Charnell Lucich

The Fight Between the Educational System and Technological Progress.

Posted on: November 29, 2007

In the latest round in the fight between the educational system and technological progress, New Jersey schools are talking about banning students from using Wikipedia as a resource in the classroom. Their argument: there is too much unverified information that is so easy to access that students may be tempted to use it as a primary source. In other words, students are lazy and don’t know any better.

No encyclopaedia should be used as a primary source for the simple fact that the articles themselves are watered down versions of primary sources: books written by experts with direct experience in the subject. An encyclopaedia is a good starting point because it gives a broad summary of the topic and shows where one should look next. How do you start researching a topic that you know absolutely nothing about? Wikipedia is actually a superior resource in this respect because articles are required to have citations or they get flagged, and you can simply click on the citation link to find out where the information came from. Now you have primary sources to base your research on. Wikipedia also teaches collaboration and allows students to revise articles and share other primary information that they may have found (with proper citations of course).

This is where educators need to step up to the plate. Students need to be educated on the difference between primary and secondary sources, and graded appropriately when they fail to use the proper resource.

To quote a very close friend of mine, Henry: “Call me old-fashioned, but when I was in school the teachers actually KNEW the subject they were teaching and could spot a paraphrased encyclopaedia article a mile away. The Internet is the greatest tool to locate obscure information, yet teachers act like you should spend your days crawling through the card catalog at the local library (do they even USE card catalogs anymore?) Instead of being afraid of the technology and restricting its use, they should be teaching students how to use the technology effectively.”

I couldn’t agree more…

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4 Responses to "The Fight Between the Educational System and Technological Progress."

The resistance to technology is similar to the way other unionized environments have resisted automation. Technology threatens job security. To deal with new things requires creativity and innovation which also threatens education status quo.

Traditional education is all about knowledge acquisition at least for the test rather than what you actually do with that information.

Most libraries embrace technology, and are constantly trying to integrate new technologies into their daily operations to make finding information easier for the user. Card catalogs are long gone. Free WiFi is ubiquitous, blogs are prevalent, and email and IM reference services are common these days in the library environment. Many libraries are even providing computers for gaming, especially with the Wii.

That said, Wikipedia can’t be trusted. It isn’t a credible source of information by any stretch of the imagination and shouldn’t be used as a primary, secondary, or tertiary source in any serious research. In fact, it isn’t used for these purposes by any academic or librarian (unless the research is about wikis) because the validity of the information is always questionable and they’re not going to risk losing tenure over it. As you wrote it is a starting point, but only a starting point. Britannica is a much better source because it is edited by experts in the subject, not drunken Dan who decided to do some editing. Still as you pointed out, it should only be a starting point in someone’s serious research s well.

What does make me nuts about teachers is that they often require students to use print sources even when digital sources are available that often provide the same exact information (i.e., electronic periodicals databases). As an information professional, this is extremely frustrating. The only reason I can see making print mandatory is a one shot lesson to teach that there is (much) more available than the Internet to conduct research (especially for pre 1980 content). This can come in handy to get things finished on deadline when the power goes out… Or when the ISP experiences line trouble. I know this first hand.

We teach technology and I agree 100%.
– Steve Mallard

[…] by ttcshelbyville on November 30, 2007 You have to agree with this Blog.  Teaching and the student learning methodology is changing.  Sure resources have to be looked […]

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