This week we spent some of our Wednesday class time reviewing practices in good information literacy. With so much information available to our students, the ability to evaluate source quality is critical.
Maria gave our students a section by section tour of a published research paper related to Social Media. We discussed issues surrounding publication dates and how that impacts research on a rapidly changing topic such as social media. She helped us learn to find the most important details within a scholarly papers and how to use the papers as a foundation for additional research.
We continued our discussion talking about the idea of hoax sites that are either built to intentionally deceive viewers or simply for entertainment. I specifically pointed out the Lake Michigan Whale Watching Web site. I personally find the site to be very funny. The design is very low-end but that is part of what makes the story of Lake Michigan Whale Watching even more amazing. In 2002 an educational publication ( Studies Weekly ) designed for distribution in 3rd and 4th grade classrooms included a story about the fresh water whales of Lake Michigan (which do not exist). Apparently the sole source of this information was the Lake Michigan Whale Watching Web site. (You can see an archived copy of the publication’s retraction article as preserved by Oakland University Library in Michigan and a PDF snapshot of the web site as it looked in 2002. During our class period I may have incorrectly alluded to Oakland University as the creator of the Studies Weekly publication. That was incorrect.)
As our discussion about using good judgement in the evaluation of Web resources continued, Maria was able to share her beloved site dedicated to the saving the Pacific North West Tree Octopus. Additional information about the Pacific North West Tree Octopus hoax was published in a University of Connecticut article.
Maria also shared the site DHMO.org. This “hoax” site is designed to save us from an important chemical compound that apparently is one of the most dangerous on earth.
One of our students asked about using Wikipedia as a source. He asked if it is a credible source and why most instructors do not allow the use of Wikipedia when writing papers. Wikipedia is a great example of a successful Web 2.0 environment. According to data from comScore, Wikipedia was the 12th most trafficked web site property for US audiences attracting more than 78,000,000 unique US visitors in January of 2012 (comScore’s Top 50 Web Properties for January 2011). Clearly people value the content but most academician would question its value as a source worthy of inclusion in a research paper.
I am personally leery of Wikipedia content. I shared the story of a Muskegon Chronicle (our local newspaper) reporter who posted an article based on a Wikipedia entry. In June of 2010 the following story was posted on the newspaper’s site:
The Wikipedia article on Muskegon contains the following claim:
“In the 1970s, some Muskegonites unsuccessfully campaigned to secede from both Michigan and the United States, claiming that the city had ‘perfected the American Dream’. This tongue-in-cheek expression was further reinforced by the now-famed ‘Lakeside (A prominent and popular Muskegon neighborhood) Against the World!’”
If you took part in the secession movement, or can verify it happened, please e-mail Megan Hart (published June 17, 2010)
Later in the month after further research revealed this had never happened the paper published another article, Muskegon’s Wikipedia profile: Strange, at best where the entry was explained as a hoax along with local opinions about how Wikipedia entries should be monitored and how Wikipedia was a dubious information source compared to “official” sites.
My illustration was not intended to poke fun at the reporter or the newspaper, but instead to show how careful we need to be as we examine and evaluate Internet content. The initial inquiry by this reporter and resulting follow up story provided the basis for a story that helped to inform our community about the need to be leery of Wikipedia content (as well as content from other “Web 2.0″ sources.
Maria offered a good balanced approach related to the use of Wikipedia in our learning process. She suggested that while Wikipedia is not suitable as solid source material in academic work, Wikipedia entries can help provide an initial understanding of a topic as a launch pad for further more rigorous research. We both noted that the citation materials at the bottom of Wikipedia entries could be a good place to start as long as you continue to test the material for credibility using tools and concepts we had covered previously in our class.