Long viewed by college professors as an unreliable source that crops up on the "works cited" page of a hurriedly assembled essay, Wikipedia has been perhaps unjustly maligned for most of its existence. The problem: every student uses it, but no one is supposed to admit it.
That line of thinking is slowly evolving, at least among some academics. Steve Kolowich at Inside Higher Ed describes a new project spearheaded by The Wikimedia Foundation that partners with nine professors from prominent colleges (Harvard, George Washington University and Syracuse are a few examples) in hopes of encouraging students to create and edit Wikipedia entries as part of their normal coursework.
The partnership is seen as a logical step for professors who have decided that instead of ignoring the ubiquitous encyclopedia they have to "get used to" it being around. Here's how the project could assuage tensions between students, professors and the massive Web encyclopedia:
In this way, the process mirrors a strategy already employed by many college students, only in reverse: Instead of starting with a Wikipedia page as a nexus to find more authoritative material, the students would do research first, then consolidate their findings into a concise entry on the site.
And why, conversely, it might only widen the academic divide:
The mutability of Wikipedia entries is why Neil Waters, a history professor at Middlebury, still forbids his students from citing them. In its guidelines, Waters points out, Wikipedia instructs visitors to "Be bold in updating articles and do not worry about making mistakes" -- hardly a scholarly protocol, he argues. "I want my students to worry about making mistakes, and to learn how to avoid them, and how to take responsibility for what they write," wrote Waters in an e-mail.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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