Sunday, March 6, 2016

Comparing Textbooks to Wikipedia - A Student & Teacher Lesson

Last week during NCTIES I shared an activity that I have done with students and teachers to help them identify the similarities and differences between information presented in their textbooks and information presented in Wikipedia articles on the same topics. An outline of the activity is available here.

The activity is one that I developed six years ago to help students and teachers understand that Wikipedia isn't always bad and that textbooks aren't always accurate. When I developed the activity I also had in mind teaching the value of primary sources.  The first time that I did this with students the topics/events my students were studying were the Sand Creek Massacre, the Battle of Little Bighorn, and the Fort Laramie Treaties. The vast majority of my students reported that they found the textbook easier to use for finding the "main points," but that the Wikipedia articles had the same information. They also reported that the Wikipedia articles had more depth of information.

Where Wikipedia stood-out was in getting students started on their searches for primary source documents. As you'll see in the outline, I asked my students to use the links at the end of each Wikipedia article to further investigate each topic and locate primary source documents. What I did not include in the outline is that I also allowed students to simply search the web on their own to find primary source documents. As I expected, most of them came to the realization that a lot what they were finding through their own searches was already listed in the links at the end of the Wikipedia articles. At the end of the activity every student was able to identify and add new information to their knowledge base using the primary source documents they located.

How does Wikipedia work? 
Common Craft explains in the video below.

Common Craft videos can be viewed for free online but to download them or embed them you do have to be a subscriber to their service. In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you that I have an in-kind relationship with Common Craft.