I have sat through my last mandatory "how-to-write-a-political-science-paper" class! And to celebrate: "The Wikipedia Gap". I couldn’t have said it better myself.
That won’t stop me from adding a few of my own comments:
In every one of these usually tedious classes, the question of using Wikipedia in term papers has come up. In general, we are usually warned to be careful with any net-based source and more or less forbidden to use Wikipedia. The reason for this is supposedly that Wikipedia is not written by experts, so it’s likely to be wrong. My answer is that Wikipedia is written by experts – that’s the whole point. People write about their own home towns, hobbies and obsessions – all their little areas of expertise. And mistakes are corrected. The reason not to referr to Wikipedia in university papers is that it’s an encyclopedia. It’s very basic. Most of the information you can find there can also be found in other more detailed documents (books, studies, specialized web sites) and if you are serious about researching something, you look further than the encyclopedia. In my opinion, (and the vast majority of people who write and edit books seem to agree with me), there is no need to write a source reference when you state basic facts like capital cities and dates. Even if you didn’t know it before you read it somewhere, anything that Google will tell you 500 million times in half a second is common knowledge. Yet we’re still told to write "(Author Year:page number)" after practically every sentence in every term paper. The point of referring to where you got information, is so that the reader can learn more by checking out your original source or check up on your original source if they think you’re wrong. No reader is going to think: "Wow, Alexis de Tocqueville was born in 1805?!? That’s fascinating – I must go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tocqueville to learn more!"
I got this article from my dad, and I’d like to repeat one of the comments to his post, which continues the discussion in a slightly different direction:
"Problemet i skulen er altså ikkje å få aksept for bruken av IKT, og fleire skular nyttar i stor grad kjelder frå kollektive kunnskapssamfunn, og tar det inn over seg som eit viktig ledd i danninga av elevane. Problemet er at ein ikkje får uttelling for slikt arbeid når kunnskapen skal målast. Kan skjøne ein vil kome til å konkludere med at IKT-satsinga i skulen er fånyttes, sidan ein på eksamenar og prøvar ikkje vil sjå merkbare resultat?"
Basically, schools (including most departments at the University of Oslo) use IT for everything except evaluating what students have learned. The result is that students of International Studies are literally asked to solve the problem of the Middle East by sitting alone with a piece of paper and a pencil for four hours.