Saturday, June 25, 2011

Encyclopedias versus Wikipedia

Yes I am one of those people who have been trying to point kids to almost any source but Wikipedia.  I am realizing now that I been fighting battles where there really should be no war at all.

Over the past five years as a teacher-librarian at a K to 5 school I have been discouraging students from using Wikipedia because I lack confidence in their ability to evaluate the reliability of the information.  I have also been a bit biased towards using books over web-based sources for research projects in general with the exception of using World Book Online and Culturegram. My thinking has been to steer students towards resources of more limited scope and usually better readability. I have always believed this makes for more productive research with less time spent going off on tangents and getting buried in avalanche of information. I offer the students the opportunity to engage in web-based research after they have exhausted the aforementioned resources.  Usually because of time constraints students don't end up with a large amount of time left over for web based research.

Over the past few years I am becoming more aware of the flaws in my approach especially in regards to grade 4 and 5 students.  I have pointed students to World Book Online to explore their topics in preparation for inquiry research.  Often the information can be quite limited so they don't get enough background to inspire a truly thoughtful inquiry. As a result they don't ask insightful questions or get really jazzed by their research because they have not adequately explored their topic.  I realize that I may have my checklist of  information sources backwards.  Wikipedia and some more general web browsing is a perfect exploratory activity.  Wikipedia articles are often longer and have more cross references than World Book Online. Students can get a better idea of what interests them about their topic and the breadth it could have. 

I realize that there is much wisdom in first harnessing Wikipedia for its sheer scope.  Yes, everyone uses Wikipedia so why not make sure they use it well as a starting point rather than an endpoint for research. Wikipedia can be used to inspire curiosity and better research.  If students are properly informed about how Wikipedia is created their information appetite will not be quenched by Wikipedia but rather it will be whetted. The very fact that  Wikipedia is not authoritative is perfect motivation to seek out additional sources to confirm or refute what Wikipedia states. Yes use Wikipedia and then see if you can prove or disprove the accuracy of what you have read.  If its wrong you could be the first to correct it.

1 comment:

  1. One of my friends is an admin in Wikipedia. Ha has told me that some of the wikipedia admins take money in order to make biased edits and ban users who oppose them. See this also -