Why Not Wikipedia?: Using Databases for Research

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SWBAT research using databases.

Big Idea

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?" --Albert Einstein

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

Today's lesson is # 5 in the Senior Project Research unit and follows the lesson on evaluating internet sites. 

Students often choose to look to Wikipedia as a source of information, but Wikipedia has some inherent problems students need to know about. To help students understand this and to show them how to use Wikipedia effectively, I turn to a popular YA author, Cory Doctorow. Wikipedia by Cory Doctorow is an excerpt from Homeland, the sequel to Big Brother.

Rather than banning students from using Wikipedia completely, I show them how to use it responsibly. 

In today's lesson, students 

  • Receive advice from Cory Doctorow about how to use Wikipedia,
  • Learn about an abuse of Wikipedia in our state,
  • Learn the benefits of using databases,
  • Learn the basic search using the EbscoHost database,
  • Research their topics using www.lili.org, which includes Ebscohost. 

What are Databases and Why Should Students Use them Instead of Wikipedia?

20 minutes

We begin the lesson by discussing the questionable reliability of Wikipedia, the open-source encyclopedia that anyone can edit. 

First, I share a story about Tom Luna, our state superintendent of public instruction with students: 

A few years ago Melissa McGrath, Tom Luna's spokesperson was in an editing war with Wikipedia. This was reported in The Daily Kos and in other media outlets. McGrath had been editing Luna's Wikipedia entry in a biases way. 

Then I show students the original entry. Wikipedia asked McGrath to cease the editing, but she did not. Luna's page was edited over 60 times. Therein lies the problem w/ Wikipedia: Anyone can edit. This makes the information on the site unreliable.

The images show Luna's current Wikipedia entry: Tom Luna Wikipedia page and Tom Luna Wikipedia page (2)

Next, I share Cory Doctorow's advice about using Wikipedia: Copy of Wikipedia by Cory Doctorow. I encourage students to get ideas from Wikipedia, including search terms and possible outside sources. Then I tell them how I first found TED talks via Wikipedia when I was researching the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch. 

Next, we look at the list of reasons for using databases: Why Use a Database. This helps students understand the difference between academic and casual research. 

Teacher-Led Tutorial on the Ebscohost Database

15 minutes

Next, I introduce students to Ebscohost by presenting a short tutorial on the state website, Lili. I have students use Lili because it's easily accessible to students from home. What follows is an abbreviated version of the tutorial I give in my class. During class time, I take time for students to play around with the site so that they feel comfortable using it. Ebscohost Tutorial.mp4

I've included a step-by-step list of the process I discuss in the tutorial: Database Research Steps.


Practicing the Process: Students Use Databases to Research Topics Independently

40 minutes

It's important to give students an opportunity to research while the information about how to use databases is fresh on their minds. With the laptop cart at our disposal, we have a casual research atmosphere that allows me to circulate among students and help them with their searches. The three students on the couch in my room quickly discovered the ease of using databases and give Three Cheers for Databases.