Saturday, November 19, 2011

Reflecting on This Week's Lesson

I worked with my sixth graders this week. The topic at hand was evaluating online information sources, basic search tips and Google tips. We used RAD CAB , You Tube Videos and had some hands on practice since the lesson was in the library's computer lab. I really enjoy this lesson. The students are always impressed with the "secret powers" of Google like the calculator, translator, dictionary and time. They love looking at questionable websites such as:
I have recently griped on this blog about my students overuse of Yahoo Answers for quick research. I know these sites offer quick and easy answers and they may be more good than bad. I was able to find a convincing example as to why Yahoo Answers and sites similar to it should be used very cautiously.

I remember years ago, sitting in front of Alan November as he spoke about validating online information and told a story about a student doing online research for a report on the holocaust. The student found holocaust revisionist information that was posted by a  math professor on a university website under the professor's "personal" server space. Since information was posted under the university's address, the information seemed  trustworthy and university endorsed.  The tilde ~ symbol in the address would have helped give away the personal directory to a savvy user. The unsuspecting student ended up using information suppporting the views of holocaust revisionists in his paper. The professor's site was taken down from the university's server long ago. However, this same paper is still online on The Committee for Open Debate of the Holocaust's website. I searched for the professor and used the Google tool "link to:" to find the same article that was previously located on the university page.

 A response on Yahoo Answers links to it now and if my students need evidence as to why this is not the best site to use for research, there it is. The response and the answers are five years old. The link is still there. I wonder why nobody has reported it? The person who asked the question chose another response as the best answer and Leon 007's answer is listed as the last one. (Does that mean his was the first answer?) This makes the whole thing seem innocuous, but I think it is still a good example. I used the link to show students that they can click at the end of the url and backspace until they get to the main page to see where the page they are using is located. The CODOH website has remade their image recently. It used to be much more confrontational. It now has a more friendly look.

I think the lesson was successful. Now my sixth grade students have a better picture of the vast spectrum of information available online: unbiased facts and information, extremist information, propaganda,  just plain silly fun and more! All the more reason to be a critical consumer when shopping for good information.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What about Wikipedia?

Someone recently posted a comment about using Wikipedia for research. I think this topic is important enough to dedicate a post to.

"We have always been told our students should not use Wikipedia for research because anyone can change the information, it is not "locked" so to speak. 
Is this true Auntie Librarian?"

Yes, it is true that anyone can change the information in Wikipedia. The information is not "locked" at all. Wikipedia itself does not claim to be a reliable source.   However, I have no problem telling my students that they should not exclude Wikipedia or be afraid to use Wikipedia in their researching and here is why:

  • I tell all of my students to always consult multiple sources when researching. I recommend that students use at least three different sources when they gather information for their projects. When multiple sources are consulted, errors and reliability should become evident. 
  • I inform all of my students that anyone can edit Wikipedia. They use this site knowing that it can be edited by anyone. Therefore, it may not be students first choice for research or the best site in their opinion. Here is the important part: students are information consumers who need to be able to develop their own opinions and skills to determine what sources they consider to be high quality or worthy of their use.
  • Students should not use any source with blind faith and should question the reliability of the majority of the online content they use. Critical thinking and evaluation is very important. 
  • Print and online non-wiki encyclopedias have errors too. 
  • Print encyclopedias are often out of date soon after they are printed.
  • Since anyone can change Wikipedia, it is very often more up to date than other sources. 
  • In 2005, a study comparing Wikipedia to Encyclopedia Britannica found Wikipedia to have 162 errors in the articles reviewed compared to 123 for Britannica.  (Jim Giles, 2005. “Internet encyclopedias go head to head,” Nature, volume 438, number 7070 (15 December), pp. 900-901, )
  • Wikipedia has links to outside sources and bibliographies that will lead students to more information. 
  • Because anyone can change Wikipedia, errors and vandalism are often fixed. 
  • One study claims that one-third to one-half of planted false information was corrected or removed within 48 hours. (Mangus, P.D. "Early Response to False Claims in Wikipedia." First Monday, Volume 13 Number 9 - 1 September 2008.
  • Wikipedia has "featured" articles that are reviewed and considered the best articles on Wikipedia.
Is Wikipedia the best choice for all research needs? No. I do not know of any resource that can make that claim. Is it okay for teachers to forbid students from using Wikipedia for specific research projects? Certainly. Would it be better if students consulted Wikipedia in addition to other more respected online and print resources and dedicated a sentence or two in their research papers on whether different facts were found in Wikipedia? Wikipedia is a great starting point for research. Instead of making blanket mandates that forbid the use of Wikipedia, Auntie Librarian says it is better to educate students and empower them to be able to form their own opinions on which Wikipedia articles, if any, meet their research needs.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Plagiarism and the Writing Process

