Saturday, February 3, 2007

A Stand Against Wikipedia

I recently did group research projects with my 9th grade students on Ernest Hemingway and deep-sea fishing. I worked with our school's librarian to help students learn how to search for information, and wrote two blog entries about using Infotrack and Google Advanced Search to search for information.

While most of my students found a variety of primary sources, one group used Wikipedia as a source. I remember feeling a little uneasy about that group's choice to use Wikipedia, but I allowed it because the information seemed solid, and they did have other sources.

In the future, as this article from InsideHigherEd.com suggests, I will allow students to use Wikipedia as a starting point, but explain to them its limitations and potential for inaccuracy, and require that they use primary or academically sound secondary sources for research.

As the Internet continues to grow and new tools become available, I believe it is important for teachers to stay abreast with the times and be able to give students accurate guidance when it comes to navigating the overwhelming amount of information available to them at the click of a button.

7 comments:

Bud Hunt said...

I don't think you did anything wrong by allowing them to use Wikipedia with other sources, particularly since you looked at their work and sources in the context of your project and their other sources.

.. said...

As a student, I understand the practical use of Wikipedia. Just like the librarians are allergic to Google, teachers are allergic to Wiki. Don't get worked up, just understand that we like our Wiki because we don't have to translate someone's jargon into usable info.

Mr. B-G said...

I am not trying to knock Wikipedia per se, I am merely trying to articulate its strengths and limitations.

I think Wikipedia is a good starting point for research, although because of its public authoring nature, it can be unreliable.

Wikipedia, by definition, is a secondary source.
Many teachers and professors give research assignments where secondary sources are not allowed, or if they are, must be accompanied by primary sources.

I would argue that being able to "translate someone's jargon into usable info" is a valuable skill that young people need to develop.

All professional fields - law, medicine, academia, engineering, construction - have their own forms of jargon.

Those who are able to navigate the language of these professions on their own will become the next lawyers, doctors, professors, engineers, and foremen.

Those who rely on Wikipedia to navigate for them run the risk of becoming misinformed and illiterate.

Anonymous said...

Using Wikipedia as a source, a student reporting on pandemics stated that avian flu was first identified in Canada. This presented a 2-fold problem. The Wikipedia information regarding this particular topic is confusing AND the student misinterpreted the information as well. Anyway, I am not a Wikipedia fan. Students, in my experience, believe what is presented on the internet. The other site I find troubling is cia.govfactbook. I felt this was a solid source for research until a student reported strange events in Cuba - trafficking of children and women and drug running. Having spent time in Cuba, I saw no evidence of any of this in any city I visited and I have found no evidence of this in other material I have read. I am disappointed. A solution, I guess, is to require the students to use several resources. In any case, I hope that people will be wary of cia.gov. What a shame and a sham. B

Mr. B-G said...

Colorful and informative feedback Ms. B. Thanks for the comment.

I hope you're enjoying the break.

Mr. B-G said...

Interesting follow-up article:

More 'reliable' Wikipedia to launch

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia is a great tool but it is not something that one should be able to reference academically. As long as you let your students know that no university on the planet will let them cite Wikipedia because it isn't peer reviewed in the proper sense of the phrase then there's no harm in letting them use it as a starting point for their projects. I use it all the time just for personal information gathering.