Lecturer relents on students' use of Wikipedia for research

By Jarrod Booker

A university lecturer has embraced the online tool Wikipedia as part of her teaching.

Canterbury University geography lecturer Dr Deirdre Hart initially banned the use of the often-criticised tool after it kept appearing in the references of her students' work.

But she has since come to the conclusion it is a useful starting point for research, and this year asked her students to produce their own Wikipedia article.

While a new generation is frequently turning to the online encyclopedia for information, critics say Wikipedia - where anyone can edit information on a subject - can be error-ridden.

Even Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, has previously stated he wanted to get the message out to college students that they shouldn't use it for class projects or serious research, according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The chronicle quoted Mr Wales telling a conference in the United States that he got about 10 emails a week from students who complained that Wikipedia had gotten them into academic hot water.

"They say, 'Please help me. I got an F on my paper because I cited Wikipedia', and the information turned out to be wrong."

But he had no sympathy for their plight. "For God's sake, you're in college; don't cite the encyclopedia."

Professor Kerry Shephard, director of the Higher Education Development Centre at Otago University, said there was always a danger of students being misled by information on Wikipedia.

"But that's part of education. The teachers might be wrong, the textbooks might be wrong. To just rely on something because you read it is just not a reasonable approach."

John Roder, a senior lecturer in education at Auckland University, said the crucial issue was that any text had to be viewed critically by students. Wikipedia could be seen as more transparent than other traditional sources of information.

Dr Hart said she had thought her class might think a Wikipedia assignment "was a bit of a joke", but found the students' reaction was quite the reverse.

- NZ Herald

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