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Originally published Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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School officials unite in banning Wikipedia

Linda O'Connor hasn't been a fan of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia for years. This fall, she decided it was time to make others at her school aware of the Web site's pitfalls.

Express-Times (Easton, Pa)

EASTON, Pa. — Linda O'Connor regards Wikipedia the same way former first lady Nancy Reagan campaigned against drugs.

She urges people to "Just Say No."

The Great Meadows (N.J.) Middle School librarian hasn't been a fan of the online encyclopedia for years. This fall, she decided it was time to make others at her school aware of the Web site's pitfalls.

She put up a sign saying "Just Say 'No' to Wikipedia" over the computers in the school library.

Several other school officials feel similarly about the Web site. Wikipedia is blocked on all computers in the Warren Hills Regional School District.

Some teachers at Easton Area High School discourage its use, as do officials at Centenary College and Lehigh University.

"We don't see it as an authoritative source," said Nancy Madasci, Centenary's library director.

The problem with Wikipedia, the school officials said, is it can be modified by anyone. There have been many cases of incorrect information on the Web site, some of which has been biased.

Egregious errors

Warren Hills teachers and students have found at least two cases of incorrect information while using Wikipedia, said Dawn Moore, the high-school librarian. A teacher researching Martin Luther King Jr. found white supremacist information in his entry, she said. A student researching the Vietnam War found Wikipedia's casualty count far lower than the actual number of people killed in the conflict.

O'Connor said many of her students don't realize Wikipedia can contain inaccuracies.

"Kids just take it for gospel, they really do, and that's my concern about it," she said.

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Wikipedia officials recognize the problems with using the Web site for research, said Sandra Ordonez, communications manager for Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit group behind Wikipedia. The company does not recommend using the Web site as a primary research source, she said.

"Not a primary source"

"The best way to use Wikipedia is to get a global picture of a topic," Ordonez said. "It's not a primary source, and in college, you probably should not be citing an encyclopedia."

Wikipedia can lead researchers to primary sources, as much of the Web site's content comes from such sources, she said.

Several school officials agreed Wikipedia is good to get overviews of topics.

Greg Reihman, the Lehigh faculty development director, encourages students to use the Web site "to get a quick snapshot or an initial sense of views as they are commonly understood," according to university spokeswoman Dina Silver Pokedoff.

Many students use Wikipedia because it's often one of the first Web sites to come up on search engines, according to Kris Dumschat, a high-school senior.

He said his English teacher last year warned students against using the Web site because of inaccuracies. Dumschat said he's sure some of his classmates got points off their research papers for using wrong information from Wikipedia.

"It never happened to me; I stay away from it," he said.

Madasci, the Centenary librarian, said the college also has students who favor the Web site. She said some incoming freshmen have to undergo "Wiki-shock" to learn not to use Wikipedia.

"We've seen freshmen come in and need to be trained to do appropriate research," she said. "Students will gravitate toward what's easy."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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