March 29, 2017

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Students Wary of Wikipedia But Still Use for Research, Study Finds

A recent, voluntary survey of 3,000 high school students by EasyBib, the online citation and research platform, shows that kids are wary of Wikipedia’s accuracy—but still turn to it as a primary research tool—and they condemn plagiarism, though it remains an issue for high schools. The survey also finds that students are increasingly seeing libraries as providers of tech resources.

Information. Unreliable. Fake. Lies. Easy. These are the most common words that come to mind when students are asked to think about the word “Wikipedia,” according to the survey. EasyBib also asked respondents what words come to mind when they thought of “plagiarism,” “library,” and “research.”

In addition, EasyBib asked, “What technologies are most important to you to be a successful student?” The top answers include “computers” (29 percent), laptops (20 percent), and the Internet (17 percent).

Students have a “need for hardware—computers, Netbooks,” says Emily Gover, in-house librarian and content developer at EasyBib.

Launched in April, the student survey lasted a month and a half, with different questions each week appearing in pop-up windows as students used EasyBib’s online services. EasyBib created a concurrent survey for librarians through an email campaign, rather than pop-up boxes.

Despite many students’ stated mistrust of Wikipedia’s accuracy, it’s the most popular citation on EasyBib, according to Caity Selleck, also an in-house librarian and content developer at EasyBib. “A lot of students say it’s not a great source, and yet it’s still the number one citation on EasyBib,” she says. The survey “shows that students are aware of the issues surrounding Wikipedia.”

Prominent student word associations with “plagiarism” include “copy” or “copying” (10 percent), “cheat” or “cheating” (seven percent), “stealing,” illegal,” and “fake.”

In their own survey, librarians say the words they most associate with “plagiarism” are “students,” “copying,” “cheating,” and “stealing,” while “laziness” and “understand” also appear.

The student plagiarism comments are “parallel with the Wikipedia” ones, says Gover. Though students know plagiarism is wrong, many “are still in their comfort zone” plagiarizing. According to a recent study by the plagiarism detection device Turnitin, eighteen percent of students who plagiarize use paper mills and cheat sites, which promote selling or sharing of written work, she notes.

Among the 3,000 students who anonymously responded, most associate the word “library” with “books” (29 percent), “quiet,” and “reading,” though “computers,” “boring,” (five percent), and “old” also figure in the answers. Two percent thought the library was “cool.”

Among the 250 librarians’ answers, “information” is a top word association with the library, with “resources,” “research,” and “books” also appearing prominently.

Though “technology” per se wasn’t among students’ top library associations, “Students are starting to associate the library with technology,” says Selleck, adding that individual comments “say that the library has great computers, iPads, etc.”

The librarian survey results also highlight that “a lot of them say they wear different hats,” says Selleck. “They have a lot of roles: Teacher, study-hall monitor, technology director, IT director.”

Sarah Bayliss About Sarah Bayliss

Sarah Bayliss (, @shbayliss) is associate editor, news and features, at School Library Journal.

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