Friday, February 24, 2006

Wikipedia - Trusted Source?

On the front page of today's Denver Post is a story about the continuing controversy in Bennett over the teacher who showed the opera Faust to her elementary students. When the story continues inside, there is a sidebar with some background information about the opera itself. The reason for this post is the source of that background information -

What does it mean when the Denver Post is citing Wikipedia as a source? The article on Faust (opera) was last edited on January 9th by the user "Phaunt", who describes himself as "Hi! My name is Léon Planken, I was born on 24 May 1979, and live in Delft, the Netherlands. Apart from here, I sometimes contribute to other Wikipedias."

I'm not saying the information in this article is incorrect, nor am I implying that "Phaunt" is unreliable. In fact, I'm a big fan of Wikipedia in general. But I really have no idea of the validity of this information - not being an expert on Faust myself, or knowing Léon personally. We've been talking a lot about having our students not believe everything they read on the Internet (or elsewhere), and investigating sources and verifying information. I'm thinking it may be a little bit difficult to convince them of the necessity of that if the Denver Post isn't doing it . . .

Should we be coming up with a more "formal" approach to teaching our students these skills?


  1. I think that we need to ask the question: what is literacy? I think that it is constantly changing and one that we MUST teach our students how to think critically about what they are reading. And, thinking critically does just what you did, Karl--question the source. I am starting position papers soon and am going to show this blog entry to discuss that even as educators, we have to question what we read.

  2. I guess my biggest fear of new technologies is what Karl is addressing. I think that I've always been a skeptical reader of media. However, I was able to put some trust in sources. In grad school, I put a great deal of time into understanding the symbiotic relationship between the press and the government. I actually came to trust "unnamed sources." But after scandals of late, it seems as if their standards have declined to a degree that it is now OUR job to do the fact checking. While we used to teach students to be skeptical of what they read and saw, it was more to look for perspective behind the facts presented. I hope that we are helping students learn how to be fact checkers as well as how to spot perspective or bias. But having the skill doesn't mean that most of us will ever have the time to do so.

    Jennifer Mello (spelling is wrong, I think - I guess I should fact check it), a candidate for the state senate, recently told our Young Democrats that she knows that voters will never want to see the details of the bills she hints at in her campaign. We all rely on Karl to an extent to do some of this with regards to the class because he seems to have 48 hour days compared to the 24 hour ones I get to enjoy. We must rely on others for all areas other than the ones that have the MOST impact on our daily lives.

    So now we are trusting that the contributors to Wiki are checking each other to a degree that the media can rely on their accuracy. It might work better than reporters in the past who sometimes were not good researchers.

    Maybe my wife is right, I'm just wasting time reading two papers a day!

  3. I think that students will eventually get the message when they start quoting somebody and then it turns out that they were all wrong and then it makes the student look stupid. I think that by policing each other the way wikipedia does, is the only way to go. The constantly evolving news sources, from the field reporter, to the person that just happened to be there and was able to take pictures on their phone and then blog about it makes history instantly accessible and also real, without "editing". Wikipedia is just one more thing that allows people that right (write?).

  4. Just yesterday, as my students did research on their invertebrate blog, one of my bright students added "I'm watching you Kiri" to one of the wiki pages as a joke. Kiri was obviously suprised when she opened and page and saw her name. We fixed the edit and talked about the fact that Wiki is founded on the trust that people will add truths. But, how easy was it to add something as a joke?