I disagree, Mr. Warlick

Oct 10, 2006 by

I have written what many in the ed tech community might consider to be obscene. In my finite and minuscule wisdom I have openly disagreed with Mr. David Warlick (one of the leading authorities on ed tech) on the issue of using Wikipedia as a legitimate primary or lead source when using the Internet for research. It happened before I even had a chance to really consider whether or not I should make such a hasty statement, but before I could bridle my youthful passion, my fingers has typed up a quick comment praising Wikipedia for it’s open-editing process over at Christopher Craft’s “Open Source” Blog, even going so far as to compare the resources being developed on Wikipedia to Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the U.S.”

By allowing the consumers of the information to contribute, Wikipedia has quickly become a leading source for information that is highly accurate (or at least as accurate as Britannica; which WAS proved in Nature). I have come to rely on Wikipedia even for finding resources and information while at school, and would not hesitate to allow my students to use such a wonderful resource. Not only is the information provided free of charge, but also with a much more in-depth look at a particular subject than Britannica, or any other commercial encyclopedia, could hope to match. Mr. Warlick made a fantastic point that Wikipedia should never be the “last place” for students to go when conducting research, with which I agree whole heartedly. However, he also says that Wikipedia should not be considered a primary or lead source of information, with which I disagree.

Perhaps it is my naive faith in my fellow humans, but having seen the amount of time, energy, and passion with which Wikipedia entries are created, edited, carefully monitored, and developed, I would feel confident quoting Wikipedia as my lead source on a number of topics. Am I still going to support my research or argument with another source? Of course I am, as I want to practice good research skills, and have more than one source to corroborate my thoughts. But the fact that I went to Wikipedia first means that I consider it my lead resource, my “go-to guy” when I need reliable information, presented with all of the richness and context that I need.

Perhaps it’s my age, my youthfulness, or the fact that I’m half digital-native myself ( I possess most digital-native traits that edubloggers out there talk about), but I don’t use Britannica.com to find information, I don’t always rely on traditional (ink and paper) publications to gather resources, and I’m more than willing to dig a little deeper with a Google search to find content from a first-hand experience rather than rely on the words of an editor. Does that mean I don’t know how to use them? Not by any means; I still know how to use and access traditional sources of information, but my perception of them isn’t the traditional perception that many educators have. So perhaps I haven’t sinned so much as I thought, and I agree with Mr. Warlick more than I disagree. Or perhaps it’s just that I agree with him in a completely disagree-able way. Either way, I think it’s important to note that our ideas about information gathering and dissemination are changing on an almost daily basis, and both processes require much more thought and dialog than just relying on the old “this is how we’ve always done it.”

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3 Comments

  1. You have no idea what you have done. My minions will be visiting you tonight 😉

    You make some very good points in your post, about just about all of which I agree. If I could just clarify my statements… when I said that Wikipedia should not be considered a primary source, I was referring the the formal sense of “primary source” (..a firsthand or eyewitness account of an event). Even though a person might report their first-hand experience of a historic event in Wikipedia, there is not a way to assure that it would remain in tact on the Wikipedia. As a good primary (first) and most important place to look, I agree that the Wikipedia may well fit the bill.

    The bottom line, as I posted it in Chris’s blog is:

    If I’m citing something that I need agreement on among my audience, then I’m going to cite a source that I know they will agree with.

    If the audience distrusts Wikipedia, then I’d better be using another source. If the audience is happy with wikipedia, then I’ll be happy with it as well.

    Thanks for the post. A lot of great ideas here.

    — dave —

  2. Tom

    So it turns out you both agree- although I liked the idea of an edublogspherical battle better (or maybe I just like saying that phrase).

    Now you two need to focus on the people who dismiss wikipedia completely, let alone as a source worthy of citing.

    Maybe there is a use for Mr. Warlick’s minions after all (and I may have a few suggestions when they are done with that)

  3. Ben

    *peeks around the corner to check for minions*

    Thanks for the scare David 😛

    But more thanks to the great comments, especially because I had interpreted your original comments on Chris’s blog to mean a lead source, and not the true definition of primary source. You are right, there is no way to gaurantee that a first-hand account of an experience or testimony within a Wikipedia entry will remain intact, there is always the history. Every edit logs the previous version, so enterprising young researchers could dig through the revisions to find source that may be burried.

    As for using Wikipedia with the appropriate audience; if the audience I’m addressing dismisses Wikipedia out of hand as an inappropriate site, then it’s my job to show them WHY it’s an important resource that should be trusted (or at least considered).

    Tom: No edublogspherical battle tonight, though KUDOS to you for inventing such a wonderful “Suessian” word 🙂

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