The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Students turn to questionable Wikipedia

To a student, taking lecture notes and doing research can be the most tedious of tasks. Students constantly struggle to raise their hands in class or deal with the old Dewey Decimal System. They need another source of information, one that is accessible and relatively easy to use.

Logging on to www.wikipedia.org is sometimes the first (and easiest) option for students. Meanwhile, search engines like Google link information seekers straight to the site. Wikipedia is, after all, a free online encyclopedia where more than 4 million articles have been voluntarily submitted by contributing writers. The Web site utilizes a hefty search engine where users can find endless details on any topic imaginable, including outlines, history and related links. All it takes is a click of a mouse.

Every piece of information posted on Wikipedia can be edited, revised and structured by the collaborative work of users. Whether posting or processing information, one thing is certain: Users are treated to quick and easy access to endless hordes of, more often than not, seemingly legitimate information. And if the user’s native language is not English, the Web site’s home page offers a choice of nine additional language options, including Spanish, Swedish, Italian and German.

The term “Wikipedia” originated from the Hawaiian word “quick.” In fact, it was computer programmer, Howard G. “Ward” Cunningham, who is credited with first crafting the “wiki” technology. Wiki technology allows users to edit (add or delete) online content into a news or encyclopedia-like format.

Still, students depend on Wikipedia as not only a learning tool, but also an important source of information for their studies.

“I use Wikipedia as a second opinion and explanation on my notes,” senior child development major Yudith Menendez said.

Wikipedia also allows her to save some time and frustration. Although Menendez said she does not rely on Wikipedia “often” during the semester, she did admit that it is still a handy tool for her.

“It’s easy, accessible and allows me to manage my time more,” she said.

But would a student trust its information when writing a valuable term paper? Credibility is a significant issue when looking up information at Wikipedia.

“I look at it as a third-hand information site,” said Mike Villalobos, Oviatt Library assistant supervisor.

Villalobos said he only uses Wikipedia to find quick information about his hobbies and would not recommend students rely solely on the site for their research.

“There could be discrepancies of definitions about certain things,” he said.

History professor David Parker’s experience with the encyclopedia Web site is an example of such issues. Parker browsed the cultural history of Los Angeles on Wikipedia. He then said he found chronological errors in the city’s timeline.

Parker cited the 1939 novel “The Day of the Locust,” authored by Nathaniel West as not being the “beginning of a negative view of Los Angeles.”

The information on the timeline was about 30 years off the actual event, Parker said in reference to the so-called discrepancy.

“When you start teaching, you find that people come to Wikipedia before they do anything else,” Parker said.

Parker said some students often rely on the site due to their laziness. Instead of indulging in critical thinking about the subject, students simply depend on Wikipedia. Students sometimes turn in full citations off the Web site as a term paper or exam entry, he said.

“You’re doing more work than you have to,” he said.

Since Wikipedia’s database is full of submitted data from various contributors, the information must be further researched to justify the facts. Parker suggests the use of actual textbooks and articles to gain more detailed knowledge and understanding on any subject.

“Just don’t start with Wikipedia,” he said.

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