To quote from this report: Want to stir up a room full of college faculty and librarians? Mention Wikipedia.
The paper “How today’s college students use Wikipedia for course-related research” by Alison J Head and Michael B Eisenberg was published in the March issue of First Monday. There were two phases to the study, a series of 11 focus groups and an online survey to 27,666 students across 6 US campuses that yielded 2318 usable responses. As we might expect students do use Wikipedia but mainly as an entry point into a subject and it seems that they are well aware of the relative reliability of the information.
Here is the abstract of the paper:
Findings are reported from student focus groups and a large–scale survey about how and why students (enrolled at six different U.S. colleges) use Wikipedia during the course–related research process. A majority of respondents frequently used Wikipedia for background information, but less often than they used other common resources, such as course readings and Google. Architecture, engineering, and science majors were more likely to use Wikipedia for course–related research than respondents in other majors. The findings suggest Wikipedia is used in combination with other information resources. Wikipedia meets the needs of college students because it offers a mixture of coverage, currency, convenience, and comprehensibility in a world where credibility is less of a given or an expectation from today’s students