Imagine how much money goes in to producing content for an encyclopedia. The idea behind the Wikipedia Project, was that everyone on earth could pool their knowledge in a central place, forming an endless source of knowledge and information.
This idea has mostly worked. As of this writing, there are 1,454,708 articles on the site. Many of them exceed the content found in an encyclopedia. Experts from all over submit content, modify and update articles, and review the progress along the way.
Despite the success of Wikipedia, it does have some drawbacks. One major drawback is the fact that any member can edit an article. There have been numerous instances of “content vandalism.” Wikipedia has countered this by creating article revisions that can be reverted back to at a moment’s notice.
The online encyclopedia has also set up volunteer moderators to oversee sections of content, and virtual tripwires that automatically flag potential content vandalism.
In my experience, I have been very successful with wikipedia. If anything else, I can use the articles for an overview of a topic, then use the references found in the article to do an in depth research of the topic.
Still, many professors refuse to acknowledge the importance of this resource. Though they support collaborative approaches to building knowledge, the Not In My Backyard approach is taken.
Rather than refuse to acknowledge the existence of this resource, I would recommend a more mild approach. Tell the students that in order to use the source, you must verify that the article’s facts coincide with other references. They could also require students to look at the article on more than one day. This better ensures the accuracy, because inappropriate or misguided information will usually be deleted by that time.
Rather than rejecting new and useful utilities such as these, let’s embrace these innovative ideas such as Wikipedia. I believe it will help us all do a better job at our research.