Why Wikipedia? Parents Ask

“Why use Wikipedia?” adults often ask. What they are really asking is, “Should my kids use Wikipedia, and is it a real reference?” For adults who grew up in the age of multiple volumes of well-documented encyclopedic information — of course, you remember those well-used, bookmarked, or even dog-eared pages — it’s hard to wrap our minds around Wikipedia. It’s even harder to understand just how we should use it as a reference.

Twenty-first Century learners, however, consult Wikipedia all the time, and the number of users and the content is increasing. According to a 2006 review in School Library Journal, “The popular online encyclopedia, whose entries are written and edited by any user, may inspire trepidation, even fear, yet the behemoth is impossible to ignore.” So just who is writing for Wikipedia? A March 2010 MSNBC article Who Writes Wikipedia, describes a research project that aimed to develop profiles of writers who contribute content.

Question: So, how does any user — student or adult — cite Wikipedia?

Answer: Give credit just as it’s given for any other reference.

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How Can I Help My Child Become a Better Researcher?

researchwordphotoJust about any time of the school year students seek good quality information to use with assignments and projects. Unfortunately, most kids head right to a computer or portable device and fire up Google, despite that teachers and librarians devote substantial classroom time and energy  introducing students to curated online research resources.

To help children use higher quality information sources, we adults need to learn a bit more about online databases and share that information. At home, as often as possible, we should reinforce school lessons or create our own, reminding our children that while results from Google provide a vast number of links, many are of questionable quality and others are irrelevant. Although making judgements and decisions about the links that appear in the typical Google search are useful skills to develop, the time to fine tune these abilities is not when a child is working on an important report or project.

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