My Name is Claire and I Was a Wikipedia Hater…

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My name is Claire and I was a long term Wikipedia hater but then I realised I needed to change. Wikipedia has been in
existence since 2001 and is still going strong in 2015. I used to say things like:
“You can’t trust Wikipedia
because anyone can go in and change it”

“It’s leading to a lot of cut and paste from Wikipedia to other websites or vice versa.”

“Even comedians use the wrong information in their Wikipedia entries as material for their shows.”

Last year was when I started to change my mind. It was another unit in my master’s course that got me thinking. My first reaction was to still be a hater, but then a more reasoned approach took hold.
I started to think should I just embrace it whole heartedly or look at it with a view of what use can it really be to the “digital natives” within the school I work in? Let’s admit that we know that many of the
students we see each day will look at Wikipedia. Rather than telling students not to rely on Wikipedia isn’t my role as the school librarian to show them how it can be used?

With this is mind I went on a quest to find out more about Wikipedia and I have to admit I was surprised at the amount of work that Wikipedia is putting into making their sources and information more credible. This includes a guide to evaluating articles and an article
explaining how articles are graded. I now include these on my school
library webpage along with a short explanation of how Wikipedia can be used as a good basic digital exploration tool, just like a print
encyclopaedia and how the sources Wikipedia articles cite can be used to cross check the information or as a further resource in their own right. There are also a number of independent resources that are
exploring and evaluating Wikipedia including Wikipedia by
Dan O’Sullivan.

In this book a whole chapter is dedicated to assessing a Wikipedia
article and devises a rating system using a 0 – 5 scale for ten
assessment areas:
1. Length and Structure
2. Images
4. Grammar and Style
5. Generalisation and Neutrality
6. Discrepancies, Repetition and Gaps
7. Links and Internet References
8. References to Print Sources
9. Stability
10. Overall

If both the Wikipedia resources and an independent evaluation tool are introduced to students and used by them to evaluate a Wikipedia       article isn’t this a better outcome? We have provided students with new skills to help them in their use of Wikipedia that can be adapted to their use of other new media tools.

I admit that I now hang my head in shame that it took me so long to stop judging and start evaluating. Now my next challenge is to not only provide opportunities for students to improve their evaluation of Wikipedia but to also see if I can impart this change of view to the
colleagues in my school and to start a constructive professional              conversation around the use of Wikipedia.

6 thoughts on “My Name is Claire and I Was a Wikipedia Hater…”

  1. I too was skeptical about Wikipedia – until starting my MIT(LIS) and attending an event “An Evening with WittyLama – everything you wanted to know about Wikipedia but were too afraid to ask”. WittyLama is the alter ego of Liam Wyatt, who at the time was Social Media co-ordinator at the National Library of Australia, and founder of the GLAM collaboration projects in the Wikimedia community. I was impressed with the checks and balances that are in place – including how articles are judged on the quality of references. I have not followed up on Wikipedia since that evening, so thanks for putting those links in your post to the various documents – I am going to enjoy having a read and refreshing my knowledge.


  2. Hi Claire, thanks for introducing such an interesting topic. I have also found that aspects of this course have lead my on the path to discovering surprising facts about areas of Web 2.0 technology that I previously knew only little about. I have to admit to being an avid Wiki user although I have been very hesitant in quoting Wikipedia pages in any of my assignments, and I would be interested in your own feelings in reference to using Wikipedia information as part of the Masters degree. Can it be trusted? I guess since Wikipedia has (as you comment) been around now for a fair few years, we all have to acknowledge it’s staying power and most importantly its ability to grow and evolve in line with the needs of its users. It is particularly gratifying to know that Wikipedia is being independently assessed by educational academics like Dan O’Sullivan. I teach much younger children than you I believe but the principle of ‘evaluating before judging’ is one I am continually working on in my own practice. My most recent experience being to reassess the creative benefits of online games like Minecraft and Terraria. You can read more about this in my blog.


  3. Thanks for sharing Claire…My name is Sam and I too was a Wikipedia hater. Well, maybe hate is to strong a word but definitely a Wikipedia cynic.
    Great post! Thanks for informing me, and subsequently my students, how we can responsibly and reliably assess (and possibly even use) the first information that our search engines spit out at us. I too continually lectured my students on Wikipedia’s unreliability, the fact it could be changed by anyone and how it illustrated how hard it is to find quality research information online. Ignore it I said, look for something with an .edu I said… until I was told by the technology specialist at work that a lot of Wikipedia was peer reveiwed and edu domains could be bought without restrictriction prior to 2001 (True- I checked on Wikipedia). Evaluate, Don’t Hate! See you at the next meeting 😉


  4. Hi Claire. My name is Lucy and I was a Wikipedia hater too. It has been 18 months since my last lesson about, ‘Why thou shall not use Wikipedia as it is an unreliable source’. I feel we have been on a similar journey as it was another subject in my course that also changed my opinion. I guess I always felt like a bit of a hypocrite teaching students not to use Wikipedia, as it is usually the first place I go to find out general information on a topic. My concern was that school students don’t usually have the same information literacy skills that we do as educated adults, and that they would use Wikipedia as their only source, taking what it says as unquestionably accurate.

    I have used the same approach as you and explained to students the checks and measures that have been put in place to help ensure accuracy of the articles. My sales pitch is now, ‘It’s a great place to start your research, but please don’t let it be the place you finish.’ I also steer students towards the references section at the bottom of each article. Isn’t it a liberating feeling, letting Wikipedia back into your life?


  5. Oh Claire, how glad I am that you have opened yourself to the possibility that Wikipedia may have some information to offer. I must say that I have always been open to Wikipedia, but only because I had been instructed of the increasing positive changes they were making in an effort to present correct information. As TLs we have come to accept that in today’s world, our non-fiction books can be out of date before they even hit the shelves. Our role as TL incorporates teaching strategies of how to search for relevant information both in paper form and online. The Australian curriculum is filled with references of the need for students to be critically literate. Wikipedia gives us a great starting point from where to begin as students can compare and contrast information to confirm its validity.


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