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.”