My opinion of Wikipedia drastically changed this week. My initial opinion was based on what my teachers told me in high school and college – “Wikipedia does not count as a source.” After hearing that, Wikipedia was never a site I used when I needed credible, scholarly research. However, it is a site I used and continue to use frequently to look up information about my own personal curiosities.
After reading Chapter 4 in Will Richardson’s book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, I’m now a Wikipedia believer. I’m in awe of how many people contribute to the site and how timely and accurate their entries are. In his book, Richardson gave the example of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunami and how a Wikipedia entry was created only nine short hours after the quake. Within two days, the entry had been edited 1,200 times and contained pictures, videos, and graphics which made it one of the most detailed sources of information regarding the event. This example showed me just how powerful open collaboration can be. I was also surprised to read about how quickly inaccurate information is spotted and changed on the site.
I now believe that Wikipedia is a reliable source for information on the web. Yes, it’s true that from time to time there could be some faulty information posted but faulty information turns up frequently on a Google search too. Students (and adults) just need to know how to distinguish fact from fiction. To do this, you need to verify the information by making sure the same facts show up on multiple websites. If the same information is posted on a variety of sources, chances are that the information is accurate. Wikipedia should be approached no differently than any other website. If anything, the credibility of Wikipedia should be held in higher esteem because it has such a wide variety of editors, as opposed to a regular website which might be authored by only one person.