Secretly a Dinosaur? The Fallibility of Wikipedia in Online Research

Today’s Contributor: Minda Anderson

I am a social justice advocate, the librarian at Becker Elementary, and recently became National Board certified (yay!). Follow the Becker Library happenings @BeckerElemLib on Twitter or Facebook.

Every year I love showing our older students how easy it is to edit articles on Wikipedia. It blows their minds! I have a Becker Library Wikipedia account and edit information before their very eyes. They are always shocked that information on the internet can change in a moment!

In the front of our library is a beautiful mural that includes the quote “The whole world opened to me when I learned how to read” by Mary McLeod Bethune. This year I used her as an example for researching an influential African-American for Black History Month. Our fifth graders complete biography projects during this month so it coincides perfectly. I also taught this lesson (modified) to 3rd and 4th graders.

This year I chose to edit the first line of Bethune’s Wikipedia article to include the description that she was “secretly a dinosaur” (see screenshot). The kids loved the idea that someone could secretly be a dinosaur! Now of course they knew that this was false and they saw me change it. We then talked about more realistic misinformation that we could include in the article–changing her birth date, her occupation, hobbies, etc. and I showed them those edits as well.

I include this example in a lesson on critical thinking while doing online research. The objective of the lesson is for students to think critically about a source. We talk about how Wikipedia can be a jumping off point, a starting place, even a go-to source to find more reliable sources. We explore the references section and discuss the differences between Wikipedia and the pages the references link to.

We finish the lesson by returning to the district databases we have learned about (through the AISD Portal – AISD Libraries button – GO TO DIGITAL RESOURCES button) and looking up Mary McLeod Bethune (ex. Britannica). We compare and contrast the sources and their “trustworthiness”.

I tell them that the district has provided these resources and we can trust them because they have been verified by multiple experts, gone through rigorous review processes, etc. I then challenge them to prove to me why we should use these databases instead of Wikipedia or Google.

In the end, we land on using the databases instead of Wikipedia or Google. The students learn to be a bit more careful! As an added bonus, teachers get excited about sources that they can direct their students to instead of worrying about the swampy lands of unrestricted internet research. My favorite part, however, will always be the students’ faces when I come up with something ridiculous to edit in a Wikipedia article!

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  1. Awesome! I talk about this with my juniors and seniors all the time, but never demonstrated it like this before. Thank you for working on stressing digital citizenship with younger students!

  2. THIS! This is phenomenal. I teach social studies and I always try to stress that the internet, especially Wikipedia, is easily manipulated. We look at examples of false news and incorrect information right at the start of the year to emphasize that students need to be thorough in their research and use reliable sources.

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