by Kathy Garland
Mrs. T.: Have you seen the Halle Berry version of Their Eyes Were Watching God? Just wondering about your thoughts…
KG: I haven’t, but I think I might use that or Gatsby movie this fall with undergrads. What did you think?
Mrs. T.: It [Their Eyes] is the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I literally threw the book at the SmartBoard today while we were watching it in class. They change and re-write metaphors and key scenes. It’s just torturous. Anyway, I did show Gatsby and I am absolutely in love with it. It does have some differences from the text, but it makes you love the text even more.
I immediately located the film, which you can view for free via YouTube. My teacher friend was right. The made-for-TV movie is not an ideal version of the iconic novel. Several key parts are diluted, and as a result make integral chapters and themes seem irrelevant. However, no matter how terrible, I would still encourage language arts teachers to show the film. But I’ll get back to this point in a minute.
This recent and timely conversation about how and when language arts teachers should use popular culture is where my past and current work is situated. For four years, I had the opportunity to observe one high-school English teacher’s use of media literacy education (the formal study of media). One important part of the class required that students learn film language as a means for analysis and evaluation; the teacher’s purpose was to help them attain media literacy, “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate messages in a variety of forms” (Aufderheide, 1993, n.p.). However, close examination of her class demonstrated that students were not only becoming more proficient with “reading” media, but they were also developing and using literacy practices that closely resembled what many teachers expect in traditional English classes (Garland, 2010). More specifically, these students exhibited the initial phases of critical literacy.
My study (2010) and others (Boske & McCormack, 2011; Hobbs, 2007; Kist, 2005; Morrell, 2004) have shown that examining the nuances of popular film is a culturally relevant way for teaching secondary students to pay close attention to their mediated worlds. Whether we deem films “good” or “bad,” students can learn to critically think about movies that they may otherwise passively view. If we continue with Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005) as an example, students might benefit from a conversation about the similarities and differences between director’s purpose versus author’s purpose. Why would the director choose to exclude scenes that advance the plot of the written novel, especially when those scenes support a feminist lens? Does the director’s gender influence such exclusions? Whatever the answer, these types of questions about director’s omissions of texts can help students develop a critical view of movies and literature. Other publications I’ve written also provide research-based methods that would help frame lessons centered on directors’ decisions (Garland, 2011; Garland & Smith, 2013). These lessons demonstrate how literature-based films, such as Percy Jackson (2010) and The Lorax (2012) omit and add texts that subsequently affect plot, characters and message.
One current movie that many language arts teachers seem to agree upon using is The Great Gatsby (2013). Mrs. T. and I concur. She and I both appreciate it as a “good” film version of a novel; however, our love is based on two different reasons. According to her, “it makes you love the text even more,” which is a common rationale language arts teachers use for showing movie renditions of books (Day, 2010; Jolley, 2009). But my love of the popular film is due in part to the purposeful way that Baz Luhrmann weaves rap music and jazz into the movie’s text and narrative. What might high-school students’ opinions be? After reading the novel, students could also consider other pertinent questions. For example, should a movie strictly follow the author’s written text? How important is it for a movie to reflect aspects of current society (e.g., Gatsby)? The questions asked are bound to promote student thought and initiate critical perspectives.
How are you integrating film with language arts? No matter if you’re showing the movies that make English teachers cringe (e.g., Romeo and Juliet, 1996) or the ones that we anticipate viewing with students, feel free to share the experiences that you’ve had with teaching, studying or using popular films in academic settings. I’d love to hear about the film choices that you’ve made or are thinking about making.
Aufderheide, P. (1993). Report on the National Leadership Conference. Washington, DC: Aspen Institute.
Boske, C., & McCormack, S. (2011). Building an understanding of the role of media literacy for Latino/a high school students. High School Journal, 94(4), 167–186.
Day, J. (2010). Of mice and media. English Journal, 100(1), 70–75.
Garland, K. E., & Smith, S. (2013). Exploring the core with in-depth popular film analysis: How students can create a film review using a critical media literacy framework. Florida English Journal, 6-12.
Garland, K. (2011). Re-viewing popular film adaptations of young adult literature using
three contemporary literacy strategies. Signal, 34(2), 19–24.
