Technorate Research

My posts have moved away from my initial intent since I’ve been playing around with my MSI Wind, but this one is an attempt to move back in the direction of technology/literacy or “technoracy.”

Recently, my students were working on a podcasting project. We generated over 150 ideas for topics related to human body systems.  Students researched a chosen topic and created a 3 to 5 minute podcast.  Prior to the research, I made a point of having some discussions with my students about researching in a connected world.  I also presented a staff development session on the same topic.  Here are some of my thoughts on research that I think students and teachers should be aware of to be technorate.

1) Research involves gathering information. This is a difficult one for students.  Our ancestors lived in a gathering world.  To survive, they had to find everything they needed anywhere it was available.  In today’s society we no longer understand gathering.  Instead of “hunter-gatherers” we have become “go-and-getters.”  We don’t go out and gather our food, we go to Wal-Mart and get our food. Likewise, students struggle with going out and “gathering” research ideas for a project.  They tend to want to go to Google and “get” answers.  This is okay, as long as they recognize the need for multiple perspectives on a topic.

2) Students still need to understand Bibliographic References. While this may seem obvious, I would tend to believe that many students have never understood the necessity for a bibliography at the middle school level.  Possibly not even at the high school or college level.  I always tell my students that citing sources is less about avoiding plagarism, and more about making you look like you have something worth reading.  I always start this off by showing them a copy of Turning Points 2000, a research study by the Carnegie Foundation into the changes needed for Middle Schools to survive in the 21st Century.  This book is about 200 pages long and contains roughly 400 referenced documents/books.  When I ask my students if the authors have enough information to write a 200 page book, they often can’t get over the fact they haven’t read 400 books in their lives.  We need to move away from the bibliography as a way to “catch students plagarizing” and point out the real reason we cite our sources.

3) The Internet hasn’t changed much. That’s a bold statement, but let me clarify. Certainly the Internet has made access to information far more readily available.  Knowledge is no longer a limited commodity.  There is more knowledge out there than we can ever imagine wrapping our brains around.  However, students are still doing what they’ve always done.  When I was in high school, my teachers told us we needed to have X number of text resources for our research projects.  We were supposed to go through all of them, find important information, and synthesize the best paper out of our findings.  And what did we do?  We found five books that were related to our topic, read the one that seemed to have the most information, and found a couple of quotes out of the other books to support our position.  Today’s students do the same with Wikipedia.  It “has all the answers” so why do they need to look further?  We as teachers have a responsibility to teach Wikipedia in our classrooms, at least until everyone understands it.

Wikipedia is not the bane of academic existence that some teachers, schools, districts want to make it. There are many districts where Wikipedia is blocked because of the potential for “inaccurate information.”  I hope these same districts immediately fire any teacher who offers an incorrect or unsubstantiated comment to his or her students.  I also hope they have never purchased a textbook that has wrong information in it.  Banning Wikipedia does a disservice to all involved.

We must teach students that the information in Wikipedia may or may not be the most accurate, but it does serve a purpose.  It is a starting point for our gathering.  The links and references in Wikipedia give us a great wealth of additional places to go and gather/verify/critique information about a research topic.  Students also need to know how to read the revision history of Wikipedia, and the discussions tab.  These are places where learning is taking place about the topics and we get to sit back and watch that knowledge building happen.

Scott McLeod has a wonderful idea in this post: Teaching Administrators about Wikipedia

I start by showing them the asphalt article. After we look at the article itself, I show them the history tab (and take them all the way back to the first few revisions) and then the discussion tab. We talk about what we see and what their perceptions are regarding accuracy, quality, and neutrality. Then I put them into groups to check out more controversial articles like Sarah Palin, Islam, Vladimir Putin, or Pluto. They examine the articles for bias and inaccuracy and spend some time in the history and discussion areas.

The asphalt article is a good place to start with students as well. It’s amazing to see just how much information is available about “a material used to cover roads” which is how I would have described it.  Checking the limited references at the bottom reveals that one of the books cited is a 700+ page book all about asphalt.  The discussions tab is amazing, with no fewer than 10 topics under discussion for inclusion in the article.  This one article embodies what we should be teaching our students about research.

As more and more information becomes available online and through student’s learning networks, our focus must shift to helping them synthesize that information into new learning/knowledge and finding ways to share that knowledge with the rest of the world.


2 Responses

  1. Great post.I think t
    You bring up some excellent points about the evolving nature of research. I especially appreciate your thoughts on Wikipedia!

  2. Todd,

    I can’t agree with you more about “gathering” information. I would add that regardless of the format (internet, books, etc) students still struggle with gathering if the information isn’t “right there” if they have to delve in deeper, infer even. When a student of mine tells me they can’t find something in a book or on line I like to go over and look at what they are using, if I do indeed find the information, I will tell the student that “yep I got the information and then walk away to help someone else.” I think this ties in with your comment about wanting to go to Google and “get” the information.


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