Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wikipedia vs primary sources

Seth has a very good piece on this blog this week about Wikipedia. I agree with much of what he says with regard to students spending time on writing vs spending time finding articles. Where I differ is I disagree with his suggestion that students do not need to learn to find "primary" sources. This is a continuous debate, one that is old.. began back before the net... Seth even discusses an example where he slipped by in his younger days. And while I am a big believer and users of wikipedia.. students need more skills than looking things up in an encyclopedia.. we needed them back in the 1900s.. and we need them today.

One of the most important issues in today is to ensure that you have valid and accurate information. Wikipedia replaced encyclopedias..and does a better job in MHO, but it is still a secondary source. It was true before and it is still true that our students should be learning how to validate and read primary source materials while synthesizing their own original thoughts. They can use wikipedia for their daily needs, but they also need this added skill. What example can I use to make this point.. Wikipedia comes to mind! We don't want our students to be just users of wikipedia.. we want them to be contributors.. contributors know how to find information and pull it together in a valid and reliable way. So I slightly differ with you Seth.. I want my son learning how to find information.. I want him to be writing wikipedia articles.. so he is going to be reading journals and such.. In fact.. now that I think about it.. there will be lots of people who can write.. it will be the ones who find the knowledge that have the edge...


sethgodin said...

Thanks, Mitch

My point is that wikipedia is a stand in for many online sources. Wikipedia is a great place to start, but then you go other places... none of which are okay with some teachers.

I think we need more focus on the process of synthesis, mostly.

Mitch Owen said...


Your main point is dead on.. Wikipedia is a great starting point.. Teachers need to accept that there are new ways of finding primary sources, but we need to ensure students can read and synthesize information that is not written in pedia forms.