Wikipedia can offer up some good reading.
In “Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia” (a short article I highly recommend), Charles Campbell describes the resource as “multidimensional space,” and as an “open, performative, and mobile” work with the capacity to inspire creative thought that can produce and demonstrate knowledge(s). (187)
Wikipedia can be a valuable and unique resource not as a result of the content of any particular entry, but instead as a result of the references entries can offer to other resources and the links which can be embedded in an entry’s text. As Campbell expresses, Wikipedia is effective “to the extent of its relations to other parts of itself, other sources (including both offline and other online sources), and the user’s research skills” (186). In other words, Wikipedia creates a complex network of references between different subjects, mediums, modes of communication (i.e. text, image, sound), and all the while it is self-reflexive because it draws attention to the circumstances of its own production. Wikipedia can be a great place to start making (sometimes offbeat) connections.
So, what about the user’s research skills? In “How and Why Do College Students Use Wikipedia?” Sook Lim notes that one of the most interesting findings of the study is that “students tended to have positive past experiences with Wikipedia, but did not have comparatively positive perceptions of Wikipedia’s information quality” (2199). Perhaps this result can be explained by students’ awareness about the genesis and nature of Wikipedia’s content. The positive past experiences and low perceptions of Wikipedia’s information quality may be due to the ways that users interact with Wikipedia as a source of knowledge, and as a source of knowledge production. The Wikipedia network may function as a source of inspiration and creative thought because rather than providing a credible or even sufficient synopsis of a given topic, Wikipedia offers room for individual thought (for example, users choose the links that most interest them, and follow a somewhat self-directed engagement with the text).
Wikipedia’s very structure communicates that it is one resource among many. It’s use as a source for knowledge creation should be encouraged (and even if it isn’t encouraged, Wikipedia will be used). We should continue to investigate how users engage with this resource, and what it is used for, so that we can strategically teach strategic research skills.
Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article for Proceedings of the British Academy that I helped to edit.