Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Middlebury College prohibits Wikipedia research

A story from C/Net News, referencing an orginal article from the New York Times, reports that the History Department at Middlebury College has decided to prohibit students from "using Wikipedia as a research source in tests & essays."

The core issue at Middlebury appears to be questions regarding Wikipedia's reliability as a source for academic work, and whether college students should even be using encyclopedias (online or not) in research projects. Of course, they shouldn't.

As a writing instructor, I worry that my students who use Wikipedia (despite my warnings not to) aren't receiving the kind of fact-checked, professionally-vetted material available from more traditional print or electronic sources. I'm even more concerned over plagiarism, however.

I encounter an increasing volume of papers each quarter that either quote directly from Wikipedia without quotation marks, or borrow information from it freely without citation. Most of these papers come from students who understand what plagiarism is and would not deliberately commit it. It seems that because Wikipedia articles are "authorless" communal projects, students don't regard wholesale borrowing of information and language from them as plagiarism.

Online research tools, especially Wikipedia, challenge long-standing academic ideas regarding the authority, authorship and ownership of ideas and information. That is a much deeper issue than reliability, one that won't be resolved by a simple ban on students using the encyclopedia.

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