I have been faced with several instances of blatant plagiarism in the past few weeks. I have always thought that a good solution to plagiarism is required note taking as part of the research and writing process. Most Language Arts teachers do require students to submit handwritten notes as part of their research projects. When other subject area teachers do not require students to submit notes, a breakdown occurs.

At the middle school level, most students are not going to take notes if they are not built into the assignment. I see more plagiarism in assignments that do not require notes, rough drafts and other inherent elements of the writing and researching process than those that require and grade the final product as well as the notes, rough draft and more. This makes sense to me.  Will recommending the adoption of a school or district "style guide" be helpful in bringing consistency to expectations of student work and assignments? I know this certainly is not going to eradicate plagiarism, but it might be a good start.

Diverse and alternative assignments are great and may be a deterrent to plagiarism. I have heard many people say that book reports should be banned. I believe that students need to know how to write research papers and reports, especially without plagiarizing. There is a place for them in our inventory of assignments. Overuse of the report is another story. We should aim for assignments with higher level learning goals in blooms taxonomy, but not all assignments are going to have high level blooms.

If all research assignments across the curriculum required students to take and submit hand written notes, I believe it would be more likely for good habits to be formed and possibly for plagiarism to be curtailed.

Agree? Disagree? I welcome questions and feedback. Discussion benefits everyone.

DISCUS - convincing students

This week and next week I will be working with our sixth grade students, preparing them for their research projects by teaching them how to take notes, evaluate websites and cite sources. All of this comes, of course, after I have worked with them on several occasions with other teachers. Every time I work with students I tell them that our State Library's DISCUS databases and digital offerings are the best sources for them to use while looking for information online.

While I was working with another class I looked across the library to see what the class in the computer lab was doing. I noticed that the students in the lab were visiting the sites: wiki answers, and yahoo answers to get the answers to their research questions. I listened closely to the teacher as the next class began to see if she recommended certain sites to the students. I was relieved to hear her tell the class that they should try DISCUS, but disappointed when I saw them go right to wiki and yahoo answers. It reminded me of the time when my three-year-old niece asked me for some money. I gave her a dollar and she ripped it up saying, "This isn't money! This paper! I want real money!" I handed her a handful of nickles and she was happy as a clam.

Today, this same group of students was sitting in front of me as I presented a note taking lesson to them.  I asked them, "Why? Why, after I have explained to you that DISCUS has THE BEST online resources, do you choose to visit sites such as wiki and yahoo answers?" Their answer was, "Because it is easier. The answer just comes right up. I don't have to read and scroll as much to get the answer." I am not surprised. If all they need is a short answer to a question like, "How far is the sun from the earth?"  of course they will choose the path of least resistance.

Next week's lesson, where I will give explicit examples of misinformation on wiki and yahoo answers and examples of bogus sites will hopefully give them some incentives to use better online resources. But should I be concerned about their use of these sites for simple assignments? Is it truly a problem for students to choose sites like wiki answers and yahoo answers over better resources if they get the right answers in the end? Am I wasting my time?  Of, course it might be wise to build site quality requirements into assignments as well. Should I try that route? Maybe I will ask for wiki and yahoo answers to be blocked.  Suggestions or comments? Guidance? I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Good Stuff - School Libraries: What's Now, What's Next, What's Yet to Come

The T&L Virtual Cafe came to my rescue last month, now a new e-book is out that I have been turning to for inspiration without disappointment. Talk about shameless sharing: the book is free.  

School Libraries: What's Now, What's Next, What's Yet to Come