Many students assume that the online, free encyclopedia, Wikipedia is a valid, authoritative and useful reference source for their scholarly work as a student at NVCC. Many teachers say that Wikipedia is garbage and should never be used. Which is it?
In this assignment, we will be examining just how authoritative (and stable) Wikipedia (aka wiki) is. First, you will examine a specific entry from Wikipedia and check for changes that have occurred over a period of six months, and then you will compare the information from the Wikipedia entry with the information from an established reference source such as the Encyclopedia Britannica (EB).
Since you may have never really looked carefully at a Wikipedia entry, I want you first to look at my Explanation of Using Wikipediabefore you start this paper assignment.
- For your comparison of a Wikipedia entry with the same entry in EB, you should choose a research term that is in some way relevant to the material that you have covered in your course, and that term must be clear, focused and doable. For example, “World War II” or “The Roman Empire” or “communism” are historical terms that are too large to analyze in this assignment. You simply are not going to be able to expertly compare 12 pages of material on, for example, World War I, with the twelve pages of material in EB. It is often easiest to pick an individual.
- Your Wikipedia entry must be approved by your professor. We do not accept terms that are primarily U.S. history. nor do we accept any World War II terms, national socialism related entries, or Hitler, Stalin or Napoleon. Your professor has final say on whether an entry is appropriate.
- You have a textbook with hundreds of pages of history that you should use to help you decide on a term–check the book’s index. Be sure that your Wikipedia term also appears in Encyclopedia Britannica. (See How to Access Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.) If you are unable to access Britannica, please let me know, and I will suggest an alternative reference source. If you are not a registered NVCC student, you may have trouble accessing Encyclopedia Britannica, please contact your instructor (and don’t wait until the night before the assignment is due).
- You must email your research choice to your instructor for approval at least two days before the assignment is due.
- With the permission of your instructor, instead of using EB, you may compare your entry with the equivalent Wikipedia entry in a foreign language, for example, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beslan_school_hostage_crisis and ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Террористический_акт_в_Беслане.
- Your analysis paper should be no more than two pages. double-spaced, one-inch margins, font size 10 or 12. Your paper should assess the overall stability and authoritative nature of the Wikipedia entry for your research term. Consider such questions:
- How much has your selected Wikipedia entry changed (or not changed) over a period of at least six months?
- Do we have any idea of the credentials of the people who created the Wikipedia information, or who made the changes?
- Were any changes the result of sound, scholarly research?
- Why did the entry change?
- How does the Wikipedia information compare with the information in EB? This is the most important part of your analysis, and you should provide a specific explanation about the Wikipedia entry’s information in comparison to the information in EB.
Wikipedia: good or bad? That is partly what you are answering in this assignment, but I would also like to point out that a “Wikipedia” article can often be an excellent starting point (not the end point) for research on a topic or a quick source of general information. For example, I often check Wikipedia if I am looking for the birth or death dates of a historical figure. I would also point out that a Wikipedia entry is especially valuable when it includes footnotes, citations of sources and suggested sources for further information (often in the form of external links). Finally, Wikipedia can be extremely useful on topics of relatively newer historical events. For example, in my HIS 242 (History of Russia II) course, I ask that students check the entry for the Beslan School Hostage crisis. This is an exceptional article–although its quality varies a bit from month to month.
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