrily scratched out the source and wrote "This doesn't count!", "This isn't an academic source!", or "Do not use this source going forward!".

I've lessened the reigns a bit, recently. Now, I tell students that they can start on Wikipedia to help them learn more about a specific topic and to find sources that others have trusted before. But they still are not allowed to cite Wikipedia as a reputable source. I'm wondering even if this rule should be adjusted more going forward, especially with AI software now doing much worse work than Wikipedia does.

Wikipedia's policies and guidelines for contributions and conduct toward the work and other writers is creating this change of heart for me. Wikipedia encourages politeness, collaboration, an adherence to a neutral point of view that protects from value judgements. The "notability" factor of Wikipedia in particular harkens back to the true foundations of what encyclopedias were used for in Greek times: a "well rounded education" (Lih 14). Wikipedia asks for articles that have multiple, reputable sources discussing the chosen topic for it to be considered before being added to the knowledge compendium. And if an article violates their notability guidelines or neutral point of view, it will be deleted. This same process works in academic journals too: if an editor doesn't find value in the article or there is concern about plagiarism or too much overlapping information, the article won't be published.

So, in terms of the use of Wikipedia for my students, I may start allowing more information to come from the source, as I do allow other encyclopedias as reputable sources, particularly for definitions. I also truly love that Wikipedia is open and free. It creates true accessibility and many of my students are from not outstanding economic circumstances. Furthermore, if they are students that are only taking online classes, or they are not familiar with using Galileo online through our library, it still gives them a starting point for research.

More #wikis and Wikipedia may be in my future.

Works Cited:

Lih, Andrew. The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia. Hyperion eBooks. 2009.

Wikipedia. Wikipedia: A Primer for Newcomers. Wikipedia. Accessed October 6, 2023.

Ashley Jones

Ashley Jones

I am an Assistant Professor in Communication and Emerging Media at Georgia Southwestern State University. My research expertise focuses on digital games.
Americus, GA