Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Haste makes ?...

In Encyclopedias gather dust as research moves online, we read of the impending demise of the hard-copy, multi-volume set of encyclopedias.
At libraries, the volumes sit ignored for days on end as information-seeking patrons tap busily away at nearby computers.
But it's not just the hard-copy sets that are being ignored:
Michael Gray's home computer came pre-loaded with Microsoft Corp.'s reference software, Encarta, but the seventh grader from Milpitas, California, has never used it. He prefers doing research online, where information from a vast array of sources comes quickly, and for the most part, for free.
The article goes on to highlight the benefits of using an on-line database that, in keeping with current events, can be updated quickly. Comparisons are made to looking up an old reference to Martin Luther King vs. seeing and hearing his I Have a Dream speech on-line. The article concludes with,
With so much free online information, including proprietary databases for which libraries pay for the public's use, families like Amy Sahn's say encyclopedias seem unnecessary. Her oldest of two sons, Zach, 10, will soon have more complicated school assignments, but the Redwood City mother thinks the Internet will suffice. "The kids are so computer literate," Sahn said, "that it would seem almost foreign to them to use a book."
I find this troubling. Yes I realize that we are in the information age and that virtually any information I am looking for I can find on the web. But I think we need to teach our children not simply to find information but to absorb it. The point of doing a report on MLK is not that you get to see and hear one of his speeches. Certainly that is an added bonus to your understanding of his history, but the core of a report on MLK should be an understanding of the issues which drove him to give the I Have a Dream speech. Can that occur by simply googling 'MLK' and then doing some fancy cutting & pasting? As part of our homeschooling approach we have purchased a used encyclopedia set (from a library) and are teaching our daughter how use it to do research. The point isn't that she needs the latest information but that she understands how to research information via a book's index, table of contents, etc. It was interesting to see her start a research project recently on whether a single boat could sail around the world. Evidently she had gotten the idea from a book that she had checked out from the library. While she used MS Encarta for some information gathering, primarily consisting of capturing photos, she spent more time digging through the encyclopedias we have. It's unfortunate, but foreseeable, that the hard-copy encyclopedia will go the way of the dinosaur. One hopes, though, that it never becomes foreign to our children to use a book.

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