Considerations and Conclusions
 

First, it is important to address the concerns about Wikipedia’s accuracy and relevance as a reliable research tool. A 2005 peer-reviewed study published in Nature suggested that Wikipedia might rival Encyclopaedia Britannica in accuracy. In a review of 42 entries, 8 were found to contain serious conceptual errors – four in Wikipedia and four in Britannica. Wikipedia did have more factual errors, omissions or misleading statements, 162 to Britannica’s 123 (Giles, 2005). More recently, Giles published a short monograph in Nature discussing Wikipedia and a new expert-edited online encyclopedia, Citzendium. In this later article, Giles affirms Wikipedia’s credibility, “although anyone can edit any article, its accuracy, at least on science topics, is surprisingly high” (2006). That said, there is still great debate over how and when using Wikipedia for research is appropriate. I have therefore decided to include an in-depth examination of differing perspectives on Wikipedia in my unit (Part One). Additionally, the unit begins with this text-based analysis of research strategies, which eases to transition from more literature-focused study to this mini-unit on research skills thereby addressing the concern of curricular flow.

 

Even if it does not fit smoothly into the curriculum (and I am not saying that this isn’t possible; another teacher may do more to shape the unit to fit his or her classes’ needs) this unit can stand on its own. Research skills and strategies are life skills. As Tapscott points out, we possess a “digital” and “knowledge-based” economy (1998, p.127). As technology becomes more embedded in our lives and the world economy becomes increasingly dependent on what Tapscott calls “knowledge work,” students must learn to navigate these networks of knowledge to maintain a competitive edge (p. 127).


What is more, we are entering a new phase in education. The traditional “banking” method of teaching is not just out of vogue it is losing its relevance and efficacy altogether. Knowledge is not finite and cannot be simply distilled from one expert teacher to a classroom of receptive students. The conditions of schooling and the dynamic nature of knowledge redefine the way in which knowledge is accessed. Patterns of memorization and regurgitation do not make sense when the content itself is always changing. If we cannot teach all that is known, we much simply focus on teaching our students how to know more. The how is critical here. What are we doing in our classrooms to prepare our students to find their own paths to new information? How can we prepare our students to be perceptive and flexible students of and participants in the knowledge-economy?

 

What is clear is that we have not been doing enough. In 1998, Provenzo warned that “contemporary education…tends to ignore most of the crucial issues facing our culture. This is particularly true in the case of issues related to technology and culture” (p.299). Now more than ever, it is critical to address these issues and bring the relationship between technology and culture into our classrooms. Larry Cuban, in a conversation with Todd Oppenheimer indicated that the terms of schooling must be redefined, “schooling is not about information. It’s getting kids to think about information. It’s about understanding and knowledge and wisdom” (Cuban in Oppenheimer, p. 14).

 

This unit fits within this new approach to learning and schooling. It was my intention to draw on my theoretical position and the robust potential of Wikipedia in creating a unit plan that addresses my students’ needs. Ultimately, teachers who do not buy into Wikipedia’s principles or do not promote student-centered learning should still consider the skills and strategies at the heart of this unit worthwhile.

 

References

Giles, J. (2005). Internet encyclopaedias go head to head. Nature, 438 (7070), 900-901.

Giles, J. (2006). Wikipedia rival calls in the experts. Nature, 443 (7111), 493-493.

Oppenheimer, T. (1997). The Computer Delusion. The Atlantic Monthly, 280 (1), 45-62.

Provenzo, E.G. (1998). Educational computing as a value-laden technology. In H.S. Shapiro & D. Purpel (Eds.), Critical social issues in American education (pp. 299-307). NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing up digital: The rise of the net generation. NY: McGraw-Hill (Chapter 7: N-Gen Learning, pp. 125-157).

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Why Wikipedia?

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