aka Why You Shouldn’t Ban Wikipedia From Your Classroom
What is the definition of “Discernment?”
2. The power or faculty of the mind by which it distinguishes one thing from another; power of viewing differences in objects, and their relations and tendencies; penetrative and discriminate mental vision; acuteness; sagacity; insight; as, the errors of youth often proceed from the want of discernment.
From Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary
- If we are inundated with information, how do we know which information is valid, reliable, and accurate?
- What skills do we need to discern facts from fiction?
In other words, how do you teach your students (and maybe yourself) that you can’t believe everything you read, even if it’s “on the internet?”
What are some best practices for gathering information?
- consult multiple sources: the more, the better
- locate primary resources when possible, use secondary resources as ‘backup’
- triangulate data: cross-check your sources to ensure that a fact or statistic may be supported by multiple resources. If all your resources state facts but cite the same initial reference point, keep looking. Example: You want to search for the weekly percentage of time US teens (13-19) spend online while at home– Resource A states that it is 6.2% of their week. Resources B and C also state that it is 6.2%, but are quoting Resource A. You need to find other resources that don’t quote Resource A, if at all possible.
- ask yourself a good question- what do I already know about the information? If you already know that an octopus is an animal that lives in water, you’re much more likely to question resources you find that contradict that prior knowledge (such as an octopus living in a tree). Sometimes, you’ll learn something new (Pluto is a planet; Pluto is not a planet; Pluto is a planet… ). Sometimes, you’ll find a resource that is not reliable and you’ll know to look elsewhere.
What does that mean for Wikipedia? Many people dismiss this collaborative ‘encyclopedia’ as unreliable for the simple fact that “anyone can edit it.”
Do the research on how this wiki works:
- WHO can edit Wikipedia?
- How does one edit Wikipedia?
- How does self-governing in Wikipedia help the resource to function?
- How is Wikipedia better than a printed encyclopedia, online, or CD-ROM encyclopedia? (if you need help with this question, do a search on Wikipedia for a current event, and then search for the same ‘terms’ in the printed, online, or CD-ROM versions.)
If you use some best practices for research, especially using multiple sources and data triangulation, Wikipedia can be a great starting place to find information.
Resources supporting the need for discernment and other digital literacies:
by Zach Miners and Angela Pascopella, October 2007