I’m on a wiki and Wikipedia bender of late, trying to get my brain around all of the implications for educators in terms of how to teach research and the use of sources. I think that this is actually a bigger challenge for elementary school teachers who are in that pre-exposition gray area. For instance, if my daughter gets assigned a “report” on Argentina, why wouldn’t she go first to the Wikipedia entry? The bigger question is why would she go anywhere else? The entry has 4,100 words and about 125 links to more information. It’s got maps and charts and pictures. It’s been edited like a gajillion times, most recently today with updated GDP figures. Ok, I know, I know. It might be all wrong. But you and I know…it’s not.
The bigger, bigger question is why should she do that report at all? I know she has to learn how to write, to organize ideas, to use different sources of information etc. And believe me, I want her to do all of those things. But do I want her doing what I did as a kid? (I did Argentina, you know.)
This goes back to George Seimens’ articulation of “know where” instead of “know what” learning. If she has access to the information and knows how to find it, isn’t that the important thing?
Of course, when kids are starting to defend thesis statements and pulling together different people’s opinions and all that good stuff, this all changes. Wikipedia might be a source, but that’s when they should be blogging.
Yes, back when I was a kid, I copied everything from World Book. 🙂 We use Wikipedia all the time. Recently, I was helping my 10 year old do a report on the Great Lighthouse. We discovered in our trip around the web discrepancies in information. My son asked how to reconcile this. I explained how people might have used different sources to get their information, perhaps even just their memory from a visit to the site. I talked about how some sources are more reliable than others. So we decided that a museum site and the Wikipedia were probably correct since they had the facts in question in common and seemed more reliable. It was a lesson in evaluating sources. I wish I’d had a screencast of the whole journey. Of course, it might be better if kids replicated it themselves.
Will R. says
Great story, Laura! Puhleese…do that screencast! It would be a wonderful example of the process we need our students to learn. It’s amazing to me how the truth about something now has to be found rather than just accepted. (Let me know when it’s finished…)
Laura Pearle says
Jamie McKenzie has been working on “banning the bird unit” for years: http://www.questioning.org/ and http://www.fno.org/.
Tom Hoffman says
You’re wrapping yourself in knots, here, Will. If wikipedia is successful, it is just another reliable source. Nothing more or less. It challenges one’s view of how an encyclopedia is made, but it doesn’t change how you *use* an encyclopedia, unless you find an error or bug and fix it or have something to add to it.
David Warlick says
This is a great topic, Will, and an example of how the nature of information is changing. I know that you have had the experience of demonstrating Wikipedia to a group of teachers, and they become so excited — until you click the Edit this Page button. It is no exaggeration to say that they are shocked. If it’s librarians, we wheel in defibrillators.
It is understandable that educators feel like their feet have been knocked out from under them by the Wikipedia. We have been taught to assume the authority of the information that we encounter. But today, our information environment is changing into something that is…
less worthy of this assumption
but at the same time
I would make the assignment like this. Look up Argentina on the Wikipedia, and collect the facts and concepts that are appropriate to the assignment. Then prove that those facts and concepts are true, by researching elsewhere for evidence of their accuracy and appropriateness.
We have to stop teaching students to assume authority and teach them to prove it. A big shift in the nature of how we teach!
Corrie Bergeron says
Read the article and then the comments. A very interesting case study.
Why don’t school start their own wikipedia? Then instead of your daughter being assigned a paper that thousands of students before her have written she could be assigned to review the entry on Argentina, confirm that the entry is current and be asked to contribute something new to the entry.
Tom Hoffman says
I think Phil’s point is a good one.
On the other hand, when David writes things like “the nature of information is changing” and “We have been taught to assume the authority of the information that we encounter,” I wonder what planet he has been living on.
Will R. says
Yeah, I’ve been pitching a Centralpedia for my school with various folks here but the idea hasn’t caught yet. Eventually.