There has been a giant leap in the amount of research that is being done by students, teachers, and research alike. While its use has increased, there is still a large majority of these groups who either prefer not to utilize online resources, or simply do not know how. There is also a large percentage of individuals, especially in the academic arena, that find online encyclopedias unreliable. This mindset has proved to be an unfortunate one because online reference materials are often as factually correct as their printed counterparts. In order to discuss the benefits of finding facts online, it is important to address the issue from the standpoint of both a student as well as a teacher/researcher.
Student Benefits of Using an Online Encyclopedia
It is much faster to use online encyclopedias to do research than to spend hours in the library. When working online, the student needs to simply find the encyclopedia of their choice and type in a search phrase. From here, the student can be given a number of articles relating to the focus of their research. They will be able to amass a wealth of information in a matter of minutes. This same process can take literally hours when using printed materials in a library.
2. Updated Information
When using an online encyclopedia, students will receive updated information. If the facts change, these changes will be reflected by the online reference materials. With printed materials this simply isn’t possible. Once a book is printed, it cannot be changed. Many schools and libraries have encyclopedias that are five or ten years old. Students that are forced to use these materials, may be absorbing information that has been long out of date.
3. Depth and Breadth
Because online encyclopedias are constantly being updated, they often have more depth and breadth than a traditional encyclopedia. This gives students a chance to find much more information on any given subject. Additionally, if they are focusing on a topic that is not well known, it may not be found in traditional printed reference materials. A final advantage is that when there is a citation or footnote in an online encyclopedia, it is often accompanied by a link to the original source. This gives students an easy way to gather more information as well as easily reference original sources.
Teachers and Researchers Benefits to Using Online Encyclopedias
1. Create a Connection
Students are using the internet and all that it has to offer at a continually growing rate. By utilizing online reference materials, you are able to make a connection with the students. This will normally increase their attention to the project as well as increase their overall level of engagement. A more engaged student will not only work harder, but will also naturally retain more of the information that they find.
2. Image Building
In order for a teacher or researcher to be taken seriously and be more respected, they must gain the approval of their audience. With more people utilizing the internet, a teacher or researcher will naturally appear that they have utilized resources that their audience would find acceptable, thus improving their image.
Should Online Encyclopedias and Reference Materials Trusted?
While the benefits of using online reference materials to find important facts, whether or not they can be trusted has been up for debate for some time. At the core of this debate, there is one major issue; where do online reference materials and encyclopedias get their information. If they are getting their information from low-quality resources, then the information is likely to be incorrect. There are many printed encyclopedias and reference materials that have been replicated online, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica, and are considered to be legitimate. However, the most popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia and similar websites, is often criticized.
Since anyone can contribute to Wikipedia, many scholars argue that it is full of mistakes and inaccurate information. The founders of Wikipedia admit that some of the information may be inaccurate, however in total it has been found to be shockingly factual. In order to contribute to a Wikipedia entry, it must be cited. It is then reviewed by editors and the citation must be from a source that is unbiased and proven to be factually accurate. In fact, several studies have been conducted and concluded that Wikipedia is nearly as factually accurate Encyclopedia Britannica and Encarta. If you are still wondering if Wikipedia can be trusted, keep in mind that it took over 70 years and thousands of contributors, including an inmate in an asylum for the criminally insane, to create the original Oxford English Dictionary. Just because thousands of people have made a contribution, that doesn’t inherently make the information incorrect.