WIKIPEDIA should be seen as a valid resource tool for academic work, according to a local non-profit organisation.
The African Commons Project director, Kerryn Mckay, said the Wikimedia foundation’s chapter committee recently approved a local chapter which aims to improve the website’s reputation among academics. Wikimedia is a non-profit charitable organisation which runs several projects, including Wikipedia.
She said the group would “definitely look at raising awareness [about Wikipedia] this year” on campuses in South Africa.
Mckay said the chapter’s aim of promoting Wikipedia at universities is not about changing the site or how it is moderated, but rather informing tertiary institutions about the “stats and compelling reasons as to why it is a useful resource”.
A document regarding referencing in academic work from the Wits school of education in 2008 says “students are forbidden to use or cite Wikipedia”.
Several other similar documents can be found on the internet from tertiary institutions, such as the University of Pretoria and the University of Cape Town, which also discourage students from using the reference site in academic essays.
Izak Minnaar, SABC editor of digital news, said “Wikipedia can be an incredibly rich source, if the information you are looking at is a result of the best brains reviewing the topic.”
However, Minnaar said only if South African academics use and review information on the site themselves, will Wikipedia become acceptable at tertiary institutions for essays and research.
“South African academics should wake up to the fact that Wikipedia is the people’s access to information,” said Minnaar.
Mckay said the chapter is bidding to host Wikimania 2012 in Stellenbosch. Wikimania is an annual event run by the Wikimedia foundation in which projects and issues surrounding the foundation are discussed. South Africa is currently the only African country with an official bid.
Mckay said Stellenbosch was the preferred location because there is an interest in Wikipedia from the University of Stellenbosch. This would help build the discussion around academia and Wikipedia.