Wikipedia a weak approach to scholarly research

Being Wiki savvy: Is it helping or hurting?

Information inundates the modern college student’s world today. Waiting to check out at the grocery store and examining national magazines, one can get up to date on the current affairs of our country. Before the transaction is final and the electronic signature completed, the careful observer of magazine covers will know who delivered a baby, who is undergoing drug rehabilitation and most importantly, what newfangled romances were kindled or irretrievably squashed over the weekend.

In these modern times, there’s no need to waste time staring at the red light stops. Whipping out an average cell phone, one can connect to the Internet and get precise information on what their friends are doing via Twitter or Facebook. Earlier, you may have driven the entire way without knowing that Becky is walking her dog or Mark is wishing he was born in communist China and formed into an Olympic athlete.

This is important information, and there is simply no excuse to wallow in ignorance any longer. American culture is all about the here and now. Our food is fast, our weight loss instantaneous and our intravenous drip to information via the World Wide Web a necessity in these modern times. We’ve begun to approach gathering material for term papers in the same way we collect other types of information – as quickly as possible.

When it comes to scholarly research, it’s hardly a revelation that Wikipedia is the fastest way to retrieve information relevant to almost any academic topic, be it the Civil War or the intricacies of string theory. It seems the modern college student cannot be bothered with actual books. That is practically prehistoric. Is it any wonder, then, that our scholarship is increasingly of the cut and paste variety?

Alexandra Smith of The Guardian noted in a June 19 article that the Google Generation (that would be us, my friends) increasingly cuts and pastes information from Web sites such as Wikipedia and then passes it off as their own. In the same article, a professor from Oxford worries that the integrity of their degrees is threatened by this lazy scholarship.

Students aren’t the only ones sucked into the allure of easy access information. In many courses, I have noticed professors filching the Wikipedia, as well. Most often in the form of PowerPoint snippets of text or images, professors also increasingly rely on untenable resources as Wikipedia, or worse, Google Scholar. I personally stumbled upon Wiki-excerpts used in professorial lectures while performing what I thought was cursory background research on a topic. It was somewhat upsetting to find that the course for which I paid a hefty tuitions was supplemented by information that could have been obtained free of charge by a simple Google Search.

We are a culture that values immediacy and convenience. We know home-cooked meals are healthier than fast food, that exercise is more efficacious than cutting carbs and a face-to-face conversation is more valuable than a text message or status update, but we still ignore these facts. And although Wikipedia is an invaluable resource when used in the way it is intended – background research – we know it’s basically the quick and easy, lose 30 pounds in 30 days approach to scholarly research.

Although it takes more time and more effort, perhaps the good old-fashioned method of books, pencil and paper is an under used tradition in the Information Age.

Sarai Brinker is a graduate student from Levelland.