Garland, K. (2010). Literacy practices in an English language arts elective: An examination of how students respond to media literacy education. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (Publication number 3436333).
Hobbs, R. (2007). Reading the media: Media literacy in high school English.
New York: Teachers College Press.
Jolley, S. A. (2009). Connecting to conscience: Shakespeare and Woody Allen. English
Journal, 98(3), 73–79.
Kist, W. (2005). New literacies in action: Teaching and learning in multiple
media. New York: Teachers College Press.
Luhrmann, B. [Director], & Wick, D., Fisher, L., Martin, C., & Knapman, C. [Producers] (2013).
The Great Gatsby. United States: Warner Brothers.
Luhrmann, B. [Director], & Luhrmann, B. and Martinelli, G. [Producers] (1996). Romeo and
Juliet. United States: 20th Century Fox.
Martin, D. [Director], & Carlisle, M., Jones, Q., & Winfrey, O. [Producers]. (2005). Their eyes
were watching God. United States: ABC, Harpo Films.
Morrell, E. (2004). Linking literacy and popular culture: Finding connections for
lifelong learning. Norwood, MA: Christopher Gordon-Publishers, Inc.
Renaud, C. and Balda, K. [Directors], & Meledandri, C. and Healy, J. [Producers] (2012). The
lorax. [DVD]. United States: Universal Pictures.
*Special thanks to Mrs. T. for allowing me to share our personal conversation.
by Amy Piotrowski
Marc Prensky (2001) refers to students who have grown up in the early 21st Century as “digital natives,” claiming that, “students today are all ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet” (1). Digital natives are now in teacher education programs, seeking to become the next generation of classroom teachers. Do digital native preservice teachers come to teacher education programs fluent in technology? Do digital natives already know how to use technology tools and know how to integrate technology tools into their teaching practices? Have digital natives made educational technology coursework obsolete?
No, a review of the research literature suggests.
I conducted a review of 12 empirical studies examining the perceptions and beliefs of preservice teachers regarding technology integration. I was interested in how preservice teachers learn about technology tools and how to use these tools in the classroom with students. Since several studies use the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge framework as a theoretical basis (Jordan, 2011; Koehler, Mishra, & Yahya, 2007; Koh & Divaharan, 2011; Schmidt, et al., 2009), I included in the review Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) and Koehler and Mishra’s (2009) explanations of the TPACK framework.
The research shows that preservice teachers benefit from instruction in technology tools and technology integration. Jing (2009) as well as Kumar and Vigil (2011) found that preservice teachers spend lots of time using social networking tools, but that preservice teachers have little experience with other Web 2.0 tools. In other words, many preservice teachers report using Facebook, but few preservice teachers have used potentially useful tools such as Wikispaces, Wordpress, or Diigo. Anderson and Maninger (2007) concluded that teacher education coursework that included instruction in technology tools and technology integration raised preservice teachers’ measures of self-efficacy and confidence in using technology in their future classrooms. Jordan (2011) found that preservice teachers were concerned about solving technical problems in their classrooms, suggesting that education technology courses should prepare students to troubleshoot issues with technology when they arise. Pasternak (2007) reports that her preservice teachers “want to be comfortable with the technology with which they intend to practice” (p. 151). Preservice teachers report a need for experience using technology tools before using these tools in the classroom.
The findings of Mishra and Koehler (2006) and Schmidt, et al. (2009) suggest that technology integration should be taught in content area education courses, not stand alone educational technology courses. Mishra and Koehler (2006) argue, “Quality teaching requires developing a nuanced understanding of the complex relationships between technology, content, and pedagogy, and using this understanding to develop appropriate, context-specific strategies and representations” (p. 1029). In other words, technology integration is “context bound” and depends on the content being taught (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p. 1032). Young and Bush (2004) argue from the viewpoint of English Education that technology integration should be purposeful, based on the pedagogical goals of English Language Arts courses and that English Language Arts teachers should critically think about which technologies will enable their students to develop needed literacies.
It would certainly be problematic for teacher educators to assume that preservice teachers already know technology tools and how to teach with them. Knowing how to teach effectively with technology is not something preservice teachers are born with or pick up from today’s digital culture – it’s something preservice teachers need to learn in teacher education programs.
