Research in the Wikipedia Age

This past week, I received an email from Jen Rhee. She wrote the following message:

I came across your site and wanted to share my infographic about Wikipedia and how it’s redefining the way we research. I saw that you had an interest in education technology, which is why I thought you and your readers might find it interesting! Would you be interested in taking a look? Let me know, as I’d love to get your thoughts on it!

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely certain that the email was genuine. I get quite a bit of spam email and the messages are sometimes quite legitimate-looking. I’ve grown a bit suspicious as a result. I did a little Googling, though, and found Ms. Rhee’s name in some reputable web locations, as well as a couple of other very cool infographics that she has created regarding sugary drinks and the benefits of barefoot running. (Here and here, respectively)

By the way, if you’re not clear on what infographics are, according to Wikipedia (hah! I’m using Wikipedia to give you background information for an infographic about Wikipedia!) they’re graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. You’ve probably see them in magazines, newspapers, and on television.

Looking over Ms. Rhee’s graphic, one of the things that jumped out at me was the average of 3.86 errors per article on Wikipedia compared to 2.92 errors per article in the Encyclopedia Britannica. It was also interesting that, according to the graphic, 73% of teachers still forbid students from using Wikipedia in their research. Given the close similarity in accuracy and the trend for rapid edits and corrections in Wikipedia articles, I have a hard time understanding the reasoning behind the prohibition.

One of the things I want to guide my toward is being able to recognize legitimate versus illegitimate information. It is easy to find content online and Wikipedia can be a valuable source when used responsibly. I want my students to see it as a springboard into deeper research. Start with the Wikipedia article and then branch off into the sources cited by the article editors for more information from other points of view. Outlawing it as a source seems to me a lot like pointing out that we have a great library at our school but the students will not be allowed to look at any of the books because there may be some errors here and there. Silly!

So, with that lengthy introduction, here is the very interesting and artful infographic created by Jen Rhee:

Wikipedia
Via: Open-Site.org

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