Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) got asked the questions on the Quora online forum – “What does Jimmy Wales think when a university professor discourages students from citing Wikipedia as a primary or secondary source?”.
“What I think depends on the details of what the Professor is recommending. If the recommendation is to not use Wikipedia at all, I think that’s silly and naive advice – all students use Wikipedia a lot!
But if the Professor has a more nuanced view that Wikipedia should not be cited ‘as a source’ by university students then I agree completely! I think the same thing about citing Britannica or any other encyclopedia. Citing an encyclopedia for an academic paper at the University level is not appropriate – you aren’t 12 years old any more, it’s time to step up your game and do research in original sources.
So the real question is: what is the right way for University students to use Wikipedia? It’s great for getting yourself oriented on a topic. It is important that students understand our strengths and weaknesses. If we say “the neutrality of this article has been disputed” or “this section does not cite any sources” – believe us! Dig deeper!
Once you’ve read a few relevant Wikipedia entries on a topic, you should be well armed to start digging in to primary materials.”
Wales, J., (2012) What does Jimmy Wales think when a university professor discourages students from citing Wikipedia as a primary or secondary source? Quora. Retrieved from https://www.quora.com/What-does-Jimmy-Wales-think-when-a-university-professor-discourages-students-from-citing-Wikipedia-as-a-primary-or-secondary-source
This is likely not very different to what we would tell students but there might be some value in remembering these words when dealing with those inevitable student questions or even in a topic guide. An explicit ‘how to use Wikipedia’ rather than the blanket ‘don’t use it’can be helpful in clarifying its use or misuse in the higher education setting.
Contributed by James King
eLearning Services Manager – CILT