Anderson, S. & Maninger, R. (2007). Preservice teachers’ abilities, beliefs, and intentions regarding technology integration. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 37(2), 151-172.
Beach, R., & Doering, A. (2002). Preservice English teachers acquiring literacy practices through technology tools. Language, Learning, and Technology, 6(3), 127-146.
Jing, L. (2009). Digital natives as preservice teachers: What technology preparation is needed? Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 25(3), 87-97.
Jordan, K. (2011). Beginning teacher knowledge: Results from a self-assessed TPACK survey. Australian Educational Computing, 26(1), 16-26.
Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (CITE Journal), 9(1), 60-70.
Koehler, M. J., Mishra, P., & Yahya, K. (2007). Tracing the development of teacher knowledge in a design seminar: Integrating content, pedagogy and technology. Computers & Education, 49(3), 740-762.
Koh, J. H., & Divaharan, S. (2011). Developing pre-service teachers' technology integration expertise through the TPACK-developing instructional model. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 44(1), 35-58.
Kumar, S., & Vigil, K. (2011). The net generation as preservice teachers: Transferring familiarity with new technologies to educational environments. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 27(4), 144-153.
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M.J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for integrating technology in teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.
National Council of Teachers of English. (2008). Position statement: The NCTE definition of 21st century literacies. Retrieved November 27, 2012, from http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/21stcentdefinition
Pasternak, D.L. (2007). Is technology used as practice? A survey analysis of preservice English teachers’ perceptions and classroom practices. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(3), 140-157.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.
Schmidt, D., Baran, E., Thompson, A., Mishra, P., Koehler, M., & Shin, T. Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK): The development and validation of an assessment instrument for preservice teachers. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(2), 123-149.
Young, C.A., & Bush, J. (2004). Teaching the English language arts with technology: A critical approach and pedagogical framework. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education. 4(1), 1-22.
by Sergio Yanes
There’s no doubt that technology has increased the pace of our world. With the automation of menial tasks --- such as remembering a phone number --- we find ourselves trying to accomplish more things, master more subjects, consume more information. Social media evolves daily to find more effective ways of communication, as if 160 characters is really all we need to say everything we have to say. Our to-do lists grow longer, and soon, our lives are reduced to a series of checkboxes we are desperately racing to finish. In this light-speed world, we often have to remind ourselves that there is a world to experience. That we need to slow down and see, instead of just look. We find ourselves in a world that is only an inch deep.
Our students find themselves in a more chaotic predicament: They are natives in a world that changes vastly every 5 minutes. From a teacher’s perspective, this can be a logistical nightmare! I’ve heard fellow teachers complaining about everything from students’ shortened attention spans to their lack of motivation in completing even the simplest of tasks (Perhaps that simplicity is the problem…). But, aren’t these all criticisms that have been flying out of teachers’ mouths since the dawn of public education? It’s about time we take a look at ourselves and our practices. We need to stop blaming our students for not living in the world we grew up in.
First, we need to come to terms with the fact that the world is changing. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, the US has been speeding towards some unknown goal. So, what can we do? Students process information; it’s an adaptation to a faster world. They need to understand themselves in order to understand the world. It’s up to us, the teachers, to slow them down and help them understand what they do. I’m not talking about procedural tasks or specific information they need to know. I’m talking about taking that information or skill and putting it to use. I’m talking about destroying their inner automatons and making act and live deliberately (Thank you, Thoreau). Slow down. Take a look around. Question why the world is the way it is.
Second, we need to forget everything we know about traditional teaching. Vygotsky wasn’t kidding when he said that learning is democratic. Dewey wasn’t lying when he wrote that students need to experience life from within the schoolhouse. The classroom isn’t a reservoir of information anymore. Then again, was it ever? In this world where every byte of information is available at the swipe of a thumb, we need to teach students to screen through information. Play with it. Shake it up. In other words, the classroom needs to be the sandbox of information. Students need to manipulate and reshape—sometimes, just to see what could happen, but often to be able to make sense of their reality.
