What?s Wrong with Wikipedia? Evaluating the Sources Used by Students

08 Feb

The internet has changed the very meaning of ‘research’.” 

– Pew Internet and American Life Project  


In a recent report entitled, “How Teens Do Research in the Digital World,” the Pew Research Center confirms what many educators already know: student reliance on Internet-based search has replaced the more rigorous and traditional approaches to research. While the survey highlights the value teachers believe the Internet provides (99 percent agreement) for empowering student access to information, the survey of over 2,000 middle and high school teachers also found that 64 percent reported that digital technologies are more distracting than helpful from an academic standpoint. In short, what constitutes “research” for students today has come to mean “Googling.” 1

As a way to address this gap in student skills, Turnitin has developed a source evaluation rubric for educators to share with their students. The rubric, created by secondary and higher education instructors, is designed to help students evaluate sources that they use in their writing. Its intent is to help enhance student mastery of “21st century,” information literacy skills critical for academic, professional and career success in the digital age.

This white paper begins by highlighting the problem by reviewing findings from The Pew Research Center and Turnitin’s own study of student research practices. Next is an overview of the rubric that includes examples of how common source sites perform against the rubric. Finally, this study will offer guidance on how the rubric can be used by instructors and students to improve student research skills.

How do students research in the digital age?

The Pew report shows that the ease with which information “appears” online allows students to avoid any of the questions that may surface concerning the quality and intent of information they “research.” The Pew survey revealed that only one percent of those surveyed reported as “excellent” the ability of students “to recognize bias in online content.” As for their “ability to assess the quality and accuracy of information they find online,” only three percent reported that they found students to be “excellent.” 2

Turnitin’s own research reinforces many of the findings in the Pew report while providing a greater level of detail in terms of which Internet sources students include in their writing. Turnitin analyzed over 37 million higher and secondary education student papers submitted to the service from July 2011 to June 2012 and categorized each source into one of six categories. In these papers, Turnitin identified 156 million matches between content in the paper and the Internet. The chart below highlights the breakout of matches by category. 


This data supports the following insights into student research behavior, specifically:

  • Students appear to value immediacy over quality in online research,
  • Students often use cheat sites and paper mills as sources
  • There is an over reliance on the “wisdom of the crowd”
  • Student “research” is synonymous with “search”
  • Existing student source choices warrant a need for better search skills

Evaluating Online Sources

The Source Educational Evaluation Rubric (SEER) represents the evolution of the critical approach that Turnitin has adopted and used to categorize websites in our analysis of student sources. The rubric was designed by academic experts and used by secondary and higher education educators who field-tested the rubric by using it to evaluate over300 of the most popular student sources (which will be shared in a follow-up white paper.)

The rubric is built on five criteria:

  • Authority: Is the site well regarded, cited, and written by experts in the field?
  •  Educational Value: Does the site content help advance educational goals?
  • Intent: Is the site a well-respected source of content intended to inform users?
  • Originality: Is the site a source of original content and viewpoints?
  •  Quality: Is the site highly vetted with good coverage of the topical area?

To learn more about what’s wrong with Wikipedia, evalutating the sources used by students, and the Source Educational Evaluation Rubric (SEER), take a look at the rest of the Turnitin Whitepaper.

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Posted by on February 8, 2013 in Uncategorized


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