Saturday, September 8, 2007

Good enough?

David Warlick posed an interesting question in his 2 cents worth blog A Conversation about Wikipedia "What happens if it’s wrong?" He was considering the validity of using Wikipedia as a source.

When a class comes in to the library to do research I always spend time at the beginning reviewing resources with them. Yesterday with a Gr. 11 class I looked at a Google search for material on the Great Depression. The first hit was Wikipedia. When I asked the students what they thought about this source a torrent of opinions came flooding out. There were two valid comments:
- anyone can edit it
- it’s good for keywords

After some discussion they concluded that the Wikipedia article would be good to use as a starting point as long as it wasn’t their only source.

We went on to look at the rest of the Google hits and discussed which ones might be worth a closer look based on their URLs. AND we looked at the print resources the library had to offer.

Kids don’t want to fail. When they are given choice and an opportunity to learn why certain sources are better than others they listen. They start to become more discerning users of information.

In my job as a teacher librarian I ask myself the “Is this information good enough?” question all the time. Is the activity, or skill the student is practicing more important than the validity of the actual data they are using? When I think about it we are always dealing with misinformation. One only has to look at the number of times studies in the health field contradict each other. Coffee is bad for us. Coffee is good for us.

In addition, everything we read has come through two or more filters. First the writer gives us his or her perception of events. Then, as readers, we bring our own interpretations to what we read.

The real question should be "Are we giving our students the skills to become discerning, ethical users of information?" Is what we are teaching them good enough?

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