Is Wikipedia An Appropriate Resource For MBA Students

Currently, Wikipedia attracts 400 million unique visitors each month and has 82,000 active contributors working on more than 19,000,000 articles in more than 270 languages (3,824,747 in English). Given these numbers, Wikipedia appears to be a success in online participation and collaboration.

This level of achievement is in part due to the following set of fundamental operating principles:

  • Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia
  • Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view
  • Wikipedia is free content that anyone can edit, use, modify, and distribute
  • Editors should interact with each other in a respectful and civil manner
  • Wikipedia does not have firm rules

As successful as Wikipedia appears to be, my experience is that MBA faculty members do not widely use it in their courses or encourage their MBA students to use Wikipedia as a resource or to become contributors. Moreover, when I talk with MBA faculty members, there is little agreement regarding the extent to which Wikipedia is an appropriate resource for MBA students.

From my perspective, Wikipedia is an appropriate resource for MBA students. However, the following guidelines apply:

  • MBA students should not assume Wikipedia is an acceptable resource for all MBA faculty members. MBA faculty members typically fall into three groups regarding the use of Wikipedia: 1) No, not in my course, 2) Yes, but not as the only authoritative source, and 3) Yes, but only for background.
  • MBA students should familiarize themselves with “About Wikipedia” before they start using the resource. I suggest starting with the “Strengths, weaknesses, and article quality in Wikipedia” section and followed by “Using Wikipedia as a research tool” section.
  • MBA students and other Wikipedia users should know that Wikipedia is the subject of many research projects. One recent study by Royce Kimmons may help us understand some of Wikipedia’s limitations and perhaps explain why MBA faculty members are reluctant to embrace Wikipedia as a useful resource for MBA students. Mr. Kimmons says, “This study raises some important questions about what collaboration may actually look like in Wikipedia and may cast doubt on idealized notions of open, community–generated knowledge. Rather than reflecting the contributions and expertise of a large group of people, the typical article in Wikipedia reflects the efforts of a relatively small group of users (median of 12) making a relatively small number of edits (median of 21). Further, the nature of revisions made and user contribution histories suggest that the majority of revisions made by users are micro–structural, stylistic, or typographical and, therefore, may have little impact on the validity of article content.”
  • MBA students should consider limiting their use of Wikipedia to developing background on a topic and perhaps an entry point for more authoritative sources. Depending on the quality of the Wikipedia article, there are often links to other articles and experts on the topic. I use Wikipedia on a regular basis for this purpose.

Is Wikipedia an appropriate resource for MBA students? Share your thoughts below by adding a comment.

Rodney
Rodney G. Alsup, D.B.A., CPA, CITP
Professor of Accounting
Founder of MyeEMBA.com

[Image from Wikipedia web site]

7 comments for “Is Wikipedia An Appropriate Resource For MBA Students

  1. January 3, 2012 at 9:48 am

    In the old days of practicing tax accounting (when tax research was conducted by pulling books from the shelf); the IRS considered only one of the publications as authoritative– I cannot remember the name but redall that it was rarely found on the shelves of accounting firms. The more popular books that could be found were deemed to be not authoritative–they were widely used and served a useful purpose. I cannot consider Wikipedia as an authoritative source on anything other then Wikipedia itself. With that said, I see no harm in using it to point into a particular direction; but then use that direction to find the authority through good research.

  2. January 3, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Yes, of course. But beware of ALL sources, even those that the wizards in authority of your particular subject have sprinkled holy water on. Double-check everything, then triple-check that. Dig deep, dig wide. Don’t be shallow in anything you do.

  3. Luis
    February 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    I recently finished my MBA at IE Business School in Madrid, and although not many professors used it, I did meet quite a few professors who were very open about it and would encourage the students to use it and help become part of it, by creating/editing relevant content.
    To explain myself a bit better, what I have found from my own experience, is that I went to Wikipedia to search a certain topic but found the information too basic at times. Then when I went to more specialized journals, and many times as well the material there was very research based and more PhD oriented and sometimes lacked the practical side of the business.

  4. David
    March 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    I believe that there is a certain amount of scholastic acceptability to the site. It is a great spring board for further research, and can be a great place to go to find references. The problem is, that the content can be changed from the time the student turns in a paper to the time it is graded. If the professor doesn’t see the same exact content that the student saw, than there is a compromise of information continuity and can be adverse for the student. This also has a sense of possible manipulation from the student to submit a paper or project with inaccurate information and have a viable source.

    I think it should be used by students as a place to get references from, but never as a reference for the students.

    • March 24, 2012 at 9:42 am

      Scholastic acceptability may depend on the discipline and perhaps to an even greater extent on an individual faculty members experience using Wikipedia for their own work.

      You make a point about the professor going to Wikipedia to confirm the information the student submitted and not seeing the same thing. I believe it is rare that a faculty would do this kind of comparison and checking of resources. My experience is that faculty members only do something like this when they think the student is plagiarizing.

      Thank you for taking the time to read the article and make a comment.
      Rodney

  5. October 15, 2014 at 6:41 am

    The following article may be of interest to MyeEMBA readers:
    “Wikipedia, a Professor’s Best Friend” http://chronicle.com/article/Wikipedia-a-Professors-Best/149337/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

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