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8 in 10 Students Turn to Wikipedia for Research

Eighty-two percent of students in higher education turn to Wikipedia for their course-related research. But, according to a new report out of the University of Washington, most are doing it just to give their research a jump start.

The report, "How Today's College Students Use Wikipedia for Course-Related Research," is part of an ongoing research effort through the University of Washington Information School (iSchool) called Project Information Literacy (PIL).

For the report, researchers Michael Eisenberg, iSchool dean emeritus and professor, and Alison Head, iSchool research scientist, surveyed more than 2,300 students across six college and university campuses in spring 2009 on their use of the online collaborative information resource. They found that the vast majority of students across disciplines, more than eight in 10, used Wikipedia in some fashion to "obtain background information or a summary about a topic." And 52 percent of them said they used it frequently even when their instructors advise them against it.

Why do they do it?

Most cited a variety of reasons: 76 percent said it helped give them a head start, and 67 percent said it helped them with "terms and use of language used about certain topics," according to the report. Other reasons included ease of use (69 percent), comprehensibility (64 percent), and hyperlinked citations (54 percent), among several others.

The researchers said the students reported using Wikipedia primarily in the early stages of coursework, with 40 percent using it at the "very beginning" of a project and 30 percent "near the beginning." Only 2 percent reported using it toward the end of a project.

So what about concerns of some faculty members who seem at times consumed with Wikipedia's lack of rigor or credibility? Most students reported that they do not inform their professors that they use Wikipedia and do not cite it as a source in their work.

"Wikipedia helps many college students because it offers coverage, currency, convenience and comprehensibility in a world where students don't always expect credibility," Head wrote in a statement released to coincide with the report. "We found that while college students use Wikipedia, they do so knowing its limitations--it has some credibility but not deep. Our findings also lead us to believe that support and solutions from multiple outlets, not just one tool, service or individual, may work the best."

Respondents comprised sophomores, juniors, and seniors attending Harvard University, Illinois State University, the University of Washington, Chaffey College in California, Shoreline Community College in Washington, and Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee.

A complete copy of the University of Washington report can be accessed freely here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .

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