Alison Head and Micahel Eisenberg have written an interesting paper in First Monday. It is part of the Project Information Literacy (PIL) at University of Washington's Information School. They undertook 11 student focus groups on 7 US campuses in late 2008 and a survey at 6 US college campuses in spring 2009.
Major findings from the study are as follows:
1.Far more students, than not, used Wikipedia. Wikipedia was used in addition to a small set of other commonly used information resources at the beginning of the research process.
2.Reasons for using Wikipedia were diverse: Wikipedia provided students with a summary about a topic, the meaning of related terms, and also got students started on their research and offered a usable interface.
3.Respondents who were majoring in architecture, engineering, or the sciences were more likely to use Wikipedia than respondents in other majors.
The article is a good reply to academics who decry the overuse of Wikipedia. The findings indicate that students see it as a starting point and many expect to have to verify information against other sources.
Then I cam across an article by Mike Melenson on ReadWriteWeb "Why Wikipedia should be trusted as a breaking news source." How much less trustworthy is the site for breaking news than the plethora of blogs and other online news sources? He refers to various papers given at the recent South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin. The line taken is that Wikipedia is a place for students to begin.
Furthermore "if we are willing to take crowd-sourced content - whether tweets, Facebook updates, blogs, videos or whatever else - as valid sources for information about our world, then a collection of these same media as carefully poured over and curated as found in a Wikipedia article should be even more trusted, not less, than those bits on their own."
Another useful angle on Wikipedia.