Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Internet Resources: Fact or Fiction

I will be completely honest from the start and say that one of my greatest weaknesses in regards to my teaching is having the students use the internet for any purpose outside of the practice room. With the looming deadline of concerts on the horizon and knowing parents and the administration judge most music learning from these performances, research as learning takes a back seat. Having said that, I will go by comments that I have gathered from fellow colleagues and teachers throughout my teaching experience.

A general music class was assigned a project to research a famous African American musician and create a story board on their life and musical skill. For the written part of this project, I helped the general music teacher with grading. After about 3 reports, the teacher did an interesting thing. She typed the musician's name into Wikipedia and started reading. 95% of the time, the students' writing was copied exactly from Wikipedia.

I know many others have talked about the need to teach students how to research correct and appropriate sites, but I think this task becomes a bit more difficult when given a person or project in which they have little or no background knowledge. Although the purpose of the project is to give the students a deeper understanding of the topic, this is where I believe it is necessary to have students and adults alike look at numerous sources and search for areas of similarity and differences. In this way, students will be forced to go beyond merely one site, not only for information's sake but for validation of that information as well. If a student finds five internet resources all stating the same "facts", they have a much greater chance of having found correct information than if they merely grabbed it from one site and wrote their whole paper based on this.

When one considers the wealth of information available on the web, I think we need to take more time having the students wade through this wealth of information correctly and efficiently, and the amount of information will actually serve to help the students commit true research. If students are ever to be "trusted" on their own with internet research, they must begin to understand how to evaluate the information on their own and not merely have a teacher say "these are the sites you should look for information on". What have we taught our students (upper grade levels) if we limit their ability to explore?

I believe that the old days of opening up encyclopedias or educational journals are gone as these resources can be quickly found online. The only thing left is to educate students with how to wade through the sea of information available to them which will only get larger as time passes.

For some additional information on how to evaluate websites for yourself and your students please check out:



  1. Interesting post! One thing you might want to think about in addition is that the "Internet" is far more than "information." It provides the opportunity for so much more than what might traditionally be done in a library. (Students copied from books, too, in the "old days.") Activities need to be designed that do NOT allow for simply copying and pasting. Collaboration, communication, and shared inquiry are three things that can make the Internet more than just an encyclopedia on steroids. :-)

  2. I actually found myself laughing when you talked about copy and pasting from Wikipedia. I was actually just talking to a Language Arts teacher whose students were doing the same thing. I think that with this issue, the need for good curriculum webs and more activities like the ones in the web are crucial. I like the point you brought up about students researching a person they know little to nothing about. What is this assignment really teaching the student? Gaining background knowledge on any subject is crucial in education. This is why the Japanese have such a rich based curriculum. They spend time creating that background knowledge. But with little time and benchmark goals, we need to keep pushing through...I think that is the real issue.

    January 24, 2010 11:52 AM

  3. While I agree that background knowledge is essential when assigning research projects, the knowledge about the individual may not be as critical as what the expectations are for the project itself. If students are required to provide the links to the websites they used and know that simply cutting and pasting will result in a failing grade (I believe it is called plagerism), only then will the students attempt to rewrite the information they obtain from the Internet. Schools are now utilizing software that will check a paper against the web and students are required to turn in both a written copy and an electronic one as well. This may at least prevent some of the more concientious students from simply lifting something found on the Internet.

  4. Wikipedia has been blocked from my classroom and the districts websites. I discuss in my class about how to research properly, however, students still will not learn. I have 6th graders complete a similar technology "heroes and inventors" and their researching skills are lacking. I find many students literally typing a question into google and using the first website that comes up for the snwer. The problem that students don't understand is that half the websites were created by people who were just taking a guess, where as others were actually made with real facts. The point you brought up about students knowing nothing about the people in history is so true. I find that i often have to explain more and more about each person just to have the students understand the degree to research. I often feel like we need to go back to the dictionaries and encyclopedias and leave our "I'll google it's" behind.