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Robert Scoble wrote a post about professors banning Google and Wikipedia as sources for research papers. He compared these professors to those who banned “newfangled Macintoshes” back in his day.

I completely disagree with this comparison. He is comparing the use of tools to sources of information. I fully support the professors who ban the use of Wikipedia and Google as sources for college research papers.

Wikipedia is a great place to get some quick, general, and shallow knowledge about a topic that has no bearing on their professional career. For example, one could look up the history of Nintendo for their own personal interest but should not use Wikipedia when writing a paper on Nintendo’s affect on the US television market.

The problem occurs when you are writing a research paper for college. Wikipedia does not give you enough depth of information or have any authority behind it. You have no idea who edited it or their bias. Wikipedia does have a decent amount of the facts cited, but then a student should read that website/book/article and cite accordingly. This would provide them with a broader and deeper view of the topic, and the professor would not know that they used Wikipedia. The problem is that they are getting the article in Wikipedia and then the research stops there. That does not give them an extensive enough view on the topic. If they do use Wikipedia, they should take the extra steps and follow the citation links at the bottom of the articles. Some of the time, this will lead them to more credible sources with more information. It is their duty as the researcher to determine if these articles are coming from a credible source.

Additionally, many colleges and universities offer a wide array of databases to their students*. Many college students pay for the use of these databases, yet choose Wikipedia. They should instead go to their library and ask for some assistance with these databases and in finding and determining credible sources.

I was actually shocked that Robert said that Google was a good source for research. Recently, he posted some videos describing that Google is doomed because it is spammed by SEO or Search Engine Optimization. SEO creates the same theoretical problem when a student searches for credible sources through Google. The first three results may be very relevant but not unbiased. They will be able to obtain good articles and research, they just have to wade through most of the optimized sites and those that have a financial investment in the topic. Many college students don’t understand this and believe that the top three results are the most credible. They will then use articles from WebsiteX.com instead of a professors article on Profsite.edu. If they do choose to do an internet search, they might want to try Google scholar and search scholarly articles that have been published and reviewed. While they are at it, they should just use the many databases that are offered by their library*.

Overall, I believe that students are using Wikipedia and Google as a crutch when doing research papers. Those are both places to easily obtain information, but by themselves are by no means sufficient. By banning the use of these websites for research papers, professors are helping their students to research credible sources.

[Original Article and Scoble’s Post]

* I do know that some students may be at a disadvantage because their University does not offer these sources.

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