I noticed this evening a new link (at least for me) in the left sidebar of WikiPedia pages under the “toolbox” heading: “Cite This Page.”

Cite This Page link on WikiPedia

The citation assistance page begins with the following advice, which I think could potentially please even the most WikiPedia-skeptical librarians:

IMPORTANT NOTE: Most educators and professionals do not consider it appropriate to use tertiary sources such as encyclopedias as a sole source for any information — citing an encyclopedia as an important reference in footnotes or bibliographies may result in censure or a failing grade. Wikipedia articles should be used for background information, as a reference for correct terminology and search terms, and as a starting point for further research.

As with any community-built reference, there is a possibility for error in Wikipedia’s content — please check your facts against multiple sources and read our disclaimers for more information.

I continue to consistently elicit responses like “Oh no!” and “We don’t use WikiPedia at school” when I suggest to other educators that they encourage their students to use WikiPedia as a research tool. As far as I know, astute educators have NEVER encouraged students to only use a single source when conducting academic research. At a minimum, I suggest (as do WikiPedia authors in this citation suggestion page) that students use WikiPedia “as a starting point for further research.”

The current version of WikiPedia has over 2.5 million articles in English alone:

Wikipedia - over 2.5 million articles

The article “Wikipedia:Size comparisons” includes further statistics which highlight the stark differences and comparative advantages (certainly from an article breadth and depth standpoint) of WikiPedia compared to other more traditionally published encyclopedias. According to the article:

The English Wikipedia alone has over 1 billion words, over 25 times as many as the next largest English-language encyclopedia, Encyclopædia Britannica….

Twenty-five times more words than Britannica. Amazing.

Is every article 100% accurate? Can you find mistakes? Is it still important to check facts and compare sources? There are mistakes in every encyclopedia, and WikiPedia’s mistakes are well publicized. What remains under-publicized and poorly understood in many academic circles, however, is the tremendous value of WikiPedia in providing broadly accessible access to an amazing cornucopia of information.

One of my favorite presentations about WikiPedia (which I discovered in April 2007) from April 2006 is titled “Vision: Wikipedia and the Future of Free Culture.” If you are looking for a great video excerpt to share with teachers this year which can be a catalyst for worthwhile conversations about information literacy, Internet research, critical thinking and WikiPedia consider using this video.

To regularly use digital information sources every day, of course, our students need access to their own laptop computers. Sadly, we seem to still be living in a galaxy FAR, FAR, AWAY from a cogent vision of 1:1 computing in the vast majority of school districts here in Oklahoma. Still, we do have innovators in our state at both K-12 and higher education levels who are blazing trails forward with 1:1 computing. Whether your students have access to their own laptops or not this academic year, I think it is essential for students, teachers, administrators and parents to have informed discussions about WikiPedia and the myriad of important literacy and critical thinking issues it can raise. To have “informed” discussions about WikiPedia most people need more information about it: Much of what some people perceive about WikiPedia is not accurate. The above video from Fora.tv is a great tool to use to catalyze those conversations.

On a related but slightly tangential topic, I noticed the current WikiPedia article for web-based citation creators seems pretty short and incomplete this evening. I added a new section for external links and included David Warlick’s “Son of Citation Machine” website, but I’m not sure if the uber-powerful WikiPedia editors will see fit to retain that link. I also found what appears to be a thorough and helpful page comparing various “reference management software” programs. Of these I’ve only used EndNote personally, but I have found it to be a lifesaver in graduate school.

I’m sure just as we have some people who will remain steadfast in their belief that WikiPedia does not have research value to students in K-12 and university contexts, some academics may maintain that “reference management software” is an unfortunate crutch for lazy student researchers today. SparkNotes can be considered an irritating “crutch” too, but I don’t fall into either of those opinion camps.

Information is only going to further multiply in quantity in the months and years ahead. We’ve got to work hard at learning to effectively swim and navigate these turbulent waters of binary digits together. There’s never been a better day than TODAY to be alive as a lifelong learner.

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3 Responses to WikiPedia gives good citation advice

  1. Penny Coutas says:

    I’ve had this conversation with students a number of times, and find that it’s useful to relate to using Wikipedia as you would a conversation with a knowledgeable friend. You might have a chat with that friend about the topic, and it’s a great way of finding links/resources/references to pursue, but you wouldn’t necessarily quote or cite that friend in a paper.

  2. […] Wes Fryer sent out a link to his blog over the weekend highlighting ‘cite this page’ in the left sidebar of Wikipedia titled toolbox. He’s never seen it and I have to admit that I’d never taken note of it either. Maybe it’s been there for awhile or maybe it’s new. Regardless, it’s useful for the students you teach. […]

  3. […] at the Speed of Creativity,” he has posted a thoughtful piece on WikiPedia, entitled, “WikiPedia gives good citation advice.” He notes not only that WikiPedia helps those who would cite it, but further that the […]

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