Despite the redundancy of the term ‘reference work’, there are some categories of material, both in digital and print form, which retain their nomenclature on the web and which can be used by students and staff in schools. Encyclopedias fall into this category. Many school libraries will still have printed versions of encyclopedias such as World Book Encyclopedia or Encyclopedia Britannica, but the availability of online versions of these works means that it is increasingly unlikely that a TL will buy a set of encyclopedia volumes for the school library.
Online encyclopedias include a number of free encyclopaedias on the web including Encarta (http://encarta.msn.com/artcenter_/browse.html) and there is a good list of free encyclopaedias at: http://mciunix.mciu.k12.pa.us/~spjvweb/encyclopedia.html.
The newest free encyclopedia is Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page) but this is a controversial development as Wikipedia can be edited and updated by anyone. There are differing views on the value and, particularly, the accuracy of some of Wikipedia’s content. Wikipedia states that:
Wikipedia has been both praised and criticized for being open to editing by anyone. Critics claim that non-expert editing undermines quality, and that the project lacks authority … Rather than relying on the personal authority of credentialed experts, Wikipedia’s policies state that assertions should be supported by reliable, published sources – ideally, by anonymously peer reviewed publications. Founder Jimmy Wales stresses that encyclopedias of any type are not usually appropriate as primary sources, and should not be relied upon as authoritative.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Wikipedia)
On a recent blog, one commentator argued that:
What Wikipedia is, is an unimaginably broad repository of community-edited documents that is generally accurate on most matters. What it is not is the final word on a subject that bears the reputation of well-known editors or publishers behind it. Sure it would be nice if Wikipedia could also have the latter characteristics but it does not; if a reader assumes that it does, the fault likes with the reader, not with Wikipedia.(http://randomratio.blogspot.com/2006/07/is-wikipedia-criticism-justified.html) ETL501 Module
What is your opinion of Wikipedia? Should TLs encourage students to use it with care or should they advise students against using Wikipedia? What is your experience of using Wikipedia in terms of its reliability and accuracy?
Wikipedia as Joyce Valenza says "shouldn't be demonised". It needs to be used as a learning tool - along with everything else on the web - so that students become web learners - rather than web users (as Herring states in his book - the textbook for this subject) Students and Internet browsers in general will find themselves in the "ubiquitous" domains of google and wikipedia. I read a very interesting article
http://informationr.net/ir/16-2/paper476.html about how wikipedia searches are actually used.
Essentially it states that wikipedia is excellent for social and cultural references - which is what it is mainly used for by the majority of users.
So much of the discussion that takes place about the evils or otherwise of wikipedia amongst colleagues and acquaintances is in the realm of anecdotes - I suppose we have to wait for more research to catch up with practice.
When I taught "Wikipedia" to student in Year 12 Standard English for the HSC Module C - Global Village, we talked about the radical philosophy which underpins the site - which is very 21c - collaborative, dynamic, fluid AND certainly unsettling to digital immigrants. It is often criticised by those who have their hegemony challenged.
That being said, I did stress to students, as I was encouraged as a student pre-digital web 2.0 - to question everything. The temptation to just "accept as true" what appears on the screen is passive and dangerous. Students, in fact everyone, need to be critical. Ask if the opposite could be true - and if it can't then maybe it has veracity? But wikipedia CANNOT be the one stop shop that so many people use it as; ultimately the user needs to take responsibility of how they use the information they access. The user needs to verify from "other sources" in ensure that it is "definitely fact" or "definitely fiction". As many people find - it is a great place to start the learning journey - a good start for some background information to then move onto to other sources information. It can be utilised as a learning tool, as long as users are aware of its accuracy and reliability may not be as "stable" as other sources.