Google and Wikipedia As Research

On Sunday an article came out from The Argus discussing a professor who had banned her students from using Wikipedia and Google. The accuracy of Wikipedia is for a different blog post. The key here is that Wikipedia and Google have been banned as even starting points. I find myself in partial agreement with this professor in the sense that I do see a very real problem with people who click on the first one or two links on a Google search and assume the site is accurate.

The real issue here isn’t the accuracy of websites is the lack of veting occurring among students. Some websites do provide good and accurate information. I do read the majority of my news online from such places as BBC, does that make the news less accurate than the physical version of it? Also, this blog is the perfect example of a place where I openly admit that I am not an expert in many of the subjects that I discuss but I hope to provide accurate information and some decent analysis of news that I come across. Should you not trust my site. I would obviously say you should trust my site, but not because it is my site. For what then do you no longer go to your friends for advice on a subject. Do you have a friend where even though they may not be an expert in a particular field you still ask their opinion about something? Most of you probably do have at least one if not more friends like that, people whose opinion you do trust. This blog is much like a friend, you take information from it and you have to decide if the information is both trustworthy and useful. You may go to an expert to verify the information but the friend is your flashlight to help you find out what questions to ask or where to start looking for more accurate information or some very surface level questions.

That is what Wikipedia and Google provide, they provide the ability to examine very broad subjects and narrow the focus. At the same time, Google and Wikipedia provide access to information on what can be called very spefic and limited fields of study. I once helped a friend write directions for what a normal Indian girl would need to know going on a date here in America. It wasn’t easy finding information in a book or encyclopedia about that sort of thing. But at the same time someone somewhere must have written on it, there surely had to be a thesis on dating customs of Indians somewhere. So what did I do, I went to Google and looked for information about that subject. It was the sort of thing that you wouldn’t typically be able to find just searching through a card catalog, book descriptions can be very vague at times. However if I found a blog post about a book or article on it, I’ve gained access to a source I would never have known about pre-Internet. I also looked at Wikipedia, looking for where Wikipedia was citing their information on Indian culture. Again I gained access to new sources and at the same time got a rough and quick overview of Indian dating culture. No, it wasn’t complete, but did it matter? Not really, I wasn’t looking for the entire paper, I was looking to compile the paper from multiple sources and looking at places that could provide references as to possible sources of information.

I don’t feel that Wikipedia and Google are perfect sources of information, while at the same time I don’t feel that Encyclopedia Britannica is a perfect source either. Both can provide access to information. What students should be able to do is to use any source possible, but have to verify that the source is accurate. The students should have to write a paragraph as to why this source is a trusted source, even for Encyclopedia Britannica. I would challenge people who critique the use of information technology in the classroom take a look at this video and see how different a classroom of students play and are taught. Education still hasn’t caught up the digital and information revolution occurring in the world and education more than any field should embrace it.

Justin Yost is a full-time Software Engineer and a part time educator. A graduate of Texas Tech University with a bachelor's degree in computer science, Justin relishes programming and learning more about anything and everything. When not working, Justin occasionally gives talks at the local PHP Meetup. In his free time, Justin enjoys backpacking and reading science fiction books.

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