Teaching kids how to use Wikipedia

Geek Culture

It’s been fascinating to watch educational institutions wrestle with
Wikipedia. While many universities ban it as a research tool (for reasons that are rarely articulated more coherently than "but anybody can edit it!"), many elementary and middle schools are taking a far more progressive stance. Our own kids’ elementary school is training the kids to use Wikipedia and other web sites as research tools by teaching them the "two sources" rule.
The kids have to find a fact in two independent sources online (and not just the same text repeated in two places) before they can use it in their paper.

What’s interesting about this is that the technique comes originally from journalism. The act of interviewing people is inherently tangled up in uncertainty, from correctly understanding what someone said and what they meant to the fact that people are sometimes wrong, confused, lying and intentionally obfuscatory (just like bloggers!). Journalists are trained not to believe things until they have verified them, to do their own research and to connect the dots, extracting signal from the noise.

Those skills are essentially the same ones the Google generation is learning in a world where the greatest information resource of all time–the Web–is also the messiest. Good web research is all about finding your own path and making up your own mind. It’s reassuring that elementary school teachers have been among the first to understand this.

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