Posts Tagged ‘Wikipedia’

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Teaching Students to Use Wikipedia Wisely

posted: 7.7.09 by Traci Gardner

Like it or not, Wikipedia now shapes how many of us learn about the events that happen in the world today. Perhaps you have never turned to Wikipedia to find out more once you’ve heard something in the news, but many people in the world do.

How do we know? Wikipedia set a new traffic record on June 25th as thousands of people rushed to the site to learn more about the death of pop star Michael Jackson. What bothers some teachers isn’t that students may look up information online, but that students need to evaluate the information they find carefully to determine if it’s valuable.

On a collaboratively produced site like Wikipedia, any number of people may be updating and changing the information that is posted. On the day Michael Jackson died, for instance, hundreds of editors were updating the related Wikipedia entries.

Wikipedia entries can change frequently, and sometimes those changes are more subjective than objective. It’s useful to talk with students about the different perspectives that make up each Wikipedia entry.

Once students understand the range of information that can be included in a Wikipedia entry, they need to develop the skills to determine how accurate and relevant the entry is. I share these suggestions to help them decide:

  1. Look for images and notes on Wikipedia that indicate special details about the entry—and read them for tips on which information in the entry may change soon. For example, this note appears at the top of the Wikipedia entry on the Funeral of Michael Jackson this week:
    Current Event Warning on Wikipedia Entry
  2. Visit the History tab for the entry, and you’ll find details on the revisions that people have made. Check out the Page History Help for tips on how to use the information. Notice the dates of the changes to determine how current the information in the entry is.
  3. Use the comparison tool on the History page to look at how revisions have changed the article. The specific changes are highlighted on the comparison page.
  4. Click on the Discussion Tab for details on specific issues that have been explored regarding the article, including any debates on the information that has been included.
  5. Review the list of Notes and the References for the entry. If there are links, click through to compare them to the information in the article. Additionally, consider whether the references are reputable resources on the topic.
  6. Check the External Links for the article. Compare the information on the outside pages to the details in the entry. If there are differences, try to determine why.

If students need additional help, use the guidelines and examples in Bedford/St. Martin’s “Evaluating Online Sources: A Tutorial by Roger Munger.”

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Research, Student Success, Teaching with Technology, Working with Sources
Read All Traci Gardner

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Wikipedia Manual of Style Check

posted: 3.4.08 by Barclay Barrios

Have your class review Wikipedia’s style manual. Ask them to look for areas that seem to depart from general grammatical usage or areas that seem particularly important. Have them compare these areas to the handbook and then use this to start a discussion about the socially constructed nature of grammatical rules in general and the reasons why a project like Wikipedia would be invested in a particularly uniform style.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Grammar & Style, Teaching with Technology
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Write for Wikipedia

posted: 2.15.08 by Barclay Barrios

As an exercise in collaborative writing and as a way to have students deepen their understanding of a text, have your class work collaboratively to propose, update, or modify an entry about the current essay or author for Wikipedia. If your handbook has information on collaboration, you might first ask students to read that section. You can also use this as an opportunity to discuss plagiarism—why is it OK to collaborate on this kind of writing but not on a paper? You can broaden the conversation to include the role of Wikipedia in academic research and writing.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Collaboration, Plagiarism, Popular Culture, Teaching with Technology
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Student Advises: Don't Cite Wikipedia

posted: 8.19.06 by Nick Carbone

Soumya Srinagesh, a student intern at C|Net News, advises her peers not to rely on Wikipedia as a primary source.

This advice comes to the same end conclusion as that given by Wikipedia co-founder Jim Wales’s own advice not to use Wikipedia–or any encyclopedia–as a sole or primary source.

The usual back and forth in this debate is that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, and that you might use an entry before it’s been vetted and re-edited by other Wikipedians for accuracy (or something closer to it). That’s the tack Srinagesh takes, and it’s legitimate enough. But Wales makes a larger point about the role encyclopedias should have in research. They’re meant to be starting places, not end places. If you take Wales’s point to heart, then the argument over Wikipedia’s accuracy is less important (though it still matters). Diligent students should in fact use it as a start and then seek out richer sources on the subjects they’re writing about. And they should reconcile any discrepancies they find in their further research. Was Wikipedia accurate, or is the other source accurate when facts are not in agreement? How will they know? What does the difference mean? What does a third source say? If they determine Wikipedia is wrong, should they go back and edit Wikipedia?

The process of leaving Wikipedia instead of ending there opens up a new view of the research process and the social negotiations that go on to determine what is fact and what isn’t.

But what’s really intriguing about Srinagesh’s piece is not the part about Wiki’s communal editing practices, but these two observations:

1. “Unlike search engines, Wikipedia searches do not bombard you with thousands of sites that have little or no relation to the subject you are researching.”
2. “Unlike traditional textbooks, Wikipedia articles do not require a trip to the library, but are available from the comfort of your home or dorm.”

On the first: Wikipedia as a search engine substitute, a guide entry into a topic instead of relying on search engines makes a lot of sense. I never thought of Wikipedia as a search engine before, but of course it is. It’s entries are a communal version of what About.com tries to do. So guiding students to start at Wikipedia in much the same way they might start research with Google or Yahoo might be a good way to lead them to a wiser use of Wikipedia.

On the second: There’s a lot of comfort to be found in a library. Heck, on college campuses these days kids even wear pajamas to the library, how much more comfortable can you get? But the real comfort is having the library’s collection at hand. When researching, students will often come across sources that are only in the library. So why not go to the library and use a computer there and call up Wikipedia to get started if that’s what works, but then use its content to cull keyword ideas and subject search terms that can be used in the library’s online card catalog or databased journals collections?

The purpose of good textbooks is to guide students into their libraries, not to make it easier for them to avoid them. Besides, today’s libraries are more and more hives of communal learning, with technology centers, places for students to get coffee and to talk, collaborative workstations and group study rooms, and most important and useful of all, people you can talk to if you’re stuck: reference librarians. Who wouldn’t want to go to a library to do research? It beats sitting alone in your home or dorm. Grab some friends and go to the library, find a big table, spread out your stuff, and have both the whole Internet and the whole collection in the library at your disposal. Why have so little –a lone computer with an Internet connection by yourself in your dorm– when you can have so much to help you do research?

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Categories: Citing Sources, Finding Sources, Research, Working with Sources
Read All Nick Carbone