World Book vs. WikiAnswers

20140112_205200Today I as I was driving into school I glanced over to the passenger seat and noticed that my daughter Sophie was finishing up her biology homework. Whenever she didn’t know an answer, she just looked it up on the Internet using her phone. Boy, have times changed.

In the early 1980’s when I was in high school, the only homework helpers inside my house were family members and a set of World Book Encyclopedias my mom bought for us in 1973. The Vietnam War hadn’t even ended when these books were published! Options were limited if I got stuck on my homework.

Here were my options:

  • Phone a friend. This meant searching through the white pages of the phone book first if I didn’t have the number written down or memorized. If the friend’s last name was “Smith” or “Jones”, god forbid, I would have to call all 47 of them until I hit the right one. Then I would have to pray that I didn’t get the dreaded busy signal. (My kids are baffled by this sound when they hear it on the phone!)
  • Drive to the library, struggle with the card catalog and Dewey decimal system and then search for the info in a book…or on the microfiche.
  • Get to school early and hope someone could help me there.
  • Make up a fake answer.

Here are Sophie’s options:2014-04-28 08.40.36

  • Search up the answers on the Internet.
  • Watch a video from Khan Academy explaining how the problem is solved or the way something works.
  • Skype with one of her sisters in college for a face-to-face tutorial.
  • Email her teacher. Some teachers even give out their phone numbers so students can text them with questions.
  • Text a friend for assistance…or sister number two who is a math major.

As a teacher and a mother, I love that students have so many avenues of information readily available to them. I teach all of my classes in a computer lab so I work hard to make good use of the Internet and all it has to offer kids. However, there are two major drawbacks that I’ve discovered.

Number one, it is very easy to plagiarize and/or cheat. Plagiarism is a problem that I battle constantly in my classroom. It is just SO easy for students to copy and paste work from the Internet into their own documents. I frequently remind them, though, that it is just as easy for me to catch them. And I do, thank you Google. I like to tell them that in the good old days of the World Book encyclopedia, it was easier to summarize than to plagiarize. Hand copying, word for word, took too much time!

The second drawback I see to having so many sources of information available is that the amount of thinking a student has to do can be limited. This morning as I watched my daughter look up answer after answer on “awesome” sites like WikiAnswers and copy them onto her paper, I thought to myself, Is she actually learning anything? Probably not. Teachers know kids take these shortcuts so our challenge as educators is to craft as many assignments as possible that maximize higher-level thinking skills.

Learning online is fun and engaging for kids, but boy, I sure did love reading and flipping through those World Book encyclopedias when I was a kid. Perhaps I’ll bring them in for show and tell one day. I’m sure my middle school students will be delighted to hear how it was back in the Stone Age.

16 thoughts on “World Book vs. WikiAnswers

  1. Daughter went from education in Australia where your homework was emailed to teachers to education in Turkey where it is hand written and irregularly checked. Doing it by hand I expect means it does sink in a little better – no more copy and paste.

  2. Great post.. I’ve caught my 15-year-old daughter trying to copy homework from the internet rather than to research it, but it is so difficult to combat as she comes back with “yeah, but.. I learned from the answers”. Ugh! I love/hate the internet!

  3. Funny I was just talking to my Mrs today about how she and I are pretty much the last generation to of grown-up without the internet and having to read maps instead of ‘googling’, or search through dictionaries, or encyclopeadias instead of ‘wiki’.
    Personally I think it’s a good thing, we don’t (really) need to learn the dates for the Battle of Hastings in the real world, so it gives us an opportunity to worry less about learning by rote, and switching to learning through creativity. And it forces educators and parents to make learning exciting and wonderous, I couldn’t believe how boring I used to find science, right up untill I started using the internet, and then science was brought to life in a way that a text book and a musty smelling teacher could never of done…

    • Learning is a lot more interactive these days, at least where I teach. Sometimes I feel like an entertainer, but I don’t mind…I love the challenge of keeping my students engaged. I agree with you that learning nowadays is a lot more exciting than it used to be. I’ll have to ask my students if I smell musty…

  4. This is true. And yeah, it’s really obvious when they just copy-paste or copy from a classmate word for word. I enjoyed the convenience of internet during high school and college days but I always make sure to reprhase or summarize. I always remind my students to the same.

  5. My sisters are part of the technology age – their school has just rolled out laptops and tablets to be used all the time. Part of me thinks its a good idea, while the other part is so against it.
    As a uni student, two out of three days I go to uni, I leave my laptop at home – and the day I do take it is because I have a three hour seminar, and a technologically based tutorial in the morning.
    As I grew up and went to school (almost 15 years ago, wow) handwriting, spelling, punctuation and grammar were huge. How are students meant to learn how to spell properly, write neatly, and use correct grammar if they’re always typing?
    I’m not against using technology, but sometimes I feel like we are relying too heavily on it in the education system.
    When I have children, even if I have to do it myself, I want them to learn how to handwrite papers and spelling tests as they get older, and appreciate the feel of a pen or a heavy hardback book.

    • One of the biggest challenges I have with teaching in a computer lab is making sure that students are on task and not surfing the web. I’m sure your sisters’ teachers are facing the same! Handwriting is dead…not even taught here anymore. My students don’t know how to read cursive writing which makes me laugh!! Your future children will be lucky to have a mom who teaches them all of these “old fashioned” skills. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s