Classroom tech: Wikipedia

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We all know that the best way to do research is to just find it on the Internet. Well, not the best, the easiest. Google and Wikipedia have changed the landscape of research papers, making them much easier, but maybe not much better.

So in taking a look at Wikipedia, it’s important to learn where we were just a few years ago, before the Internet ruled everything we do. Before Wikipedia there was a little thing called the Encyclopedia Britannica. That’s where we spent countless hours doing research for simple papers. This multi-volume behemoth devoured time and patience like it was nothing. It consumed you to your core. All that work for a relatively small amount of information, and that’s if you have the most recent edition.

Now, there is a simple library interface for finding peer-reviewed journals. This is the way most teachers make you do your research. It’s a simple way to find information that is proven to be true. That’s what teachers want, articles that are reviewed and are proven to be true. They don’t want to read a research paper that has bad research, or they might, it could be quite amusing.

Wikipedia has spent the last few years trying to improve itself. As recently as 2007, people were talking about banning access to Wikipedia in schools due to its unreliable nature, but now they have managed to mitigate that perception, if only slightly.

By making small improvements to the way Wikipedia runs, they hope to be a useful tool for students in their research, if not the primary means of research. It’s hard  to say if this goal is attainable, but Wikipedia is on its way to becoming a force for good in helping students with research papers and just knowledge in general.

Good information is still sometimes difficult to find on Wikipedia, but there are a few tricks that you can use to make sure you find the best information in your searches.

Use the information you find from browsing Wikipedia to start your paper, but don’t use it as the basis of your paper. It sounds a little confusing, but let me explain. Find interesting information, and use that as a jumping pad. Look for that information on the library search. It will help you if you just can’t find anything you want to start with.

If you can’t find the research that backs up what you read on Wikipedia, find out why. That’s another interesting thing to do. Some of the information on Wikipedia is still wrong these days, though they have worked to fix that issue. Answering why you can’t find the information on Wikipedia is often a fun journey that will generally lead you to some good research.

Another tip is to use the footnotes on Wikipedia. The way Wikipedia is starting to police itself is by requiring proof of the information posted there. Most of the information on Wikipedia that isn’t common knowledge is followed by a footnote. You can follow that to the original document where the information was written. Use that as a reference, rather than just the Wikipedia page. If it doesn’t have a footnote, then it’s probably not true.

My final tip for the best usage of Wikipedia is to just browse it. Read everything that interests you while doing your research. You can spend hours just browsing the site, and sometimes it pays off. You may wander to something that is related to your topic, but you never would have thought of it on your own. It never hurts to take the time to expand your horizons. You should be a bit careful with this one though, it’s very easy to lose track of time when you are browsing Wikipedia.

So, with a few simple tips, your research can be done a little bit more efficiently, and it can even help make it a little bit better.

By Cameron Simek

Opinions Editor