We have learned to adapt, and so should our students. We do that by mirroring and replicating the tasks they will be asked to complete when they leave the sandbox. Instead of telling students that “this skill will help them out in the ‘real world,’” we need to accept that this already is the real world. So, instead of preparing students to live in the race toward some unknown future, we need to prepare them to live now.
by Amy Piotrowski
As technology has advanced, new tools for learning have made their way into the classroom, along with strategies for how to teach with these tools. School districts and principals expect new teachers to be prepared to integrate technology in ways that increase student engagement and academic achievement. Two teachers in Colorado decided to use Internet technologies to post lectures online for their students who missed class. The strategy of the flipped classroom took off from there and has gained popularity the past few years. Preservice teachers may find themselves working in a school that wants to flip classroom instruction, and that’s where teacher education courses come in.
The flipped classroom is defined by high school chemistry teachers Bergmann and Sams (2012) as a classroom in which “that which is traditionally done in class is now done at home, and that which is traditionally done as homework is now completed in class” (p. 13). They have their students watch video lectures at home, freeing up class time for practice with the concepts introduced in the lectures. Because the flipped model changes what is done in class, it also changes the teacher’s role. Bermann and Sams (2012) explain that “We are no longer the presenters of information; instead, we take on more of a tutorial role” as they go around the classroom, helping students who have questions or need additional instruction (p. 14). Other benefits of the flipped classroom, according to Bermann and Sams, is that the videos allow students who are absent to avoid falling behind and that the videos allow for mastery learning, in which students move through learning objectives at their own pace.
English teachers have been flipping their classrooms in low-tech ways for years. Many English teachers assign reading to be done at home so that the next day can be spent discussing the novel or play that the class is studying. But how can English teachers take advantage of Internet technologies in their teaching practices? Because there is so little empirical research on the flipped classroom and on preservice teachers learning to flip their classrooms, I conducted a qualitative case study focusing on four preservice secondary English Language Arts teachers. The study was guided by the following research questions: Do preservice teachers who have been introduced to flipped lessons in an education course plan on implementing flipped lessons in their classrooms? If so, how do preservice teachers plan on implementing flipped lessons in their classrooms? What benefits and drawbacks do preservice teachers anticipate when they consider implementing flipped lessons in their future classrooms?
The preservice teachers in this study took an online English Education course called Enhancing Teaching With Technology during the summer of 2013. I collected three sources of data: interviews with participants, the online posts participants wrote for the class, and participants’ Flipped Classroom/Digital Media Projects. For the Flipped Classroom/Digital Media Project, preservice teachers created a series of three flipped lessons on a topic of their choosing and then posted their flipped lessons online.
Participants reported a positive impression of the flipped classroom after learning about it in Enhancing Teaching With Technology. All four participants reported that they plan to teach flipped lessons in the future and that the experience of creating their own flipped lessons was valuable. They saw how students benefit from having the teacher present and available to help as students work with new concepts and information. One participant called the practice of presenting material in class and then sending students home to complete an assignment “useless” because the teacher isn’t there when she’s needed. Another participant said that flipping the classroom “allows students to be more active in the classroom, rather than passively sitting and listening to the lecture during class time.” Participants also reported that the flipped classroom makes learning relevant by affording active learning using technology. For students who may need some information repeated, they can watch the video lessons as many times as they want.
The participants also discussed advantages to flipping the classroom for teachers. Since teachers can film multiple takes, they can edit and perfect their lessons before posting them online. Teachers can also go back and watch their videos as a way to reflect on ways to improve their teaching. One participant pointed out that teachers “can go back and evaluate yourself in a more concrete way than just thinking back, ‘Well, a couple of years ago I did a lecture on this. I don’t know how it went.’ You know, you can actually look at your flipped classroom lessons and get better and better.”
Study participants saw some potential drawbacks to flipping their classrooms. Some students may not have a computer or Internet access at home to watch the videos. Students may not watch the videos at home even if they can watch them, so flipping the classroom may not be a cure-all for unmotivated students. Parents and students may be wary of a new way of teaching and learning. One participant told me that “some people are afraid of change, and parents may become concerned that this style of learning would not be as effective for their children as the original style they may have had when they were students.”
