This is according to a study of more than 1,650 students at two universities in Australia, which found that although almost nine out of 10 use Wikipedia, only 65 per cent deemed it to be a “useful” or “very useful” resource.
The website was generally regarded as an “introductory and/or supplementary source of information” and was seen to be of limited usefulness compared with university library resources, e-books, lecture recordings and academic literature databases.
Indeed, only 24 per cent of respondents placed Wikipedia in the “very useful” category, above only three other digital applications included in the survey: Twitter (reported as “very useful” by only 3.5 per cent of students); educational games and simulations (18.6 per cent); and “other university websites” (11.9 per cent).
“While a prevalent element of many students’ digital academic practice, Wikipedia is not universally used and/or valued,” says the Monash University study, “Students’ use of Wikipedia as an academic resource – patterns of use and perceptions of usefulness”.
It concludes that the widespread but largely mundane role that Wikipedia now plays in contemporary higher education suggests that universities and university teachers “should continue to consider ways of better integrating Wikipedia into their accepted modes of teaching and learning provision”.
The findings support the opinion that “there is little point recommending against student use of Wikipedia, or attempting to prohibit it altogether”. However, there is “clearly sense” in supporting students in becoming critical and proficient users of the website as part of their information gathering practices, the study says.
“There are clearly many ways in which universities need to engage more directly in supporting and enhancing the role that Wikipedia is now playing in students’ scholarship,” it states.
Neil Selwyn, professor in the Faculty of Education at Monash University and co-author of the study, said: “The early alarmist fears that Wikipedia would lead to a dumbing down of university study was not apparent, but neither is Wikipedia ushering in a new dawn of enlightenment and students and teachers creating their own knowledge.
“Lecturers should be encouraging their classes to edit and improve Wikipedia pages. At the very least, more academics should become Wikipedia editors – writing on their areas of expertise.”
Last year, the University of California, Berkeley became the first higher education institution to hire a “Wikipedian in residence”, Kevin Gorman, to help students to publish academic work on the user-generated online encyclopaedia.
He told Times Higher Education he was not concerned that encouraging the use of Wikipedia might push students away from traditional resources such as a university library.
“It’s true that a lot of undergrads don’t visit physical libraries, but as counter-intuitive as it sounds, we have found that making students do Wikipedia-based assignments is a great way to get students back into the library, looking for sources that they can’t find online,” he said.
The Monash study wasfunded by the Australian government’s Office of Learning and Teaching and has been accepted for publication in the journals Studies in Higher Education and Journal of Higher Education Policy & Management.
Which digital technologies do undergraduate students report as “very useful” for their university studies?
- Internet search engines: 68%
- Online journals & books provided by the library: 67%
- Learning Management System: 58%
- Google Scholar: 46%
- Watching videos / audio on sites like YouTube: 41%
- Library website: 40%
- E-books: 38%
- Social networking sites: 37%