How to Use Wikipedia at School

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Encyclopedias Do Serve Scholarly Purposes

Teachers and parents are often concerned when students use Wikipedia as a source of information.

When students consult an encyclopedia, they typically hold a reasonable expectation that information contained in the article will be reliable and verifiable.  Educators who do not allow students to use Wikipedia as a source, often cite reliability as a topic of concern.  Some incidents of vandalism on the pages of Wikipedia raise the level of concern. In addition, those who post and revise articles in Wikipedia may not be experts.  In May 2009, Genevieve Carbery reported that a student researching journalism and globalization placed a false quote in an obituary which was subsequently picked up and reported as factual by newspapers around the world. However, Wikipedia’s reliability compares favorably to traditional encyclopedias in most regards.

Glossary of Language Education Terms

Wikipedia

When Should an Encyclopedia be Used?

Encyclopedias, whether online or printed in bound volumes on paper, are useful sources of information. Editors and contributors to encyclopedias generally set out to collect information about a wide variety of information, but may also limit the scope of articles to a specific domain (such as a medical encyclopedia). Because encyclopedias are collections of articles on a vast array of topics, they are generally excellent sources of information when students need background information about a topic.

For example, a student writing about an interest in the human genome project may decide to do a little reading on the development of the double-helix. Since the main topic of the student’s inquiry is the genome project, reading a Wikipedia article about the double-helix polymer would seem appropriate.

Many encyclopedia entries are well-sourced; that is, they include references to other documents, media files, and experts that support the assertions found in the article.  As a result, a student completing research on the genome project may find some additional sources to consult by reading the article’s reference list.  Savvy users of an article’s reference list locate those articles, read them, and evaluate them.  They also independently search for additional sources that may support, contradict, or expand on those sources. The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, encourages students in college not to use an encyclopedia as a source in writing academic  papers (Young, 2006).

Using a Collaboratively-authored Encyclopedia

The nature of the encyclopedia is that of a secondary source.  Wikipedia, for example, does not claim to be a publisher of original thought, and it should not be treated as such by those consulting it as a resource. Virtually all encyclopedia articles report knowledge based on other sources; that is, original or primary sources are consulted. However, the authors, whether experts in their fields or interested parties that wish to contribute, must select from many sources and interpret those sources in writing an encyclopedia article.  Thus, rather than ban the use of Wikipedia and similar collaborative projects, students and teachers can ask the following questions. Teachers can help students learn to question any secondary source.  Three questions students might remember when they consult any encyclopedia:

  1. Am I reading this encyclopedia article for background knowledge?
  2. Will reading this encyclopedia article help me find sources that support or refute the main points in my own writing and presentations?
  3. What other sources can I consult?

and two questions specifically for online, collaborative encyclopedias

  1. Have I checked the history tab to see who has contributed (some posts are anonymous, but the list of edits and revisions can be revealing)?
  2. Is there anything that appears to be missing or not addressed in this article that is found in other sources?

Finally, teachers may best be able to help students learn to evaluate the sources they use and when to use them rather than banning them outright.

References

Carbery, G. Student’s Wikipedia hoax quote used worldwide in newspaper obituaries. Irishtimes.com., May 6, 2009.

Young, J. R. Wikipedia Founder Discourages Academic Use of His Creation. The Wired Campus, June 12, 2006.

This repost originally appeared in 2009.

Wolsey, T.D. (2009, Oct, 15). How to use Wikipedia at school. [blog post]. Retrieved from https://suite.io/tom-wolsey/2e16247

Read Up, Ask Around, Double-Check

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

In this post, I share an infographic representing the ideas in the article,
“Accuracy in Digital Writing Environments: Read Up, Ask Around, Double-Check”. Access the article by clicking here and scrolling down to the article.

You are welcome to share this infographic in your classroom or for nonprofit educational purposes.

Read Up, Ask Around, Double-Check

Read Up, Ask Around, Double-Check

Infographic design by Getty Creations

Creative Commons License
Read Up, Ask Around, Double-Check by @TDWolsey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at literacybeat.com/2019/03/26/read-up-ask-around-double-check/.

