Wednesday, February 21, 2007

See kids you will use this some day

Interesting article in the NYT today about wikipedia.

Middlebury College jumps the gun here a bit and bans the citing of wikipedia in essays and assessments. It is important to note that they did not ban its use, as that would be ridiculous, but there is a bigger question here: obviously we need to move towards teaching students to understand the premise behind tools like wikipedia and give them the skills necessary to look at the volumes of information available to them and make sense of it all. ( a daunting task for many of us) Are students at the middle level ready to sort through the volumes? Should we wait until High School to really hold them accountable for the information organization? Is it too presumptuous of us to think that students would be able to really question the validity of something they read on the internet?

This is a real world application knocking loudly-

Jason Mittell, an assistant professor of American studies and film and media culture at Middlebury, said he planned to take the pro-Wikipedia side in the campus debate. “The message that is being sent is that ultimately they see it as a threat to traditional knowledge,” he said. “I see it as an opportunity. What does that mean for traditional scholarship? Does traditional scholarship lose value?”

For his course “Media Technology and Cultural Change,” which began this month, Professor Mittell said he would require his students to create a Wikipedia entry as well as post a video on YouTube, create a podcast and produce a blog for the course.
I think in our zeal trying to make sense of all that is here and all that is coming redefining the basics has to take precedence. I remember being taught how to use those big encyclopedias but never being taught to question the validity of anything. Questioning the validity of the world around us is a basic skill that has to be taught as early as possible.
One of my wife's students quoted this the other day- Girl Moved To Tears By Of Mice And Men Cliffs Notes from The Onion half joking but half thinking second guessing the obvious use of satire.
The point is this: we are so thouroughly drenched with media that the lines of reality are blurred. Unfortunately questioning ones parents and authority figures comes before (and is a sharper honed skill) than questioning the validity of resources.

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