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Professors cracking down on using Wikipedia as a source

By Jeff Christian
The Collegian

Fresno State students researching online will have one less Internet source to choose from as an increasing number of Fresno State professors have started to ban the use of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that consists of entries that are written and edited by users. The Web site’s credibility has been questioned due to the ease for possible inaccurate entries.

The Web site states that it is possible for an article on Wikipedia to be biased, outdated or factually incorrect and Wikipedia recommends that students double-check to ensure that the information in the entry is accurate.

Some Fresno State professors have combated Wikipedia’s credibility problem by banning students from using the Web site as a source for term papers and homework assignments.

Political science professor Jeffrey Cummins outlawed his students from using the online encyclopedia due to both its credibility issues and source format.

“There are ways that information that is not credible can make its ways into the entries. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and college students should go to the original source. An encyclopedia is a source for high school or lower levels of education,” Cummins said.

One notable inaccurate entry occurred in 2005 when a user posted that John Seigenthaler, a former assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960s, was implicated in the deaths of both Robert and John Kennedy.

Consequently, students who use Wikipedia must be wary of the information that they come across.

“I haven’t used it so far, but if students use it for a term paper and the information is false, then it’s a bad paper,” international marketing student Vidal Mora said.

Internet sources like Wikipedia have created questions regarding credibility because they are sometimes clouded by biased content or incorrect content.

“I tell my students to think critically about Wikipedia and Google because they are both based on the wisdom of the masses. In my field of religious studies, anybody in the world can spend three or four hours designing a professional Web site that makes them appear like they are an established authority in what they’re talking about,” philosophy professor Vincent Biondo said.

The prevalence and popularity of students using questionable Web site sources can be attributed to convenience and a lack of education about Internet sources. Students are sometimes led to unaccredited sources through the use of a Web search engine.

“I just typed the information in Google and it took me to Wikipedia, but I didn’t know that it wasn’t an actual encyclopedia,” psychology student Katie Reyna said.

According to Biondo, web sites such as Wikipedia don’t encourage critical thinking skills and are consequently more likely to obscure learning rather than promote it. Biondo said that Wikipedia can provide students with specific historical dates or background information on topics but it can’t accurately provide analysis on people’s agendas or motivations.

“The information is very basic. Mostly I’ve used it for science and all the information is on the surface.

It’s more like a dictionary than an encyclopedia,” food science graduate student Akki Aswani said.

Nursing student Nestor Ballion believes that every professor on campus should ban students from using Wikipedia or other similar online sources.

“It’s good because it gives you information, but if you have to go into greater detail then it is useless,” Ballion said.

Determining fact from faction online is becoming increasingly difficult, so students are recommended to limit their Internet sources to academic, government or other reputable Web sites.

“The Internet has greatly democratized the access of information and more than ever before it is important to determine which information is useful,” Biondo said. “You have to read the Internet much more carefully than any other source.”

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