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How online research can make the grade

Not too long ago, the golden rules for high school and college students turning to the web as a research tool were simple: Treat digital content that’s never been in print with suspicion. Be careful what you Google. And thou shalt not touch Wikipedia. But the web has grown up a bit in the past few years, and the presence of digital research journals, fact-finding social media tools, textbook exchanges, and eReaders have made it a much more complicated landscape for students, CNET reports. When things have shaken out, it might be a world where free-for-all online information hubs are accepted—or, if proponents of “collaborative knowledge” have their way, even embraced. “With more and more people using (Wikipedia), it has done a better job of being able to self-correct than in the Wild West days of when it first started up and you had no idea who was vouching for any of this stuff,” said Chad O’Connor, a consultant and adjunct professor of communications at Emerson College. Wikipedia should not be used as a primary source, Wikimedia Foundation spokesman Jay Walsh acknowledged. But he added that the foundation has started an experimental outreach with some U.S. universities to bring faculty and students into the corps of Wikipedia contributors, specifically with regard to articles about public policy—one of the site’s more contentious areas. Meanwhile, just as the academic community has started to accept the inevitability of sites like Wikipedia, the web is also about to foist what might be the biggest complexity it has encountered since the advent of the free-for-all encyclopedia: As the school year starts, the recent proliferation of question-and-answer sites—like the brainy Quora and the soon-to-be-everywhere Facebook Questions—might prove to be students’ next last-ditch time-saver and teachers’ next digital bogeyman…

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