You know, this digital monster Wikipedia that corrupts our little blond heads for 15 years and some of whom like to criticize the wrong, sometimes right, sometimes to the obsession.

It turns out that this year, in charge of a course entitled “research and digital tools” for students in the second year of the License, I was able to become aware of the nuisance capacity of the speeches with the cookie cutter that are held on “digital” in general and Wikipedia in particular.

In the modern education system students make use of Wikipedia already massively but the real challenge of teaching is to make them understand, better use of Wikipedia it was simply to train them to use it correctly, that is to say by proceeding to an active reading of the articles. What I mean by this: to act as readers and critical readers, not as good consumers. For Wikipedia, the topography on the functioning of Wikipedia, which for many remains a black box.

What motivates students to use Wikipedia Frequently?

What are the main reasons, cited by American students, to explain their craze for Wikipedia? A handful of motivations, of very unequal importance, are evoked by the survey.

The first motivation, which largely dominates the answers, is to obtain a summary on a certain topic of research: for 82% of the students who answered, Wikipedia fills first a function of preview, clearing a theme, it allows to define at least a subject, according to the central function of any encyclopedia.

As a student says, “Wikipedia tells me what’s what. “. Let us note that this first reason, massively declared, of use of Wikipedia in a university framework does not really differ from its usual and general public function (to obtain an information, a short synthesis on any subject).

The second reason is specifically academic and quite interesting to observe, because for 76% of students, Wikipedia is a starting point for research, a first step, a beginning and not a culmination. The first two reasons are very complementary.

The ease of use of the world’s largest encyclopedia is the third most important reason for its use. In fact, 69% of students say they use it because the interface is easy to use. Some might point out that here is the tautology: Wikipedia is used. Because it is easy to use! But we cannot say enough the importance of interfaces and their “usability” to use this expression “useless” and not yet entered in the dictionary

With the fourth motivation is one of the functions, also historical, shared by encyclopedias with dictionaries: provide definitions. Indeed, for 67% of students surveyed, Wikipedia is first used to find definitions of terms, i.e. to fill a dictionary function.

64% of students put forward another reason for use, quite corresponding with the previous ones: to obtain understandable explanations on their research subject.

Three other reasons are more diverse and testify to the various functions fulfilled by wiki page creator; they collect lower response rates:

  1. The indication of bibliographical resources in the articles (“Quotations at bottom of entry”), reason cited by 54% of students;
  2. Help to find search terms, which gets 44% of answers;
  3. The search for news, news: 39% of students.

Lastly, the two last reasons given raise quite low rates:

17% of students only use Wikipedia because they consider it more credible than other sources ; this may be a reason for relief for the many teachers sometimes tempted by the catastrophic discourse; most US students remain skeptical and critical of Wikipedia’s credibility compared to other more “traditional” sources;

Finally, only 16% use it because of its intrinsic characteristics of being a collaborative wiki, a ” peer-to-peer source” in other words, if collaborative writing is clearly the key reason for the creation, the tremendous growth, the current breadth of Wikipedia and therefore its success, this new form of knowledge development does not constitute, as such, a very important reason for use for students.

In the end, as indicated by the authors, four main reasons explain the massive use of Wikipedia by students: its synthetic information, its role as “starter” for documentary research, ease of use and intelligibility. Credibility and wiki writing are the last reasons given.

Wrapping it up

Not only Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia like the others, but it is also a real media, as everyone knows, capable of the best as the worst like all the media; what this study shows, however, The media function is far from being as dominant as one might think, at least among American students.