Monday, March 1, 2010

Are these Two Forbidden? Think again

On more than one occasion, I have heard these phrases spoken by teachers:

“Do not use Google when searching.”
“Do not look at Wikipedia.”

Hmm. My first reaction is usually, “What are you afraid of?” But the bottom line is teachers are not afraid, they have their own concept of research and communication. Also, they see some of these tools and applications as distracting from learning. True, a quick, single word search in Google will return meager results at best, and Wikipedia is not always the best source, but instead of shunning these tools, teachers need to better leverage them to not just improve, but to transform learning. Here are five tools and ways that they can be utilized in the transformation.

Google: True, most kids type in a couple words or a phrase, hit search, and roll the dice. Instead, we need to educate students on how to get the most out of searching. First, as in any search tool, teach kids to use the advanced search feature to limit results. Also, teach them the purpose of quotation marks. A search for Chicago Bears may show results of a recent bear cub born at Lincoln Park Zoo, while “Chicago Bears” will result in information from my team that, yet again, did not make the playoffs. There’s also the “site:” search tool that can really help. Using this followed by a particular code can limit your search to a particular domain (“”) or results from a particular country (“site:uk” for results from Great Britain) Then there’s the Google options that enable the “Timeline,” “Wonder Wheel,” and other tools. (See my previous post on Google options). And then there’s the custom RSS feeds, Reader, Docs, and…well, you get the idea. The point is that we need to teach kids how to maximize their searching through this powerful search tool.

Wikipedia: Do kids rely too heavily on Wikipedia? Maybe. Do some teachers prohibit Wikipedia because of a perceived lack of credibility? Definitely. To some people, an online encyclopedia edited by the whole world is considered les reliable than a bound book. Here’s what I would suggest: challenge a teacher to find an error in Wikipedia. I have tried this several times, and I have yet to have a teacher find an error that Wikipedia had not already discovered. You will see the warning plastered on the top of a page. Conversely, students need to be aware that while Wikipedia can be a great place to get started, it is by no means the only source on the topic. I tell kids that they can cite Wikipedia once, the same way it would be for any other source. For those of you who really want to transform learning, I challenge you to have kids write a Wikipedia article on, perhaps a local notable. Now THAT”S writing for an audience.

It all goes back to LEARNING first. Neither of these resources is a panacea nor pariah. Teaching kids how to use these tools just gives them more ammunition.

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