Citing accuracy concerns, Middlebury history department bans Wikipedia

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February 13, 2007

10:17 AM

After increased frustration caused by their students citing and using Wikipedia on academic assignments, Middlebury College’s history department passed a unanimous ban on using the online encyclopedia at the end of January, the Daily Pennsylvanian reported Jan. 26.

p. Middlebury College, a small liberal arts college in rural Vermont, is the first college to take a stand against Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone.

p. For history professors at Middlebury, this ban includes not only citing Wikipedia as a source in papers or assignments, but also reading articles on the online encyclopedia, explains Bill Belew, in an online article for “The Biz of Knowledge.”

p. Some professors view the ban as too extreme, holding that students shouldn’t be prohibited from using any resources, as long as they bear the responsibility of checking the accuracy of their facts.

p. The chair of the history department at William and Mary, Professor James Whittenburg, agrees that banning Wikipedia “seems extreme.”

p. “My feeling is that one can seldom completely trust information on the web,” Whittenburg said. “It makes a good first stop, and there are some excellent and reliable web sources, but without some means of judging the input — some sort of peer review — information in online databases and encyclopedias must remain suspect until verified.”

p. Wikipedia spokesman Mathias Schindler was reported to have suggested that students were recommended to check facts found on Wikipedia “against other sources.”

p. “It’s usually not advisable, particularly at the university level, to cite an encyclopedia” Schindler added in a Jan. 26 Daily Pennsylvanian article.

p. At the College, citing Wikipedia is often discouraged in classes on the grounds that more in-depth sources are available for student use.

p. Professor Tom Linneman, chair of the sociology department at the College, had reservations about Middlebury’s decision.
“Personally, I’d be highly suspicious of any attempt to ban Wikipedia. I believe one of our goals as a community is to learn how to become more critical consumers of information, and one does not accomplish this by banning access to, or the use of, this information,” he said. “As the College moves toward a model whereby more and more students are conducting their own original research and creating their own knowledge, it will become less likely for a student to be able to rely solely on Wikipedia.”

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