I wrote last week (Wikipedia goes undercover) about the increasing clandestine use of Wikipedia by students in spite of teachers' warnings that it isn't always academically reliable. The moral of the story for me is that if faculty don't completely trust sites like Wikipedia why not get involved to improve the shortcomings.
This is what is happening already at some universities and in particular the University of Denver according to an article in eCampus News, Journalism students turn to Wikipedia to publish stories. Journalism students there are given assignments to write new entries in Wikipedia that have to be thoroughly researched and referenced. As one student says about the assignment:
“I never considered how much research and knowledge actually has to go into a Wikipedia article to make them good sources. It was actually very tough researching the subject and turning it into a coherent entry for Wikipedia.”
Indeed if you are writing for a site that gets around 68 million visitors per month you can be sure that if you make a mistake someone out there will comment. One of the Denver teachers involved in this initiative comments on faculty suspicion of Wikipedia:
“One of the reasons I wanted to assign [writing Wikipedia entries] is to combat that view. I tell students to use it as an information portal … and you can see what information has been sourced and see that they’re reliable sources. Wikipedia can be a great resource.”
I don't think anyone is suggesting that Wikipedia can replace academic journals and reference works but it is definitely a great place to start if you want a good overview of a subject and links to further study.