Critical evaluation of online information : Scaffolding the development of skills, strategies and dispositions with our students

A post from Bernadette

The Internet is a largely unvetted, open access media and is available to any individual to publish any information. In contrast, print-based media, with a five century plus start on online media, has a number of traditional mediators and gatekeepers, such as editors, critics, and peer review processes in place. The Internet has shifted the burden for quality control and assessment of information, in terms of accuracy, objectivity, credibility, and trustworthiness, onto the online reader. And frankly, the online reader is struggling with the task.

 

Research suggests that, in general, our students are struggling to realise that incorrect, false or misleading information can be posted on the web; rarely challenge the authority and reliability of information presented; are consumerist when searching for online information, i.e. find just about sufficient information to satisfy their information needs; lack prior knowledge to assess the veracity of information presented and detect hidden author agendas; and are often misled by the appearance of a website. An additional complexity with evaluating online information may relate to students’ abilities to draw on limited prior experience and world knowledge to assess and evaluate online information.

Critical evaluation of online information encompasses:

  • critical thinking skills a disposition for interrogating the text; evaluating arguments, and questioning content.
  • critical reading skills an ability to evaluate relevancy, accuracy and reliability.
  • critical multimedia information literacy skills a capacity to critically consume information and to separate the medium from the message.
  • critical literacy skills an aptitude to view information as value laden i.e information is not neutral.

Therefore, critical evaluation of online information involves an orchestration of a repertoire of skills, strategies and dispositions, such as assessing accuracy, credibility, believability, trustworthiness, bias, reasonableness, coverage, relevancy, currency and readability. Critical evaluation is also dependent on reader motivation and the situational context.   Using the gradual release of responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) we can guide our students to develop the dispositions necessary to evaluate websites by considering the following four strategies:

  • Scan Perimeter for Authority: currency, coverage, intended audience, reading level
  • Dig deeper for Accuracy: credibility, believability, accuracy, verification of informatio
  • Raise your Antennae for Details: perspective, bias, commercial bias, trustability, reasonableness
  • Scrutinize the Support: ease of use, design features, multimodal elements, grammatical errors, spellings, working links, and citations.

 

    In Using  Technology to Improve  Reading and Learning (Harrison, Dwyer & Castek,  2014) a sample lesson plan is provided where the teacher employs the gradual release of responsibility model to explicitly teach, through think aloud, demonstration, and modelling, the critical evaluation strategies and dispositions necessary to determine the accuracy, credibility, trustworthiness, bias, reasonableness, coverage, relevancy, and currency about  two websites related to Martin Luther King ( the controversial Martinlutherking.org  website and the official website, http://www.thekingcenter.org) . Following explicit instruction the teacher can guide students as they critically evaluate the information presented on other paired websites using the four critical evaluation strategies. Students work collaboratively to assess the reliability of the information presented on the paired websites. Later, they discuss and present their findings to the class group.

Scan the perimeter for authority Raise antennae for details of reliability
Dig deeper for Accuracy Scrutinise the support

Questions to guide students as they explore websites are presented in the following figure from Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning (Harrison, Dwyer & Castek, 2014)

critical evaluation

 Younger elementary students could explore the following websites related to Christopher Columbus. Ask the students to collaboratively  judge the reliability of information presented on both using the four critical evaluation strategies. Again the students present and discuss their findings with the class group.

Christopher Columbus fake

christopher columbus real

 

 

Using the four critical evaluation strategies, students in middle grades could evaluate which of the following websites is authorized by the World Trade Organization.

 

WTO real

WTO fake

Here are some other resources which may help our students to  develop the skills, strategies  and dispositions to critically evaluate online information and resources; or at the very least they may raise students’ antennae to the possibility that false or misleading information may be posted online.

References

Harrison, C.,  Dwyer, B., & Castek, J. ( May, 2014). Using technology to improve reading and learning. Shell Education Publications: USA.

Pearson, P. D., & Gallagher, M. C. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317-344.

 

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