Wikipedia-shaming – article by Dr Joyce Valenza

Friday afternoon, low energy, flicking through my inbox cleaning things up. Behold! The School Library Journal digest email – the Wikipedia-shaming line catches my eye.

Dr Joyce Valenza (all around legend in the teacher librarian world and lovely person to have dinner with at EduTech in Brisbane 2014) has written an article about student perceptions of Wikipedia. This has come out of research she is currently pursuing regarding “students’ information choices” (see the article for details).

One of the things I found most fascinating in this article was the graph comparing helpfulness and “citability” against age of the student. Generally speaking these two qualities were inversely proportional, ie the more helpful Wikipedia was, the less likely students were to use it as a reference. The other key point for me was that as students moved higher up the educational ladder Wikipedia became more valuable.
The quotes from the older student participants make it clear that they understand the strengths of Wikipedia very well – it can be great introduction to complex topics, clearly structured, very current and with comprehensive reference lists linking to online sources. The barrier is established attitudes to Wikipedia as a source, which Dr Valenza characterises as a negative judgement of Wikipedia’s brand, whereas a more useful approach would be consideration of the quality of each specific article based on authority, currency, relevance and references.

I am left with some questions – what would my colleagues think of students using Wikipedia? Should they suggest it as an introduction to new topics and a source of references? Should it be used as a lesson in determining reliability of content? In fact it occurs to me that it is probably easier to find references for information in Wikipedia than in many other online sources! Should it be equated with traditional encyclopedias – again giving credibility to the information if adequate cross-checking is evident?

A very interesting article, I am glad I came across it and may well see what reactions I can stir up amongst my teaching colleagues by sharing the findings!



I just read an article from the Guardian about YA novels and the effect on authors and publishing of social-media backlash events…

I’m left wondering how it would ever be possible to please all the people – one of the examples was where an author was pressured to change or remove their book because it contained a racist character. (Disclaimer: I have not read the book in question) What I am wondering is whether the point of that character was to illustrate what racism is and how it affects people, including targets, bystanders and perpetrators. I’m not sure how it would be possible to reveal the effects that racism has on a person without having a racist character in the mix somewhere.

I’m also fairly horrified at the tales of online trolling, abuse and death threats targeting authors who have written something that someone else feels is not sensitive enough towards a marginalised group. The use of social media to mob someone is always unpleasant, but I don’t think it solves anything. Another writer noted that rather than being on the attack, these moments of disagreement should be an opportunity for “constructive dialogue”, and I couldn’t agree more. If reading books is supposed to be a way to walk in another person’s shoes, then talking about our different styles and preferences would be a great way to further enrich our shared understandings.

In defense of messiness

Children are messy. Their work is messy. Their handwriting is messy. Their thinking is messy.

But their enthusiasm, their joyfulness, their energy is wonderful, and so I am ok with a little messiness if it is produced in a rush of eager creativity.

For instance, I have been reading Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa to one of my Y3 classes, and we finished it this morning. It is utterly charming, and worlds away from anything else we have read recently – the simple language and imaginative story remind me a bit of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, while being totally different in setting and characters!

Anyway, we finished reading it this morning, and everyone enjoyed it, so when I discovered that my other planned activity wouldn’t work I threw in something else I’d been thinking about – writing letters like Giraffe and Penguin! I wrote an example on the board, and invited everyone to write a simple letter, using their own name and giving a clue as to what animal (currently proven to be living on the Earth, so no dinosaurs, Bigfoot or dragons) they were. Letters were hastily written, folded up in a variety of ways, then randomly distributed around the room, to be opened upon the count of three. The most fun part happened next, as students read out the clues and made their guesses, some perfectly accurate and others hilariously off the mark. We ran out of time to read out every single letter, but the boys had so much fun, and so loved the little puzzle and the connection to the book, that I have to say it was one of the best things I’ve done with them this year.

Renovation is not the be-all

I have just read an interesting blog post by Laura Fleming which argues that if the library isn’t being used, just changing the space won’t make a difference. She says you should bring about a revolution in the culture of the library before trying to renovate. Laura is very emphatic on the importance of student input when considering changing space organisation, furnishings, technology and of course choosing resources. It is refreshing to see something which does not rely upon spending $$$ on the latest new furniture in the hopes that the ‘shiny’ will be attractive enough to bring in more users.

Key takeaways:

  • repurpose your existing fittings, furnishings and equipment
  • get student input
  • let students choose books
  • meet student needs

Things which might be a hard sell in my school? Food in the library, or games in the senior library. I believe that the school executive would like to improve the academic tone of the senior school, including in the library (statements at the start of the year about the library as a quiet study space), so I might not get a lot of support for radically changing that.

Spatial difficulties: we have an echo-y glass box for our SS library, which makes things like private study spaces difficult. What I would love to do is have diner-style bench + table seating along at least part of one wall which would give students places to work together but keep the noise of conversations down to a manageable level. Some more variety in the rest of the seating would also be welcome. An idea I heard from another TL recently is to apply an adhesive whiteboard surface to the top of existing tables – quick and relatively cheap way to provide write-on tables. (quick look puts a piece large enough to cover a 4-person table at about $90; new whiteboard desks start at $250+)


Food for thought…


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