One of the flipped classroom’s most concerning drawbacks is that while the teacher is there when students are working in class, the teacher is not there when the student watches the video lesson. What do students do when they have a question while watching the video at home? Two participants addressed this problem in their Flipped Lessons/Digital Media Projects. At the end of each video lesson, the preservice teachers directed their students to the class blog. On the class blog, students were instructed to post a summary of the lesson, a response to what they learned, and any questions they had after watching the video. Blogging can be a way for a flipped lesson to be more interactive, for students to ask questions while those questions are still fresh on their mind after viewing the lesson, and for teachers to check that students are watching the videos. The participants said that they believed that flipped lessons should be interactive. Blogs provide a way for that to happen.
I found that the participants created lessons about a variety of topics using a variety of tools. Their lessons were about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the novel Mansfield Park, the Hero’s Journey, and grammar. To create their lessons, they used Prezi, Power Point, SooMeta, screencasting tools, and clips from YouTube. By using these various tools to teach lessons on various topics, these preservice teachers built their Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge, or TPACK (Koehler & Mishra, 2009). It seems to me from watching the participants’ flipped lesson videos that it is not enough to just make a film or screencast of the same old lecture that teachers have done for years. By using images and video clips from popular culture, the participants used technology to bring in material they otherwise could not have brought into the lesson. How can teacher educators work with preservice teachers to make flipped lessons not just viewable, but relevant and meaningful? How can different technology tools be used to make lessons engaging?
Participants said that they enjoyed creating their own flipped lessons. They reported that they would like to see a flipped classroom in action so that they can better understand how to handle the daily logistics of teaching flipped lessons. One participant said that flipping his classroom is “actually enhancing my teaching because I can focus on what’s really important in the lessons in the classroom.” Flipping the classroom allows teachers to spend class time on what’s best done in the classroom while using Internet and digital technologies to deliver content that students can review outside of class. Teacher education programs have the task of preparing preservice teachers for classrooms where technology will change how teaching is done.
For more on this research, go to http://www.amypiotrowski.com/preservice-teachers-and-flipped-classroom.html
For more on TPACK, go to http://www.tpack.org
Bergmann, J. & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. Eugene, Oregon: ISTE.
Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (CITE Journal), 9(1), 60-70.
by Jose Paco Fiallos
I am an average 30-something living in 2014: I upgrade my smart phone at the earliest chance; all of my devices in my home are connected to the internet, even my air conditioner; I am part of many social media networks. I was raised with technology, from video games to personal computers to A/V equipment. But in my classroom I am something of an anachronism. Most of the technology that I am fluent with in my life gets checked at the door.
I have been to many presentations advancing this or that tech tool that would revolutionize the English classroom. I work with many teachers who live and die by their class social network, their smart board, their tablet computer, or their students’ use of apps on their cell phones. I, too, use these tools at various times in my own class, but never as the centerpiece.
I think I might be a little biased against technology when it comes to instruction. Maybe it comes from observing counties and school administrators using funds for new technologies that they then don’t provide training for, or that don’t have any immediate purpose in the classroom and so become little more than expensive toys gathering dust. Or maybe it’s because our textbooks are out of date and class sets of novels are constantly deteriorating. And as the debate over whether to convert to entirely digital textbooks and assigning each student their own tablet computer continues, important decisions about texts get pushed back.
Education, as a system, is a little too reactionary, I think. Or maybe impulsive is a better word. As educators we know that there are problems with some aspects of the system, from curriculum, to instruction, to assessment. And wouldn’t it be simple if there was a single piece of technology, or even a suite of tech tools that would address those problems and just make everything better?
There are tools being used effectively by teachers. I know it happens. And so I guess I am just a stodgy old English teacher who is tied to books and pen and paper; ink on the page, so to speak. And as such, I think that any tool, whether it be high or low tech, should not impede access to text in any way. Rather, technology should only serve as a means of increasing access, or even better, broadening the definition of what text is.
So maybe this will serve as a new beginning for me. It is helpful to state in concrete terms, putting digital ink to digital paper, what my own tech goals are.
by Shelbie Witte
As teachers, we've often been faced with disengaged students as we begin discussing literature we've read together in class. Our recent work with 6th graders emphasized this fact as we embarked on using the literary discussion model used in a local middle school classroom. Many of the students were hesitant to speak in front of their peers or to offer opinions that were different than others. We realized that in order to work through higher-order thinking within class discussions, we must implement techniques that move students to verbalize their thinking. The strategy we have successfully used to encourage higher-level thinking is collaborative learning within small groups, using the Livescribe Smartpen.
