I don’t know about you, but when I hire someone, or go to the doctor or the
architect or an engineer, I could care less about how good they are at
memorizing or looking up facts. I want them to be great at synthesizing ideas,
the faster and more insightfully, the better.
Please don’t tell me that Wikipedia isn’t a real encyclopedia or one that
can’t be trusted. Perhaps it can’t be trusted if you’re prepping for a
Presidential debate, but it is sure good enough to help me learn what I need to
learn–which is how to quickly take a bunch of facts and turn them into a new
and useful idea.
Here’s what just about every exam ought to be: "Use Firefox to find the
information you need to answer this question:" And as the internet gets smarter,
the questions are going to have to get harder. Which is a good thing.
Until teachers get unstuck, our kids are going to be stuck and so will we.
This is a story about tools and bravery and marketing.
The tools: when you give a kid a net connection, access to wikipedia and to
the rest of the world, things change fast. Things you wouldn’t necessarily
predict. Like a ten year old who can diagnose his dad’s illness. Or a farmer
that can ask his daughter to find out where to get a new part for the tractor.
The marketing: Everything, even laptops for kids, works its way through the
innovation diffusion curve. That means that most countries, most organizations
and most communities aren’t going to adopt this tool for a few years. It doesn’t
matter if it’s perfect… these things take time. Smart marketing embraces the
curve and doesn’t insist that it must change for this project, right now.
One kid (or five kids) at a time. It’s enough. It’ll happen.
The Wikipedia Gap post is, in my opinion, missing the mark by a longshot. I understand what Seth is saying about schools and teachers banning the use of Wikipedia, but the generalizations are too sweeping for me to follow his path of reasoning.
While I too appreciate knowledgeable doctors who are quick thinkers, I’d stop going to any doctor who devised a treatment plan for my life-threatening illness from a Wikipedia entry. I would certainly hope that my doctor would hit the medical journals. However, if s/he were quickly looking up information that did not require a high degree of analysis and scrutiny, such as reading about various symptoms, I would think Wikipedia a good source.
The point is that there are never absolutes in informational literacy (maybe that is the ONE absolute). One needs to use a variety of tools that are appropriate to the task and quite frankly, sometimes Wikipedia is not the appropriate tool.
Students, especially younger ones, are developmentally unready to process the concepts of evaluating resources for validity.
Seth states that Wikipedia being good enough to quickly take a bunch of facts and turn them into a new and useful idea. That is a great human ability, but has nothing to do with any one particular information source. So saying it is good enough is too sweeping of a generalization. It is good enough for those that understand how and when it ought to be used, and when it should be looked at with some skepticism. When one of our high school’s Wikipedia entries incorrectly lists former principals, I would consider it not good enough fact finding into the history of our school.
I think it is completely appropriate for teachers to help students understand that selecting informational sources is a critical thinking skill and if that means that sometimes they are steered towards sources other than Wikipedia, it might happen with good reason. Of course, if we live in a world of absolutes, I would not agree with the statement that Wikipedia should never be used, but nor would I say it should always be consulted.
I think that Seth utilizes the often degraded information source, Wikipedia, to make a valid point. We are relying too often on information located in textbooks that were written several years prior and we do not focus enough on the methodology of research. We need to be teaching our students how to find information, validate it, and turn it around to make it mean something.
Well, I can’t disagree with Seth on his blog directly, so I’ll have to do it here. Wikipedia does address his primary complaint about research–it serves as an excellent compendium of sources and primary references to get the researcher started. But you can’t trust a reference document that can be manipulated by Stephen Colbert. (Not that I don’t love Colbert… but I wouldn’t go to him for my history paper).
The point of old-fashioned research is not to display your ability to find source material. It’s to ensure that your synthesis of said material is based on *reliable* information. I love Wikipedia as much as the next writer but it’s simply too easy for anyone to change. I’ve never been much of a believer in “the wisdom of the crowds” – it reminds me too much of mob rule.