14 May 2011

On the next step beyond wikipedia

Students are routinely warned not to cite wikipedia as a source in their work. However, sometimes it is the quickest and easiest way to get an overview of a subject--if only one could drill down to its sources (some good pages do reference them, but many don't) and evaluate them. They are not as transient as a wikipedia page, and they can be cited (if authoritative enough).

That facility is on its way. A new site--still in beta--seems to have adapted a similar technology to that used in Turnitin (plagiarism detection software) to find phrases and sentences in a Wikipedia article which also appear elsewhere on the web, to highlight and show the resemblances in a pop-up window, and to display the source information as a link so you can go there and check it out. Amazing! Semantic search is effectively here.

The team have not yet incorporated all of Wikipedia, which it why it is still in beta, but it can only get more useful.

I have a few anxieties about what this might do to some desk research--it just pushes the issue of evaluation further back, in that you still have to evaluate the source material rather than the secondary wiki article, but you do still have to evaluate it.

It may encourage a student in a hurry simply to read (and even quote and attribute) a single sentence from a primary source and never read enough of it to get a useful overview, or appreciate the significance of that sentence within an overall argument or body of evidence.

But used with care, it has potential...

Thanks to Amy Cavender at ProfHacker for the tip--read her take at the link.

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Comments welcome, but I am afraid I have had to turn moderation back on, because of inappropriate use. Even so, I shall process them as soon as I can.