The title of today’s post is a statement made by a student in my library instruction session yesterday. My response: “That’s a great place to be.”
The student’s statement came right after we had an in depth discussion about different types of published information. I’ve been teaching students about source types for several years now. I used to use a chart method where I would compare and contrast popular and scholarly sources. As a class we’d fill in the chart by answering the questions, “Who writes these types of articles? Where do these articles get published? What are the physical characteristics of these articles? and Why do the authors write them?” It was a good exercise and since many students often need to comprehend new ideas in black and white terms it helped students see a difference between the sources. The drawback was that we didn’t get a chance to talk about the nuances between sources or the author’s use of sources.
So I’ve changed the way I teach published sources in class. I now use a spectrum diagram. I start by asking students to tell me some sources they might want to include in their annotated bibliography. I follow this brainstorming by asking them to tell me what sources they think are off limits or shouldn’t be included in the bibliography. Getting students to verbalize their perception of source types sets them up for a discussion about why they are different. Which leads me to ask the students to put the sources on the spectrum. The spectrum’s opposing ends are popular and scholarly.
This semester I’ve already taught about 6 of these classes and each class puts Wikipedia on a different point of the spectrum, but more towards popular. In yesterday’s class the students put Wikipedia dead center on the spectrum. That impressed me. I was impressed more by their reasons. They were aware that some sort of editing processes took place and that a lot of scholars contribute to it, but also knew that their friends and whom ever else also add to entries.
Then we get our post title, “I don’t know what to think about Wikipedia anymore.” Great segue into a conversation about how we use sources in our own research. We talked about why and how we might use a Wikipedia entry. Contrasted it with other source types we discussed. We closed the discussion with the nuanced idea that a sources value is directly connected with the author’s intent. As a class we engaged in some good critical thinking and I’m hoping that they will use that same critical thinking when they are researching. Pausing to ask themselves, “Is this really the best source for my research?”