Thursday, June 23, 2011

i3 report: source credibility, and using wikipedia creation for IL #i3_conference

I chaired a session with two research papers involving Wikipedia yesterday at the i3 conference at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen It’s rude (I think) to blog and chair at the same time, so I’m relying on my notes and the abstracts. Firstly Helena Francke and Olof Sundin talked about New media in the classroom: Challenged notions and transformed practices?
New media here in particular means social media. This presentation drew on two pieces of research, one investigating teachers and librarians notions of credibility, and the other investigating students’ practice in making decisions about credibility. Previous studies have indicated that teaching credibility of information is a difficult issue.
The presenters had examined curriculum documents for upper secondary schools in Sweden (where they are based); aspects of IL are included in various subjects, including the pupils being required to search for and evaluate information in different media, so that the information could be used (e.g. to make arguments).
In their first research study, they had focus groups with 9 school librarians and 8 teachers, and six interviews. The participants expressed varying views of what a credible source was. Wikipedia was a source that there was a particularly wide variety of opinions about. For the second study, they undertook an ethnographic study of students gathering information for class projects in two Swedish schools ; sources of evidence were diaries from pupils (aged 17/18), documents, interviews, and observation.
The four notions of credibility which were discovered through their research were:
- Credibility as control of sources (stability, known author/publisher)
- Credibility as comparing sources (double-checking sources that are seen as doubtful; or checking facts: underlying this is an assumption that something is ok if found in two places)
- Credibility as relational and partial (credibility depending on the purpose and situation; a pragmatic view of web credibility, which requires knowledge of what kind of information is available on a topic);
- Credibility in multiplicity (which has the underlying idea that there are different perspectives on a topic, and many people contribute to provide a good picture of a subject)
All four notions of credibility were found, but the teachers and librarians focused primarily on control (for example, in their instructions for the task). In the blog dairies, there wasa tendency for students to record what they found where and how, rather than how they evaluated the sources.
Conclusions included: the difficulty in making information literacy a subject of teaching, that social media bring new challenges in judging credibility, and that the notion of control seems to dominate practices of credibility, a “discourse of control”. It was suggested that the four notions could be used as repertoire in teaching. It was also noted that teaching of information literacy will be dependent on the educator’s pedagogic approach in formulating the task.
Relevant references are:
- Francke, H., Sundin, O., and Limberg, L. (2011) "Debating credibility: The shaping of information literacies in upper secondary school", Journal of Documentation, 67(4) [an “earlycite” with no page numbers at time of writing].
- Sundin, O. and Francke, H. (2009)"In search of credibility: pupils' information practices in learning environments." Information Research, 14(4).

The second paper, by Eero Sormunen and Leeni Lehtiö (presented by Lehtiö ) was on Wikipedia articles as a genre for authentic learning-by-writing assignments. This was investigating several instances of using wiki article creation as a framework for IL instruction. Potential advantages included: that the form of Wikipedia articles is familiar to students; there is a real reason for writing, so students may pay more attention, and feel more responsibility to the reader, encouraging a high quality response. There were two pilot studies, in both of which the students were working in small groups over a period of 8 weeks to create wikipedia articles:
Pilot 1: 10 pupils (data was gathered through questionnaires and interviews either side of the activity, and non-participatory observation of students)
Pilot 2: 16 pupils (using the same methods, except replacing the observation – it had proved hard to be unobtrusive – with context inquiry interviews)
The researchers examined the number of sources used: there were 70, 13 of which were not referenced. The largest categories were: 26% government sources, 27% “communal” (e.g. organisations), 9% Wikipedia, 10% reference sources. The researchers checked 230 sentences to see whether pupils had plagiarised. They found 6% had been copied, 21% had minimal change, 30% had been rewritten, some were merged from (14%) single or (11%) multiple sources, 13% were direct translation, 4% edited translations of material not in Finnish.
From the data collected, pupils felt they had learnt about Wikipedia itself (the mechanics and process of how to write) and the appreciated the difficulty of good writing for Wikipedia. Pupils had learnt about their own Wikipedia topics, but not about other groups’ topics. They had also learnt about evaluation of sources (including English-language sources), copyright (e.g. though trying to get pictures for articles), and information seeking .
The pupils had been careful with use of information (one said he wouldn’t have been so careful if just giving it to the teacher) – using citations, verifying facts, and mostly avoiding copying. Thus the Wikipedia learning task did increase motivation & commitment; students worked on selecting sources (with relatively little word-for-word copying) and had relevant learning experiences
The main study for this research was carried out in April-May this year. They were studying a Wikipedia-article project in a literature class, and a project on history, creating an article to include in the school wiki. The data collection was the same as for the pilot but also included examining wiki material and pupils’ self-assessment and teachers’ assessments of the wiki material. This is part of the Know-ID project, and progress can be followed at
Photo by Sheila Webber: piper at the reception on Tuesday evening

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