Wiki what?

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The Internet has made your job, as a college student, so much easier. I remember, and this was not quite as long ago as my students believe, when I was an undergraduate working on my first academic research essays. I attended Lindenwood College, now University. Our library was an old converted church. It was a beautiful building and an interesting home for books and journals. There were still wooden card catalogs and work tables with lovely lamps, but no computers. Nothing was computerized. I knew little of research. The Internet was new and for most home computer owners AOL was the only means of sending and receiving e-mail and navigating the Internet, which by comparison, seems lacking in great regard to what my students have available to them today.

Now, research is a breeze. Finding just the right search terms seem to be the focus of most research whining these days and don’t even get me started on Intellectual Property – that is for another blog post at another time. Once you grasp the language of your topic research becomes easier. We used to narrow our searches with Booleans. Now, the database provides opportunities to narrow our search with a click of a button. Also, searchers can pick and choose exactly the kind of source it is they are looking for. Amazing. We have come a long way, baby, but a few constants still are found among English faculty and across the curriculum. There is so much information out there, available just by clicking, that concerns of reliability and validity our shouted from academy offices and classrooms.

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Dictionaries are a good source for looking up a word I don’t know, but definitions are a lousy way to begin a research paper. The hook of the definition is gone, replaced by socially constructed ways of seeing the language in the world, or in a field. Remember, the writer has control over the definitions, over the language. A good college student looks up words he doesn’t know for better understanding. A bad college student believes the words in the definition without challenging them or testing them in field of study they are searching.

Encyclopedias are a good place to begin. But, not the end all of research as it was for students of the fifties, sixties, and seventies. Who writes these things anyway? How long is the information valid? Reliable? What happens when knowledge changes but the dust lingers on the set of matching bindings with gold foil? The color on the bindings began to fade with advent of Wikipedia. Wikis are another good place to start, but a terrible place to stay while researching. Just for fun, go to a Wiki, and add your own research, your own voice, your own slant. What happens? How long will you exist and remain? Who are you reading? Do you know? Here is the irony. Wikis are socially constructed and what did I write about definitions? I may be a hypocrite, but, remember: “I’m the teacher. That’s why.”

Check these out:

http://www.pbs.org/teachers/learning.now/2006/07/wikipedia_in_the_classroom_con.html
http://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/article/1328/wikipedia-founder-discourages-academic-use-of-his-creation
http://learnlearnlearn.wordpress.com/2008/02/19/thou-shalt-not-use-wikipedia/

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One Response

  1. It’s true that research is easier and requires less work nowadays, but you can’t blame us for how much work we are used to. It is true that compared to your generation our required work may be less, but remember this, it was your generation that allowed us to be…less hard working, on behalf of our generation, I thank your generation 🙂

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