Rhode Island Library Report
KINGSTON, R.I. (March 23, 2013) - Even after almost a decade, Wikipedia – with its wide-open system of authorship and editing - is still considered a controversial resource for academic research.
Which is why Mary Moen, library media specialist at Chariho Regional High School, uses the massive online encyclopedia as a teaching tool in a course that shows students how to use the Internet.
Moen discussed her course during a workshop at the career conference organized by graduate library students at the University of Rhode Island, “Catapult Your Career in 2013.”
Chariho is a regional school district encompassing the southern Rhode Island towns of Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton, with the high school located in Richmond.
Moen first noted Wikipedia’s strengths and self-monitoring features. For example, she said, it is possible to see all of the edits that have been made to any Wikipedia article by using the site’s “show history” feature.
Meanwhile, a “talk” button allows editors to discuss discrepancies in facts, and users can also use it to talk to editors. If there is a dispute between editors that they cannot resolve themselves, the main editorial board will settle the dispute.
Moen explained there are various forms of Wikipedia articles. For example, “stubs” are short articles that have not been touched by many hands and may lack authority. She suggested that teachers steer students way from them.
On the other hand, she said that “starred” articles are considered high quality for research purposes. Many are “locked” by the Wikipedia editorial board, blocking new edits that might compromise their quality.
She used an article on elephants as an example of a long and well-sourced article. She pointed to both “star” and “lock” icons on the top right corner of the article.
In response to a question, Moen said that a user can find these high-quality articles by searching the list of “featured articles."
Moen used a class in wildlife management to train students how to vet Websites as to their usefulness in research, asking them to use journalism’s famous “Five W” questions: who, what, when, where and why?
To emphasize the last point, Moen said she asked the students to plug information into a Google search to assess how many other sites contained the same information.
Ironically, she said she couldn’t use the live Wikipedia site to complete this goal, because users on Chariho’s computer network were banned from editing on Wikipedia. There had been “vandalism” – irresponsible or malicious editing of articles of the Wikipedia site by people using the Chariho network.
Instead, she set up a local Wiki page on the school’s Internet site where students were asked to verify the information in selected Wikipedia articles. They also had to add information that they thought was missing or incomplete and enhance the articles with additional material, such as pictures or graphics.
Moen said that she sees Wikipedia and other Internet resources as a learning opportunity for her students. Instead of banning use of these sites, she said the ultimate goal should be teaching their responsible use.
Brian C. Jones, of the R.I. Library Report, contributed to this article.