Wikipedia !

23 Apr

I’m sure that getting students to evaluate sources of information has always been a challenge, but the advent of the on-line age, and thus the end of the students only source being the university library, would seem to have multiplied the challenge hugely.

The strange thing is that under some circumstances students are perfectly able to recognise an unreliable website. Ask students if they would type their credit card details into a sight called http://www.cheapoflights.ru, and you get a uniformly negative response. Yet students seem perfectly happy to cite a range of questionable websites in their essay, chief amongst them being Wikipedia.

While teaching an understanding of concepts like peer-review us undoubtedly vital in getting students to successfully evaluate sources if believe that it should not be the first step, as it neglects the fact that in the modern era the web is the primary source of information for most people. Thus the first point in any plan to teach the evaluation of sources ought to be the Internet, and specifically the ‘chief’ source Wikipedia.

I use a couple of newspaper stories that illustrate some of the issues with the reliability of Wikipedia. The first story details the manipulation of Wikipedia for political ends, while the second demonstrates how false information planted in Wikipedia can easily end up being repeated in multiple media outlets.

I like to finish up with a Daily Mail story in which they accuse Wikipedia of containing many inaccuracies . Having looked at previous Mail stories the students usually spot the irony of this one !

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