UK academics want to turn Wikipedia into official research tool

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 12:00 hrs

Students and academics at a world-leading London university have expressed their desire to turn Wikipedia into an official research tool.

The newly formed Wikipedians at Imperial College said the online encyclopaedia is one of the biggest resources for students, and are planning an event to improve editing on Wikipedia pages.

But there is a reluctance to admit to this "elephant in the room", said the group's president, Vinesh Patel.

The event to be held at Imperial College in April, the London Wikipedia Academy, is an attempt to address the often unspoken place of Wikipedia in students' research.

"The issue of how it's used needs to be explored, it's the most widely-used resource among students," the BBC quoted Patel, a medical student at the university, as saying.

"Wikipedia is here to stay - it's a question of whether we come up to speed with it or try to ignore it," he stated.

Patel said he wants to co-ordinate the way pages are edited by students and staff and to make the most of Wikipedia, rather than pretend it's not there.

"Students know there is an inherent unreliability, as it's open edited. We're not trying to hide that. But it's a place where you can orientate yourself when you start a topic," he explained.

"The quality has improved and the readability is often second to none," he said.

But Patel said that there is a real gap in knowledge about how this free resource is being used.

Rather than swapping anecdotes about the use of Wikipedia, he says his group wants to move to a more evidence-based discussion about the place of Wikipedia in universities.

He also wants to research how Wikipedia compares in reliability with other reference sources.

Wikipedia, with almost 3.6 million articles, has been seen as an undeclared source of help for students' essays - but Patel says that there is no reason to single out Wikipedia as a source for plagiarism.

"There are relatively sophisticated software systems to check for plagiarism," he said.

"And is Wikipedia that different from other sources? You could plagiarise from a peer-reviewed journal. It's no more easy to plagiarise from Wikipedia," he added. (ANI)