Thinking aloud about online resources

So, I have joked in the past that my students sometimes submit papers that are just Wikipedia pages — in one case, one that still had the little blue Wikpedia footnotes. Needless to say, this does not fool me.

However, I am not convinced that the common response to this, which is basically to tell students that Wikipedia and its ilk are the work of the devil, is all that useful. My students … they are not book-readers. And, to be honest, the library of the school I teach at doesn’t have very extensive resources for them (I teach one of only two history classes in the whole place) and they generally don’t have time to get into town to the proper library. So they’re largely limited to online sources.

In recognition of this, I’ve tried to make sure I steer them to reliable places to find historical sources, including primary or contemporary sources, online. But the truth is that Wikipedia is not a bad place to start when you know nothing about a topic — or, as is sometimes the case with my students, less than nothing — as long as you don’t stop there. I try to give them some advice on how to use it to find better sources, what it’s good for and what it’s not good for. Honestly, I don’t do enough.

I guess what I’m saying is: they’re gonna do it, so you have to teach them how to do it responsibly. If you don’t, they’ll just get in trouble.

Hrm. That analogy could maybe use some work.

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Thinking aloud about online resources

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