Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Teach Students The Right Way To Research Topics

I remember, as a senior in high school, how our beloved English teacher, Mr. Ardary (RIP), struggled to teach us that Time and Newsweek are not "scholarly" sources. We resisted, because as teenagers we didn't understand what "scholarly" really meant. We eventually learned, though.

Imagine what today's teachers--at least, those who still assign thoughtful essays--must contend with.

Yahoo! Answers—a site where anyone can post a question in plain English, including queries that can't be answered by a traditional search engine—now draws 120 million users worldwide, according to Yahoo!'s internal stats...

The blockbuster success of Yahoo! Answers is all the more surprising once you spend a few days using the site. While Answers is a valuable window into how people look for information online, it looks like a complete disaster as a traditional reference tool. It encourages bad research habits, rewards people who post things that aren't true, and frequently labels factual errors as correct information. It's every middle-school teacher's worst nightmare about the Web.

Throw in Wikipedia, and one wonders if today's students will ever even encounter a "scholarly source". But wait--it gets worse.

For educators fretting that the Internet is creating a generation of "intellectual sluggards," the problem isn't just that Yahoo!'s site helps ninth-graders cheat on their homework. It's that a lot of the time, it doesn't help them cheat all that well.

Footnotes, endnotes, sources cited--something has to serve as an honest broker here.


Dr. Luther in the 21st Century said...

I have noticed the very same thing. Kids are treating everything on the web as good source material either from ignorance or laziness. I have banned the use of wikipedia as a source for their papers. If they use wikipedia or do not properly cite their work, they have to rewrite their papers. I also try to teach them that while wikipedia can be an ok place to start from they have to verify anything they find. Meanwhile, I also point them to legitimate research sites.

ChrisA said...

LOL, this is only a problem if they are actually given a homework assignment to begin with. It seems the 7th grade math department at my middle school, from regular to most advanced track have all adopted a "no homework" philosophy. Beam me up.