Can Educators Really Ban Wikipedia?

I saw the headline in various forms around the Net: Middlebury College Bans Wikipedia as Academic Source. I've been seeing versions of that from K-12 school districts and university departments for a few years.

The open-source, free encyclopedia that lets anyone create and edit citations, has gotten attention & criticism for a few highly publicized (overly publicized, in my mind) incidents where there was incorrect information online.

So, Middlebury's history department instituted a "ban." Because of errors that may occur in this dynamic online source, Middlebury's history department instituted a policy that says, "Wikipedia is not an acceptable citation, even though it may lead one to a citable source."

An Op-Ed piece on the Middlebury student weekly website "Wikipedia ban is a slippery slope" says, "To me, this stinks of the beginnings of censorship."

Still, the eye-catching headline really should say, as a commenter to the Op Ed wrote, that the ban is really "nothing more than a limit upon citation. You're still allowed to consult Wikipedia, just like always. What you can't do is cite it in your paper..."

When I was teaching middle school students, the librarians always told students not to use the encyclopedias as sources and encouraged teachers coming to the library with their classes to do research to ban the use of encyclopedias as acceptable sources for an assignment.

They should have just thrown away the encyclopedias and stopped ordering the new editions, because it was still the first place the kids went for an assignment.

I started to require students to use the encyclopedia first as a way to get an overview before they narrowed their broad topics to the ones I wanted them to use - which were narrow enough that there was little in the encyclopedia that would help them.

This followed right along with my practice of starting off a literature unit on a book like To Kill A Mockingbird by passing around copies of the Cliff Notes, Monarch Notes & all the other things I thought they might buy to avoid reading the book. I would use the essay questions in those books in class and make sure my students knew that I was not going to use them as assignments.

To think that my students wouldn't use the encyclopedias or the Cliff Notes because I "banned" them, would have been foolish.

In a article from The New York Times, Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, commented on the Middlebury policy in a way I have heard him comment many times before this:

“I don’t consider it as a negative thing at all.”

He continued: “Basically, they are recommending exactly what we suggested — students shouldn’t be citing
encyclopedias. I would hope they wouldn’t be citing Encyclopedia Britannica, either."

“If they had put out a statement not to read Wikipedia at all, I would be laughing. They might as well say don’t listen to rock ’n’ roll either.”

The Wikipedia Foundation supports the new policy. According to the Burlington Free Press, in an e-mail to the newspaper, the Foundation said Wikipedia is an "ideal place to start your research and get a global picture of a topic; however, it is not an authoritative source."


Trackback specific URI for this entry


Display comments as Linear | Threaded

No comments

Add Comment

Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
Standard emoticons like :-) and ;-) are converted to images.
BBCode format allowed
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.
To leave a comment you must approve it via e-mail, which will be sent to your address after submission.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.