Letters to the editor

Re: Wikipedia Kids

I am writing to clarify several points made by Ira Wagman in his opinion article Are the ‘Wikipedia Kids’ all right? No need to panic. Contrary to his suggestion, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations’ recent member survey was not based “on a tiny sample of OCUFA’s membership.” Rather, the questionnaire received over 2,000 responses, or approximately 13 per cent of OCUFA’s total membership. This is a highly significant sample by any standard.

Wagman has also overemphasized a relatively small finding of our survey – that university faculty feel incoming students are too reliant on Wikipedia and similar online tools for research. In fact, our questionnaire revealed that professors and academic librarians believe that first-year students are generally unprepared for post-secondary education. This includes a lack of academic maturity, poor critical thinking skills and the inability to learn independently. Nowhere does our study suggest that the existence or basic use of Wikipedia is the cause of this problem. Faculty may feel that students are over-reliant on Wikipedia, but this is only a symptom of a much larger overall deficiency in academic skills. The Internet is unquestionably an important research tool. However, it is only one component of the scholarly toolkit and students must be able to use a variety of sources to be effective researchers.

OCUFA agrees wholeheartedly with the assertion that universities must produce graduates “with the skills to research in the information age.” Unfortunately, Ontario’s faculty currently struggle to deliver quality education while coping with large (and growing) class sizes, insufficient educational resources, and aging university infrastructure. The lack of preparation among incoming students only exacerbates these challenges. Ontario’s universities are in serious need of greater public support to ensure that every student acquires the skills they need to succeed, regardless of the abilities they may possess upon registration.

Mark Langer
Vice-President, OCUFA
Associate Professor of Film Studies, Carleton University

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