Academia is changing its mind about the Wikipedia taboo

Wikipedia doesn't usually land on an academic's list of legitimate sources, but a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that the online encyclopedia might be more trustworthy than we realize.

Researchers from MIT and the University of Pittsburgh teamed up to investigate Wikipedia's influence on scientific literature, eCampus News reports. The researchers asked a team of graduate students to create Wikipedia articles on scientific topics missing from the website. These newly created articles received thousands of views per month, and researchers later found that Wikipedia influences
"one word in every three hundred" words of a typical science article, eCampus News reports.

The online encyclopedia influences how scientists write about science, concludes Neil Thompson, one of the study's lead researches, tells eCampus News.

But scientists aren't the only scholars seeking out information from Wikipedia.

Students more frequently turn to online research over print materials, according to a survey by McGraw-Hill Education. However, the online encyclopedia's ability to be edited by anyone, regardless of their credentials, often hurts its credibility in academic circles, Meghan Bogardus Cortez writes for EdTech magazine.

Nevertheless, scientists, students, and even doctors use Wikipedia, writes Jake Orlowitz, head of the Wikipedia Library. Instead of telling students to avoid Wikipedia, students should be taught how to intelligently consume information, Orlowitz argues.

As more employers call for digitally literate students and "fake news" becomes harder to identify, colleges and universities should focus on teaching students how to use online resources responsibly, Bogardus Cortez writes.

Also see: 5 steps to identify fake news before you "like" it

For example, at Washington State University, Mike Caulfield teaches students to think like fact-checkers when conducting research or sorting out fake news. Students should verify information by looking for previous fact-checking attempts on websites like Wikipedia, Caulfield advises.

At American University, librarians are developing an online tool to teach students media literacy skills, Bogardus Cortez writes. And according to Laura Pasquini, a lecturer at the University of North Texas, students must be able to critically evaluate all of the sources they encounter online, she adds (Bogardus Cortez, EdTech, 1/10; eCampus News, 1/10).

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