How Popular are Sparknotes and Wikipedia at school?

Maya Schulman and Delilah Papka

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Wikipedia and Sparknotes, do those names ring a bell?

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia-like website that provides information on multiple topics. However, many teachers believe that Wikipedia is an unreputable website, and it does not have accurate information. They do not allow their students to use Wikipedia as a research source for projects.

Sparknotes is a website that analyzes various works of literature. It has notes and summaries of many classic books that are taught in MMS. Sparknotes can be used as help for studying or for projects. Many teachers also do not allow their students to use Sparknotes.

Delilah Papka and I surveyed fifty students. We asked them if they had ever used Wikipedia or Sparknotes to help them with a school assignment. Unsurprisingly, many students said that they had used Sparknotes or Wikipedia at least once. 16% of students revealed that they used Sparknotes and Wikipedia all the time.

I interviewed a few students who constantly use these resources. One student revealed that, “I use Sparknotes for everything,” Sparknotes seems to be the go-to source when students need help with an LAR assignment.

56% of students use Wikipedia and Sparknotes occasionally. 20% of students used Wikipedia and Sparknotes once or twice. Only 8% of students said that they never used these resources. This is surprising, since many teachers have banned students from using these websites. I interviewed a few students about why they feel using these resources is necessary.

Many students find that it is helpful to use sites like Sparknotes when they are reading challenging books, such as the works of Shakespeare. Many students admitted that they used Sparknotes for help analyzing Shakespearean works, such as play Julius Caesar. “I use it (Sparknotes) a lot. Especially for Shakespeare,” one student remarked.

This student continued, “Sparknotes provides summaries of the acts and scenes of Shakespeare’s plays. It also provides a modern day translation of Shakespearean plays, which is useful for the many students who have trouble understanding Shakespearean language.”

Many students noted they just use Sparknotes as a way to check their understanding.

However, problems may occur when students use these resources as a crutch … or worse as the only resource for understanding. Some students may become too dependent on Wikipedia and Sparknotes. Also, Wikipedia and Sparknotes can help boost students’ grades on projects and homework assignments, but these websites are not available during tests. This could potentially hurt the students’ grades in the long run, because tests are typically more points than homework assignments.

Although many teachers do not support the use of these resources, the majority of students use Sparknotes and Wikipedia anyway. Sparknotes and Wikipedia may be useful, and can be used as a helpful aid for struggling students, but they also have the potential to hurt students’ grades as well.

What about you? Do you use Sparknotes or Wikipedia?

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