Critical Evaluation in the Collaborative Era

10/15/2007 5:00:00 AM

from Technology & Learning

What role should a wiki play in authentic research?

Kathy Schrock

I began using critical evaluation techniques back in 1995, when I was choosing sites to add to my then-new portal, Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators. I would look at a potential entry and use a series of analytical questions to determine, first, if the content would be useful for teachers, followed by a rather formal process to determine the authority of the author and the validity of the information, and, finally, look at the navigability of the site.

I then created Web site critical evaluation tools for teachers and students to use based on my process—tools that have been used extensively over the years. As social collaborative tools such as blogs and podcasts proliferated, I added new tools to evaluate them. As even newer tools show up on the Web, I investigate them to determine how they can be used in education.

One of the new types of social collaborative tools I feel is useful to support teaching and learning is a wiki. With a wiki, a user creates and posts content, and then anyone else can log in and change or update the content, and all iterations are archived and accessible. For student collaboration, peer editing, note taking, and many other uses, the wiki is a great educational tool. Teachers can easily track student postings and acquisition of knowledge since all of the changes and updates are logged.

However, the multi-creator, informational character of the public wiki defies my ability to critically evaluate the information. One of the largest and best-known wikis is Wikipedia, which touts itself as a "free encyclopedia." I have difficulty, as a library media specialist and an educator, coming up with a process to evaluate the information located on a Wikipedia page. Granted, content creators who are passionate about a topic maintain these pages, but this passion may also lead to biased information. And does passion about a topic also mean the information is valid and reliable?

Since anyone can post content, and anyone can edit the content on a wiki, how do students determine if the information is correct? Do they look at every iteration of the page and try to determine the authority of everyone who edited the information? What about the fact that the creator's real name may not appear anywhere? True, Wikipedia does allow viewers to see all the edits made by other users. So should students then take a look at each editor's summary page to see if that particular user is posting to many Wikipedia pages on similar topics, which may (or may not) indicate he or she is an expert on the topic? The traditional methods of attempting to determine the authority of an author would include looking at the "About the Author" page, conducting a Web search on the author's name to find out how he or she is mentioned by others in the field, and doing a backward search on the author's Web page to see who links to the author's site. How does one complete this task on Wikipedia with so many authors of a single article and no real names?

Even if I go along with the users of Wikipedia who say that it is self-correcting—since so many volunteer "editors" monitor the pages and correct any erroneous information—I would still like to find out a little bit about these "editors" who are creating content with no vetting of their expertise. I did a little research on the Web and located a 2006 Harris Poll study indicating that in the United States, younger people are using the Web more than older people; Internet users are more likely affluent; and the majority of Net users have earned a high school diploma or less. So, the United States "editors" of content in Wikipedia may have one or all of these characteristics. However, Wikipedia reaches the entire world, not just the United States. Since only about 18 percent of the world's population uses the Internet, a potential Wikipedia "editor" is part of a small, select group. What about the expertise of the other 82 percent?

Wikipedia does have guidelines for the addition of content. The most important one is the requirement that information is "verifiable," and it asks the creators to include bibliographic citations to the original content. Why don't our students just conduct their own search, go directly to the original content, and use their own critical evaluation skills to determine if the information on the original site is valid and authoritative and meets their research needs? An argument can be made that, if the user did not know anything about a topic, he or she could use Wikipedia to acquire background information and keywords to begin his or her formal research. I agree that this might be a good use of this wiki. But, then again, the students are gathering the information from a person whom they know nothing about. How does this help them determine the reliability of information presented on topics they know nothing about?

There have been many high-profile cases regarding Wikipedia editors and entries—including a citizen finding erroneous information about himself in Wikipedia, to many noted instances of posting copyrighted information from both print and Web sources, to employees giving false credentials as editors. With a collaborative project this large, high numbers of such incidents might be expected. However, is this collaborative "encyclopedia" the place we want to send students to gather information? Why not have them use primary and secondary sources (not a tertiary source like Wikipedia) to allow them to employ their own critical evaluation skills to determine the authority and validity of information and to draw their own judgments about the relevant facts found in the original source?

Overall, I am most concerned about the creation of content that is "research worthy" by authors I know nothing about in online collaborative environments. Wikipedia is the most noted of these online collaborative tools, but there are many others. I don't have the answer for the best way to treat these tools in educational settings. Should we allow students to use these tools as "sources consulted" but not "sources cited"? How do we teach critical evaluation of information when we have no way to determine authority? I guess I have more questions than answers at this point. I will keep trying to figure it out.

Kathy Schrock is administrator for Technology, Nauset Public Schools, Orleans, MA. Her Web portal is http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schrockguide/.

Want to read more stories like this?

Get our Free Newsletter Here!

comments powered by Disqus

Galveston ISD Educator Named Texas 2017 National Distinguished Principal

National K-12 Publisher Mentoring Minds and Long-Time Partner, the&nbs...

Schoology Unveils Session Details and Keynote Lineup for User Conference

NEW YORK (May 18, 2017) – Schoology, the leader in learning mana...

IO Education Expands Leadership Team To Continue Accelerating Growth

IO Education, a market leader in helping educators use data to improve...

