On college campuses where most students are plugged in and getting information online has become instantaneous, it seems as though the old methods of library research are being deleted.
Wikipedia.org is the leading online encyclopedia, with a spot in the top 15 most heavily trafficked Web sites and over 40 million U.S. users. The same gimmick that contributes to Wikipedia’s popularity, however, may also be earning the domain some of its harshest critics.
The encyclopedia invites anyone with access to the Internet – not just experts – to expand existing entries and to add new topics. This collaborative effort leaves the site vulnerable to error and vandalism.
Richard Vaynshteyn, a senior at CU, explained that he never uses Wikipedia, having found multiple errors researching a subject for class.
“It’s a very unreliable resource. It’s unchecked, and it’s just not good,” he said.
The sentiment was shared by Renee Shure, a CU freshman, who said she enjoys looking at the site but would never use the website for an academic paper.
“The facts are never checked and it’s an open forum of information. The sources aren’t correct and it’s not good to use,” she said.
Wikipedia.org recently made headlines after the history department at Middlebury College in Vermont banned students from using the Web site on any academic material. The decision came after multiple students studied the same erroneous material found on the Web site for a test. The creator of Wikipedia agreed with the ruling, as much of the content on the site is unverified.
Here at CU, the decision to let students use Wikipedia is left up to the individual faculty member. Kira Hall, a professor of anthropology and linguistics, finds the Web site to be a helpful academic tool, and doesn’t see the benefit of barring students from using the online encyclopedia.
“The great thing about Wikipedia is that anybody who is familiar with the Internet can contribute. I think it could be a really promising kind of medium to incorporate as opposed to just banning it,” she said.
CU currently has no plans to follow in the footsteps of Middlebury College, though even proponents of Wikipedia.org know that they run the risk of reading false information on the user-edited site. Hall, who said she wouldn’t disallow her students from using Wikipedia, also acknowledges the flaws in the system.
“As with anything online, there can be great potential, but also great dangers,” she said.