Monday, April 4, 2011

Wikipedia: Use with caution

Earlier on, I wrote about my disappointment with Digg as far as its inability to provide me with the information I needed when it came to soccer.

Wikipedia is completely different. It's tough to argue that Wikipedia is possibly the best resource for soccer information providing player and team histories, biographies, statistics, and facts. Early on in its life, the information was dodgy as best and rival fans usually have their most hated player die of some odd disease. There wasn't much moderation or control back then, but the website has improved exponentially and is now a pretty reliable resource for all my soccer information needs. The best thing about it is that almost all the information is cited and I can easily find the sources of the statements. When I want to find something out about a certain player, "player name wiki" is automatically the entry on my search query.

I guess translating to school, the subject of Wikipedia is a bit more controversial. Like the entries below, I have had professors who have banned us from using Wikipedia as a resource while others frown upon it. I still find it as an important resource as it provides a jumping off point to what I am researching as it aggregates multitudes of sources into several paragraphs. The footnotes allow me to go straight to the unabridged resource.

A moment that stands out is my freshman Philosophy of Human Nature class wherein one of the first statements my professor said was that he will know if we use Wikipedia and Spark Notes and that he wouldn't hesitate to fail us. While I tried to grind out the readings of Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, the mix of old timey language, complex vocabulary, and my general laziness and resistance to accept that the class is part of my core as a business student, just made their words go over my head. I decided to use Spark Notes and Wikipedia to aid my reading and they definitely made the experience more tolerable. The midterm came, went, and was returned - 98/100. Interesting stuff... So the unreliable Wikipedia would lead to a failing grade? I don't think so.

Unfortunately, the strong outing in my midterm made me cocky and I began to rely solely on Wikipedia and Spark Notes to satisfy all my philosophical needs. The second test came, went, and returned - 84/100. While it is still perfectly respectable and I was still in the higher end of the class curve, it wasn't the 98 I was expecting. I went back to reading the book and using Wiki to supplement everything I didn't understand. I finished the class with a solid B+. Given my lack of interest in the class, I'll take that as a win.

So I guess my point is that Wikipedia isn't the knowledge killer that some professors see it as. It is a very useful resource that anyone can use to complement whatever they are reading. While you can't take what it says as gospel, those in the upper echelons of academia shouldn't be too quick to scoff at it.

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