Thursday, March 18, 2010

How and why college students use Wikipedia

There is a very interesting article published in the March edition of "First Monday", the University of Illinois at Chicago's on-line, peer-reviewed journal, analyzing how and why college students use the on-line encyclopedia, Wikipedia, for their scholarly research.

The students - 86 of them - were interviewed in eleven different focus groups on seven different campuses. 70 percent were female and they ranged in age from 20 to 30 years old. Students were full–time sophomores, juniors, seniors from four–year public and private colleges and universities, and full–time community college students, who had completed at least one semester at the institution. The mean GPA for the total student sample across all seven schools was 3.44, or just above a B+ average.

There was also an on-line 32 item survey which was distributed to 27,666 students on six campuses in the U.S. between April and May 2009. The study sample was 2,318 responses. The overall response rate was eight percent.

Major findings from the study are as follows (full results are available at the top link):

  1. Far more students, than not - 53 percent, 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.

Figure 1: How often do students use Wikipedia during the course–related research process?

Figure 2: Why do students use Wikipedia for course–related research?

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