Why I am OK with Wikipedia

I just posted the following to my classroom Cyber Cafes.

Many college professors ban Wikipedia because it is not peer reviewed, and we have no idea who the contributors to Wikipedia entries truly are. There is merit in these concerns, and you should indeed not cite it in any college work if you want an A in that course. Do not cite it in papers in my course because no history publication would accept Wikipedia or any other encyclopedia as a citation.

However, in my courses, you may cite it as a supplemental source beyond the 5 required citations in Discussions. While I can not speak to other fields, I find that most Wikipedia entries for History tend to be no less accurate than any other encyclopedia entries in peer reviewed or professionally edited publications such as Encyclopaedia Britannica where I write. 

Further, Wikipedia has value that other encyclopedias do not. Because it is crowd sourced, it does not follow authoritarian, conservative narratives as other encyclopedias and as textbooks have historically tended to do. By sheer volume, crowd sourcing means that Wikipedia receives far more interpretive analysis.

Take a look at the American Revolution Wikipedia entry. Along the top, next to the search box is an option to View History. Click on that, and you will see all of the edits that have ever taken place. You will see changes to the material on African Americans, women, and Native Americans. Farther back, there is contention over the use of the term “patriot” versus “insurgent” and “revolutionary” from British perspectives. I owe my awareness of this to Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens and to Bill Caraher of UND. Isn’t it wonderful that anyone can contribute to the conversation about how ethnic groups are represented, rather than solely people in positions of power?

Wikipedia is not without its flaws, but it is a far more democratic source than any other out there. It is also a living document. Errors tend to be corrected within minutes by other contributors, and after all, is not accuracy and as broad as possible a representation of the past what we are seeking?



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