The Livescribe smartpen is a hand-held device that records audio and anything the user writes or draws on special dot paper. Users can then tap anywhere on the paper that they have written on in order to hear the audio associated with those notes. These notes can also be uploaded to a computer and converted into a pencast—a PDF document that plays back both audio and handwriting.
During a four-week study of the young adult novel Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, sixth graders discussed the novel and designed projects that demonstrated their understanding of what they read. To motivate and engage students in discussions and analysis of the novel, we used learning stations facilitated by the Livescribe smartpen. These learning centers employed Livescribe’s smartpens to involve every student in literature analysis discussions. The Livescribe centers allowed students to demonstrate comprehension, team
collaboration skills, and the ability to analyze textual events and themes. Groups of five students
of mixed ability levels rotated to different stations every 10-15 minutes. Some of the most
popular Livescribe centers were 1) vocabulary practice, 2) discussion questions, 3) a cause and effect chart , 4) a body map analyzing a character, and 5) a story map that had students identify and analyze tone, mood, conflicts, themes, and genres.
Interested in learning more? Go to: www.shelbiewitte.com and click on Livescribe Examples.
by Edgar Corral
My name is Edgar Corral and I am a student intern teacher at Fort Walton Beach High School. I am also a senior at the Florida State University. In my spare time I partake in active activities as well as creative writing.
Google Glass was something that first caught my attention at my previous job. I worked in the College of Education at Florida State University (FSU). My job was located in the new Tech Sandbox, which was a room designed for future educators and mentors to participate in using new upcoming technology. I was initially asked to enter in the drawing to receive a “ticket” to purchase Google Glass but ultimately lost. However, due to a donation from Dr. Shelbie Witte (Assistant Professor, English Education at FSU) and the Technology Fees Fund, we were able to allocate the item.
My initial response with the resource was that it wouldn’t be much use in the classroom. However, as I kept thinking and researching I finally came to terms that this item was something revolutionary within education. I am primarily coming from an English Education background, but the use of the glasses doesn’t stop there.
In the English discipline I can see students using this tool to establish a new means of point of view. In the literal sense you can now take a video of the world around you in first person and then apply a verbal narrative. This changes the ideas of simple narrative essays to something more lively and engaging towards students. While on the topic of essays, students will now have the opportunity to take pictures and produce photo essays. If you’re not familiar with photo essay you should check out “TIME” magazines archive of photo essays (http://content.time.com/time/photoessays).
With the growing involvement of a Flipped Classroom, Google Glass provides a whole new resource. Science teachers could produce experiments and record them to upload later on the class site. This will provide a new means of instruction that could be more effective than the typical recording camera or webcam on the laptop.
With a teacher being in front of the classroom they could use the classes to record a whole lesson for students who are sick or need a refresher at home. For personal teacher use, they can later review the classes and do an informal assessment of the classes. This will provide them with feedback on student understanding of terminology as well as behaviors they might have missed. It allows the teacher to experience what they are doing effectively or determine the areas where their instruction is weak. Using Google Class in this manner could help all interns who are still balancing out their classroom instruction and behavior management.
by Katie Rybakova
Teachers often scoff when they hear the term Wikipedia. It’s a term that is connected with many opinions, some of which are as hard hitting as bias, falsity, and even plagiarism, while others a softer idea of laziness, a “cope out” from “actual” research. When I present on Wikipedia, I ask, after the usual grumbles about Wikipedia, if the audience members use Wikipedia themselves. A resounding yes—they won’t use it in the classroom, they won’t teach it, they go so far as to nix it from any research-driven classroom activity, and yet, often use it as one of the first sources for their own research. These are researchers, professors, secondary school teachers; I remember how my own teachers would swear against us using Wikipedia as a source (of course, we did anyway), but to continue to have this opinion in the 21st century?
