The Great Wikipedia Debate


An article in today’s New York Times focuses on Middlebury’s History department banning Wikipedia as a source. I was interviewed – and even photographed – for the article, but only came out with a couple of paragraphs at the end (at least it was a fairly accurate quotation). If you’re in the Middlebury area and want to hear more, come to the event on Monday Febrary 26 at 4:30 in Library 201: “What is the Wikipedia in Higher Education?”, featuring myself and History professor Amy Morsman.

And as an addendum to the Times article: the History policy was triggered by some (allegedly) incorrect information on the Wikipedia page about the Shimabara Rebellion that students relayed on an exam in a class by History professor Neil Waters. The concluding line in the article: “And yes, back at Wikipedia, the Jesuits are still credited as supporting the Shimabara Rebellion.” Well, hours after the Times article went live, the Jesuit claim was removed from the entry – an action that Neil could have taken upon its discovery…

6 Responses to “The Great Wikipedia Debate”

  1. Jason, just wanted to add on my two cents. Nice post, nicer blog.

  2. I’ll certainly be there…I’m looking forward to it.

    The concept of wiki is integral to that of web 2.0. I believe that everyone benefits from this sort of collaborative technology with which even the tech-unsavy can easily edit, augment, or correct whatever the ever-growing communal project is (in this case, a communal encyclopedia). The social networking, communal, editable databases, and ultimate flattening of the world is truly the future of the internet, where everyone can be privy to the same information and instantly add their own knowledge. In elementary school, we were taught that the internet is connections between computers, but it’s quickly becoming connections between people. I dream of a future where almost every noun on Wikipedia is a link to another site, and we are quickly approaching an era where there is very little you cannot find out without typing it into your browser. I can’t count how many times I’m debating about something or other and the conversation ends with “I’m gonna go check Wikipedia.” It truly has become an panacea for concluding arguments. The future is definitely limitless for the type of service Wikipedia affords its intelligent users.

    Obviously, Wikipedia is not to be used as the only academic source, and many students use Wikipedia as an effective starting point for their research, because the pages describe the scope of a subject effectively and often with sources and links. Wikipedia’s mistakes are usually removed quickly, and it contains very little trivial informations (I have had a page that I wrote about myself removed from it), so they do take themselves seriously as an encyclopedia. However; Wikipedia has the added benefit of having an enormous amount of popular culture, something most encyclopedia’s don’t have (everything from music theory in your favorite songs to cultural references in episodes of your favorite TV episodes…information that would be difficult to stumble upon using conventional means).

    In short, these bans are just obstacles any newcomers must face before they smash conventions and become the norm.

  3. 3 Mayuko Nakamura

    I’m not in Vermont, but I’m very interested in your talk. Is there any way you can podcast or set up a streaming video? Also, it’s probably not allowed, but is there any way you can share the department policy with us? New York Times’ article of course doesn’t link to the original document, but just like others in Higher Ed. I’d like to consult original source whenever I can.

    I was really disappointed by New York Times’ article (I guess I shouldn’t expect newspaper to be that in depth either). It really didn’t talk about other universities’ policies and debates. Insider Higher Ed had a really good article back in January ( and that gives me better sense of what’s going on in Higher Ed. than New York Times article, which only cited sources from Middlebury. This topic is not just Middlebury’s problem or discussion – it’s for everyone who is involved in higher ed. or even high school (which one of the students cited says high school teachers said it’s OK – which those students should know what is acceptable in high school is not always acceptable in college – I guess that’ll start another debate πŸ™‚

  4. I just saw the NYT article and was going to mention it in my blog(s). Like you, I think it’s important to discuss the ways in which Wikipedia changes traditional knowledge and research methods.

  5. 5 grace

    I second the request for a podcast!

  6. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. πŸ™‚ Cheers! Sandra. R.

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