Warning: Wikipedia May Be Hazardous to Your Research


According to Wikipedia , Scotland occupies the northern third of Great Britain and shares a land border to the south with England. Looking at a map confirms this. Wikipedia also indicates Scotland consists of over 790 islands with a varied flora incorporating both deciduous and coniferous woodland. All true and not a bit slanderous. So what's Scotland's beef with Wikipedia? Not everything is accurate and students are failing as a result, claims the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (STPC).

Said Eleanor Coner , the SPTC's information officer, " It's dangerous when the internet is littered with opinion and inaccurate information which could be taken as fact. " Wikipedia's very existence as a voluntarily collaborative online effort ranks as both its strong suit and greatest weakness, and the latter was perhaps never better illustrated than when a prominent Wikipedia editor was ousted as a fraud . EssJay, a 24-year-old community college dropout from Kentucky, led a Wikipedian life as a tenured professor of religion at a private university with doctoral degrees in theology and canon law, and often used his false identity as leverage in disputes over Wikipedia's content. His con was so convincing it even led to a full time position at another company run by Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder.

But while the SPTC wants to blame Wikipedia for students suddenly struggling to turn in a passing paper, could the culprit lie elsewhere? Coner also commented that " children are very IT-savvy, but they are rubbish at researching. " If true, then who's responsible? Because anyone with a domain and a penchant for writing can create a website, students must learn which sites qualify as appropriate resources and how to double (or triple) check their research. That entails looking things up the old fashioned way - in a book.

Sarah Perez at ReadWriteWeb suggests it's the institutions that are failing and they need to adapt their curriculums to include teaching students proper research techniques. In short, adapt to the times. She sees the ability to look at online information and challenge it (rather than immediately discounting it) as a valuable skill missing from most students' repertoire.

What do you think? Post your thoughts below.

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