I wanted to look into this problem. I spent countless hours Googling Wikipedia, but often was left surprised at how little attention current educational research was giving this very well known website. I decided then to conduct a review of research on Wikipedia—I would collect what I could find on the site, then analyze the general consensus—are we for, in the 21st century classroom, or against, Wikipedia?
A little background—Wikipedia, a combination of “Wiki,” or a source on the Internet that can be edited by anyone on it, and encyclopedia, an area for an immense coverage of different concepts and things, went live in 2001. Within the first year of being a live site, Wikipedia went from 1,000 articles to 20,000 at the end of 2001, and by the second year, hosted 100,000 articles just in its English version (Rosenweig, 2006). The growth of the site sparked the growth of students in the classroom using it as a source for research. In 2006, the Alexa traffic rankings placed Wikipedia at number eighteen out of all sources on the web, above New York Times Online, Encyclopedia Britannica, and the Library of Congress (Rosenweig). It continues to be the lead hit on most Google searches on various concepts.
It is clear how this connects to the classroom—should we, as teachers, or should we not, allow students to use it as a source? Could it be used for other activities? In addition to the practical usage of Wikipedia, there is also an underlying political one—digital texts and digitalization of information in general has been the topic of mandates continuously since No Child Left Behind (Department of Education, 2013). The Race to the Top Initiative continues to emphasize the uses of technology inside the classroom and the professional development of teachers to do so in its statues as well (Department of Education, 2013). Essentially, though, or, if you will, on a societal level, it is clear that the shape and functioning of texts differs from the traditional sense of composition, and the distribution of writing no longer rests in the hands of a press (Wysocki, 2009). The most important variable, especially for educators in the classroom today, is the growing need for fine-tuning information literacy and research skills, helping students become critical consumers (Kniffel, 2008).
What, then, is the issue? Of course, because any registered user of Wikipedia can edit the site, many educators see Wikipedia as an unreliable source of information that students use. Scholarship shows the continuing argument amongst academia regarding Wikipedia as a research tool (Eijkman, 2010).
What I did was find 55 articles on Wikipedia. I used JSTOR, ERIC, and Google Scholar using the keyword Wikipedia. All of the articles that are included in this review of research (34) were published at the earliest in 2005, and at the latest in 2012. This gap in research from 2001 to 2005 can be explained, perhaps, by the growth of Wikipedia as an online research source.
Essentially, the majority of articles that accepted Wikipedia as a source in the classroom were from the field of humanities and social science, namely education related articles (33% of education articles accepted Wikipedia into the classroom). 33% of the articles that wrote a scathing prohibition of Wikipedia were education articles, while the resounding majority were articles from the hard sciences. In general, 24 out of the 34 articles were in favor of using Wikipedia in the classroom.
Statistics aside, what was most interesting to me was the reasoning behind the choices of acceptance versus prohibition. The negative reactions to Wikipedia stemmed from the obvious—Wikipedia is unreliable because it is being updated by Joe Shmo, Wikipedia has caused negative experiences with students plagiarizing or submitting poor work, and a general “easy way out” for students, a general consensus across all of the articles that prohibited Wikipedia from the classroom. It was interesting, though to see what the articles that suggested teachers utilize Wikipedia in the classroom suggested. Generally speaking, there was an overall positive experience with using Wikipedia. Because of its popularity, most teachers and authors acknowledged that students would, whether prohibited or not, use Wikipedia as a source when researching. Some articles even justified the accuracy and completeness of Wikipedia sources. Most suggested Wikipedia be allowed as a starting point for research; a use of explaining critical consumerism to students in this digital age. Research skills and information literacy skills were used to identify specific concepts that could be taught using Wikipedia in the classroom.
The research I did boils down to this—if we do want to use, as teachers, Wikipedia in our classrooms, or teach pre-service teachers to use Wikipedia in their classrooms, we need to expose them to it just like we would want to expose our students to it. Yes, it’s not the only source that students should go to for information. But, it shouldn’t be something that is prohibited outright, because, if you know anything about 6th to 12th grade kids, a rule isn’t going to stop them from using it. It’s better to expose students to Wikipedia—it’s positives AND negatives—rather than keeping kids out of the loop when it comes to an important skill—critical consumerism and information literacy skills.
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