Whenever I am in need of finding brief summaries, concepts or whenever I need general information one of the sites I tend to consult is wikipedia, the bane of high school and college professors in America. Throughout my educational history I’ve been drilled to believe that wikipedia entries ooze inaccurate and false information, that it is not a reliable or valid site to get concrete facts, and that in general it shouldn’t be used to enrich my education, but from my experience it is the opposite. If not for wikipedia I would lack a great deal of knowledge about culture, the arts and life in general. Granted, this knowledge includes things like how many people died from coconut impacts and the buttered cat paradox, but this knowledge also presents itself in the form of fascinating concepts that I would have never been exposed to if not for wikipedia. When I’m bored I like to play a game with wikipedia where I start at a random article and keep clicking links until I stumble upon an article that completely deviates from the original topic. It can go on for hours and along the journey I learn about various subjects. Concepts I’ve learned like the tesseract (a 4-dimensional analog of the cube used to explain the 4th dimension) or aspects of culture like the cat’s cradle aren’t things that fit the common core of education in America. Wikipedia provides a quick, easily accessible reference for virtually ever topic. The point that I want to emphasize is that wikipedia has a profound impact on education, and for universities like Middleburg to ban wikipedia is not only doing a disservice to the students, but it is also doing a disservice to one of the primary goals of higher education which is to expose students to the different methods of obtaining information and also to teach them to be resourceful in gathering that information.
A lot of times when I’m reading a text book or an article the author may use very unnatural or unnecessary words and metaphors to explain an idea and I often find myself wishing that I could get a more simplified version that explained things very neatly and got straight to the point. This is another beautiful feature of wikipedia. It allows people to rephrase or edit certain articles and this is especially useful for entries that are weighted down by bothersome filler. Scholarly articles, while very informative, may not be written by the most talented writers and the information can be hard to fully understand. Wikipedia users could simplify the subject of the articles using the original scholar article as a reference and present the information in a manner that is easily understandable. I mentioned earlier that I learned about the 4th dimension from wikipedia and that is an exceptionally hard subject. Explaining the idea of a tesseract could that pages but the first sentence in wikipedia says “In geometry, the tesseract is the four-dimensional analog of the cube; the tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square.” It is concise and uncomplicated to the casual onlooker.
Most of the members of wikipedia don’t want to spread misinformation. A strong community has been built around the site, and many of these people are devoted to educating the world as much as possible. Wikipedia is one of the most influential contributors to modern education, but often it isn’t seen as such because of the implication that some random person online wants to feel like a scholar and posts articles about various topics. Since it’s free and open to the public there are inevitably going to be some who want to ruin its credibility, but in order to create a network as vast and open as wikipedia, that is a fault that needs to be accepted. There is the edit feature however so if there is faulty information it can always be erased or written over.
The incredible information and insight wikipedia gives should not be overlooked because of the credibility of the articles. Most of the time they are cited and use references, and if not, wikipedia could be used as a springboard to spark thought. It’s an extremely useful resource that can fill in the blanks left behind by standard education.