Virtual High School Opens Registration for 2017-18 School Year

Boston — May 16, 2017 — Educational experts advocate expos...

T&L Partner Post
Tweets
Photo GalleriesView All Galleries >
Acer C720-2844 Chromebook

(www.acer.com) The Acer C720-2844 Chromebook model delivers speedy performance, a quick boot time of seven seconds, and a matte anti-glare display tha...

Britannica ImageQuest

(www.britannica.com) Britannica Digital Learning has upgraded ImageQuest, a resource for schools and libraries that provides nearly three million rig...

ClassFlow

(www.classflow.com) Promethean has released ClassFlow, a free, all-in-one, cloud-based teaching tool that lets teachers create and deliver interactive...

Adobe Voice

(www.adobe.com) Adobe has released Adobe Voice, an animated video app for the iPad that lets users create and share video stories. The app incorporate...

DeskBoard

(www.boxlight.com) The BOXLIGHT DeskBoard mobile cart adjusts both height and tilt for the P8 ultra short throw interactive projector on a white surfa...

Core 36M

(www.bretford.com) Bretford has introduced Core 36M, a 36-unit charging cart that is optimized for Chromebooks but which also supports most tablets, l...

Edmentum Sensei

(www.edmentum.com) Edmentum Sensei is a mobile optimized solution that helps administrators visualize and track overall school, teacher, and student p...

HMH Player

(www.hmhco.com) HMH has released HMH Player, a new native app for iOS and Google Chrome that streamlines the learning experience for improved digital ...

Juice Power System

(www.bretford.com) Bretford has unveiled an easy-to-use modular power system with exchangeable power components. The Juice Power System uses unique &#...

LightSail

(www.lightsailed.com) LightSail Education has announced a literacy accelerator that combines books with in-text embedded assessments and real-time dat...

myON

(www.myon.com) myON has expanded its digital library to include a set of literacy tools to further personalize the reading experience for students whi...

Nervanix Clarity

(www.nervanix.com) Nervanix has released Clarity, an application that monitors student attention levels as they study and guides them to revisit conce...

MathBall

(www.robotslab.com) RobotsLAB has introduced MathBall, a smart sensor basketball and tablet system that offers curricula in algebra, pre-calculus, phy...

MobileAsset.EDU

(www.waspbarcode.com) Wasp Barcode’s MobileAsset.EDU solutions include everything administrators need to account for their assets, from software...

OpenEd Assessment Creation Tool

(www.opened.io) OpenEd has announced a free tool that lets teachers easily create assessments with the question types required by Common Core standard...

Panasonic TH-80LFB70U

(www.panasonic.com) Panasonic’s TH-80LFB70U interactive LED display features high-speed, multi-touch, interactive capabilities to promote partic...

penveu interactive display system

(www.penveu.com) The penveu interactive display system is a handheld device that turns projectors and large screen displays into interactive whiteboar...

PresentationPro

(www.califone.com) Califone has updated its PresentationPro speaker. The PA310 readily connects with computers, LCD projectors, mobile devices, intera...

PowerSync+ Mobile Companion App

(www.bretford.com) Bretford Manufacturing, Inc. has announced the availability of the companion app for its PowerSync+ enabled charge and sync produc...

PureCharge Carts and Stations for iPad

(www.bretford.com) Bretford Manufacturing, Inc. has debuted the PureCharge family of iPad and iPad mini charging carts and stations. By offering pre-i...

ProQuest Research Companion

(www.proquest.com) ProQuest’s new information literacy product, Research Companion, offers videos that guide users through the research process,...

Sphere2 & Class Send Student Engagement Software Platform

(www.averusa.com) AVer Information has developed a Student Engagement platform, providing teachers and students with the tools to transmit document ca...

TabChargeCT2

(www.averusa.com) AVer has released the TabChargeCT2 charge cart solution, which can hold up to 40 Chromebooks, iPads, Android or Windows tablets, lap...

VoiceLift with Instant Alert and Emergency Video Monitoring

(www.extron.com) The Instant Alert function of the Extron VoiceLift Microphone, combined with a PoleVault, WallVault, or PlenumVault classroom AV sys...

SMART Board 6065

(www.smarttech.com) The SMART Board 6065 is an ultra HD, 4K interactive flat panel that offers collaborative capabilities while ensuring lessons run s...

Gaggle Unity Partner Program

(www.gaggle.net) The new Gaggle Unity Partner Program provides free data integration services for all educational technology vendors. Through the Gagg...

Waterford Early Learning, Reading, Math & Science

(www.waterford.org) Waterford Early Learning Cloud can be used at home or to supplement lessons in classrooms. It can also be used for individual adap...

NetSupport School

(www.netsupportschool.com) The latest version of NetSupport School allows teachers to monitor and collaborate with any mix of technology. An enhanced ...

Camtasia

(www.techsmith.com/camtasia) TechSmith’s Camtasia gives teachers the tools to record lessons, create videos, and engage their audiences. Educato...

Panasonic 3E

(www.panasonic.com) Intel has teamed up with Panasonic to announce the Panasonic 3E, which uses the Intel Education 2-in-1 reference design. Designed ...