Wikipedia: The Obvious Choice

Alright, I feel like I will have better luck of this if I document as I go.  So here we go, it is 4:31 and it’s time to think about the obvious facts of Wikipedia.  A few that come to mind:

-It’s accessible and editable by anyone

-Students prefer it to “legitimate” sources

-Teachers hate that students prefer it

-Hyperlinks, works cited, in text citations, etc. exist to keep it legitimate and regulated.

(I may have bounced a few ideas off of my room mate to collect these four)

Obvious statement turned into a research question:  Why do students prefer Wikipedia?  (I realize that perhaps this is speaking broadly, but all through high school I saw students getting information from Wikipedia and masking it in legitimate citations. 

The research begins…
>”Why do students prefer Wikipedia?” Image

Not a great start.. The first two might be useful but the rest are actually just Wikipedia articles that picked up words in my search.  HOWEVER. I actually find this very amusing and useful to my point. If I were a student searching the internet for inspiration on a topic to interest me, look how broad my search was that lead me to such specific topics on Wikipedia.  Right this moment I would much rather read what Wikipedia has to say on “physical attractiveness” or “auditory learning” than continue this.  But I digress..

> Should University Students Use Wikipedia?
I’m giving my broad search a shot and clicked on the first result, an article from The Guardian.  I don’t have to go further than the first paragraph to get the quote “American research shows that the majority of students browse its pages when researching essays.” with hyperlink included.  That will be my next stop.   I also really appreciate the following quote because it really confirms two of my obvious statements as well as asks what I have been asking since middle school.  The quote asks “But why is the academic world so hostile to this vast information resource? And why do students find it so hard to stay away?” 
Some points that the article brought up in my mind:

-I wholeheartedly agree that Wikipedia citations do NOT belong in a research paper.  However this brings up a problem with plagiarism in students. In an ideal world, a student would use the information from Wikipedia to focus his/her research from other sources and verify the wikifacts.  Basically, whatever is read and used from Wikipedia should be cited from elsewhere.

-Perhaps professors need to change their approach to Wikipedia and their students. If they use it as a learning tool instead to demonstrate critical analysis of a text and fact checking, the students could become better researchers.  For instance, the professor could falsely alter a page and have the students critically analyze the text and find the errors.  This would demonstrate how easy it is to be misinformed and how easy it is to fact check.  I actually kind of love this idea I just came up with. 


> How Today’s College Students use Wikipedia for Course-Related Research
I got here from a link in the previous site.  It is a very well documented and explained research paper outlining the methods and results of their survey of Wikipedia users.  Many students reported that they use Wikipedia as a preliminary research guide to gain background information.  Other explanations for its use include the useful hyperlinks, the easy to comprehend text and layout, and the up-to-date information.   This site was a great find but I’m tired of looking at statistics and you all don’t need to hear them.  Mooooving on.

> Benefits of Wikipedia in Education                                                                                                                                                  Nothing here.  More wikipedia articles, the first article I wrote about, and miscellaneous Yahoo Answers posts I don’t want to deal with. Moving on!

> Teacher Attitudes towards Wikipedia                                                                                                                                                   Now that’s better!  The first results were even from Google Scholar!  We are going to keep using simple articles though because I am still in the preliminary “wikipedia” phase of my research.

> Are We Ready to Use Wikipedia to Teach Writing?                                                                                                                           The professor speaking in this article responds to an enraged teacher who disavows any student who uses Wikipedia.  The professor (the enraged one)  claims that the website is so ridden with inaccuracy that you’d ‘do better to ask a stranger on the street about your topic.’  The author (the not-enraged professor) argues that, yes, it may not be entirely factual, but by that logic neither is the information received through the telephone.  You can not guarantee that what you are hearing is true.  I think he would do better to relate this to the childhood game Telephone, but I’ll let that slide.  The non-enraged professor urges us to consider Wikipedia a tool of the future, not the scourge of the internet.


>>>Alright, I have no obvious place to go from here and I’m sure your eyes need a break (mine sure do!)




  1. You really fleshed out the topic well and started researching with the right questions; I wouldn’t have come up with half of those (please don’t hate me if I use some of them in my own research!).
    I think you’re hitting a few dead ends because you’re using Google, but once you get onto the VCU Library database, you’ll probably find a lot more. Great topic!

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  3. I think this research is off to a good start! I especially like your idea of professors altering Wikipedia articles and having students attempt to identify the flaws (seriously, why isn’t that being funded?!). I like the way in which you really illustrated where each stop led you. It also has made me realize that I did mine grossly, deplorably wrong (I still thought we were talking about the article for this week…I am seriously no good at decoding our assignments).

  4. I think you’re the only person to stay completely on your inquiry topic, so it is safe to say that you found a lot of information that will probably be useful in your project. I like how you came up with a lot of great questions in the beginning, but it seems like you didn’t really formulate any new inquiries along the way.

    Funny side story about having students fact-check Wikipedia – one of my high school science teachers literally taught from Wikipedia, so one day we changed the Wiki page he would be teaching from to see if he would realize. He didn’t, and he continued to teach the false information from the site. Obviously he was an awful teacher and didn’t know anything on the subject, but your idea is great.

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  6. I also need to put you in touch with Tom Woodward, who has a long-term project of creating a textbook for a class that functions as if it’s an unreliable narrator; very similarly to what you describe with wikipedia.

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