saudixpat’s Weblog

December 6, 2008

What’s Next?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 9:44 am

“Every journey starts with a single step,” is a common saying. I know that I cannot apply everything I have learned in this course right away, nor would it be fair to my students to try. However, like the journey, my small steps have started. I have two IB art students working on the portal pages for our ES LMC and our HS/MS LMC. After seeing what is out there I am determined as our intranet web master to change our portal and make it a pull site to draw students in and a push site by distributing information out. Accordingly, I am in the process of learning how to code RSS in order to push out changes to the site via RSS so students can track what is happening and tune in to library events, procedures, and feedback.

Fast forward a little over a week. Winter break has finally started and the art students have finished their rough drafts and I have critiqued them. They are excellent, the elementary LMC portal in particular. It is going to be very bright and colourful and students can access a lot of resources and activities through it.

I am also in the middle of organizing a presentation on Voicethreads for my staff, in conjunction with the Tech Department. We are really trying to help our staff move forward. One of our members is working on video hosting and wikispaces, while another is working on file sharing via Google Docs or Zoho. I am doing Voicethreads as I can see our elementary teachers in particular (but some from all divisions) wanting to jump on board using it. When students have a voice that is heard, not drowned out, then I think they tend to be more thoughtful and put a greater effort into sharing their views.

One thing I have had to reassess as I have gone through this course is Wikipedia. At our fine institution, teachers have been discouraging students from using it as a source. In fact, students have been denied the opportunity to research using it or to cite it in any way. Why is this a problem?

Well, the last time our library bought new encyclopedias was in 2002. They just ordered a new set of encyclopedias this year – the 2008 World Book Enclycopedia set. I have to ask the question, “Between 2002 (when the knowledge in the World Book was already at least six months to a year out of date) and today, how much new knowledge has been created or synthesized?” This is an important question because knowledge doesn’t wait to be put in books. It is out on the internet within months of its development and available for others to work from. Much of this new knowledge gets updated on Wikipedia.

The biggest fear of our teaching staff is that incorrect information will be utlised in a report from Wikipedia. However, with the development of the Wikipedia community and the vested interest their members have as “authorities” to ‘get it right’, misinformation on most topics doesn’t have a chance. In fact, now, if information isn’t or cannot be verified, there is a disclaimer stating such. To test this, one of my students made a change to the Wikipedia entry on Saudi Arabia, entering false information that he became king of Saudi Arabia in 1565. Within an hour it was gone, and a warning was placed on our IP address asking the student to use the sandbox to play with making changes and warning him that he risked being banned if he continued to make false entries on Wikipedia.

Now I am not advocting using Wikipedia on its own. But I think Wikipedia has shown it is an authoritative source for much of the information out there. I also think it is a great primary source and that our students should be using it. However, I also think that students should be verifying and reinforcing the information by citing other sources; academic, online, and reference. I suspect that Wikipedia is inline for the most part with all of these. I know that I have certainly loosened my restrictions on using it. So this is another “What Now?”; to educate my staff on the reality vs the perception of Wikipedia.

I thought I better check my viewpoint against others. There are many sites out there that state Wikipedia is NOT a valid source; however, I came across an interesting story from the tech department at UNC-Chapel Hill which in essence says that “…Wikipedia is a good way to point to deeper more reliable primary resources.”

In BROCK READ (2006, October). Can Wikipedia Ever Make the Grade? The Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(10), A31-A36. Retrieved December 6, 2008, from ProQuest Education Journals database. (Document ID: 1171059221), the author cites leading academics who are both impressed and put off by Wikipedia. One academic actually made four changes, and, like my student, found them all corrected within an hour. Others cite areas, such as history, which are still lacking detailed information as might be found in a physical encyclopedia. Given that book encyclopedias have been around for a hundred years, and Wikipedia only began in 2004, that is still impressive.

Yet others still argue that Wikipedia is not authoritative enough. One co-founder of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, has started a more academic wiki called Citizendium. where academics comes to the forefront rather than a group-mind where everybody is equal. Citizendium’s goal is to provide academically verifiable and accurate information.

However it goes, Wikipedia is here to stay, and judging by the evidence (Nature,the science journal, tested Wikipedia and found on average 4 mistakes per entry examined. That compares with three errors per entry in Encyclopedia Britannica. Not a bad comparison, really!) it is becoming more and more reliable.

So there it is in the What Next? category. Voicethreads, a library portal, and Wiki-promotion (either Wikipedi or Citizendium, which my colleagues might be more open to).

What about you?

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1 Comment »

  1. I agree with you that Wikipedia can be a good resource and can be especially useful in pointing toward other sources. During my research for this course, I would often do a wikipedia search and then jump off to the references cited. It was an efficient way to find info.

    How cool that your art students will have a chance to publish their creations–its powerful for kids.

    Enjoy your holiday, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog.


    Comment by Jacquie — December 9, 2008 @ 7:27 pm | Reply

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