Outsourcing Thinking

EasyBib has a new feature. According to their promo video , when you autocite a website, it will tell you if it is credible, not credible, or something in between.

For instance, Wikpedia is NOT deemed to be a credible source. I know there are differing options over that issue – but EasyBib gives a “black and white” answer …. (in this case displayed in red).

I am a great fan of EasyBib … but this feature makes me uncomfortable. I don’t mind automating a more “routine” kind of operation such as creating a citation. When all is said and done, at least automated citation tools make it easier for kids to “do the right thing”.

BUT….. as much as I like using web tools to enhance research, I don’t like automating the evaluation process. I want kids to THINK about their sources, track down evidence to support or reject a source, etc. In short, I want them to have the opportunity to do some higher level THINKING.

I’ve been testing EasyBib’s new evaluation feature.   Easy Bib says this
webpage is credible:
It is a very cute website, created by Brian for a 4th/5th grade
classroom website.  I use it as an example of a website that is NOT
credible, because the author is a child.
So much for the new feature.  Machines just cannot think.  Not really.
If we “outsource” the thinking process to machines, how long before our
ability to think will atrophy?

I’ve been testing EasyBib’s new evaluation feature.   Easy Bib says this webpage is credible:
Joust and Tournaments

It is a very cute website, created by Brian for a 4th/5th grade classroom website.  I use it as an example of a website that is NOT credible, because the author is a child.

So much for the new feature.  Machines just cannot think.  Not really….  Even machines that are monitored by people… (see comment below from EasyBib rep). Every web page is an individual situation. If we “outsource” the thinking process to machines or other people, how long before our ability to think will atrophy?

It would be interesting to watch how the whole thing plays out. Another thing to miss when I retire….watching students and teachers adapt to new tools.

I would love to hear your opinions.

A website evaluation puzzle

Ahh – the conundrums of the internet….

My students are always finding “interesting” websites to include in their research papers. Where would you put this source on the evaluation continuum, ranging in reliability from an outright hoax such as Clones R Us to often well accepted collaborative sites such as Wikipedia, and on to more universally accepted websites such as National Geographic, PBS etc.?

William Shakespeare


The site is apparently a collaborative website. (“All material on this site is under constant revision. Essays continue to be donated by students and other authors which become property of hyperhistory.net….. )

The “author” is named as “Rit Nostromo” (“In order to reflect the collective authorship … the pseudonym of “Rit Nosotro” has been devised. (Writ is an archaic past tense of “written” and Nosotros is the plural pronoun for “us” in Spanish.) The authorship is “written by us”.)

After a lot of searching around, I finally determined that this is an online course for students. It is unclear what level of students. It also is unclear which articles are written by students and which ones might be other authors.


Is there any validity to this information? Wikipedia has gained a measure of acceptance, at least as a starting point with about the same validity of a general encyclopedia. When/how does a “collaborative” work gain acceptance as a reliable source? When is the magic “tipping point”?

If we accept Wikipedia as a valid source, what concrete criteria can we give students so they can evaluate other collaborative sites?

The site itself says it is accepting articles written by students. What kind of students? Middle School? High School? College? Graduate School? Again – Wikipedia articles are surely written by students…

Who exactly is “vetting” these essays?


The site is compiled from a distinct point of view. (Hyperlinked World History In Biblical Perspective) http://www.hyperhistory.net

Obviously MANY sites have a point of view – the NRA; The Brady Campaign; Birthright; Planned Parenthood. However, things get even more interesting when you get to this page which seems to point to an ongoing dispute with Muslims: http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/mast/faq.htm#whoisinstructor

If I should accept the source as valid – is it accurate to use the pseudonym as the author of the page/site as part of the citation as per the site’s example?

Nosotro, Rit. How to cite material from hyperhistory.net. 27 Oct. 2003. <www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/mast/citation.htm> (Date of access)


Comments from other sources are as follows:

This site is blocked by the DOE of NYC:
Reason: The Websense category “Malicious Web Sites” is filtered.

“Head, Heart & Hands”

Probably blocked by BESS, our beloved filter.  Incredibly well worth watching – at home if you have to.

My favorite part:

“This is what we need….  If you want to see what kids have learned – give them a project.  Dare them to show you what they can do with the work of their own “head, heart and hands”. That’s when you’ll get kids engaged.  That’s when you’ll get kids learning, and that’s when you’ll get kids who can change the world.

…and Technology needs to be like oxygen – ubiquitous, necessary & invisible.  We need to not think about it – it just needs to be there.”

The Schools We Need – Video

The Schools We Need – Slide Show

What makes an expert an expert?

I have a brilliant student in my school. You will be hearing from him someday. A very fine mind – one that is constantly working, turning information upside down and sideways to understand it completely, constantly asking questions. Fascinating to watch him in action.

I am always after my students to “question their sources”. Why is it a good source? What makes the author an expert? What make the organization reliable? So….. today this student comes to me with a web source. GLOBAL ISSUES. He says, “I used this web site in my term paper. It is written by only 1 guy – but he seems to really know what he is talking about. Is the source reliable enough to put in my paper?”

He is right. It certainly looks like a great website. The author runs it by himself, and he apparently has devoted much time and attention to the site for the past 10 years. He lists “awards” from other websites – but those websites also seem to be run by single authors. His “about” section really does not give me much evidence of personal expertise. But – is it absolutely necessary for an author to have a degree in the topic in order to write a good opinion or news piece? The author writes:

My background is a degree in computer science—not exactly a degree in global issues! The point is that you don’t need to have qualifications to be concerned and want to do something, although you do need the time to sift through a lot of information to understand what is happening!

My aim here is to raise awareness and provide links to more information for people wanting to look deeper into these issues. Most of the links on a given page are to external web sites that provide more detail to the points I raise. There are some 7,000 external links to news articles, research papers and so on, from charity and non-government organizations like Oxfam, Amnesty International, etc. to multinational bodies like the United Nations. Furthermore, as I read more and more books, I am sourcing those as well.

I have looked over the specific article my student used. It does appear to be quite well sourced. I did a Google link search to find out who links to the site. Many of those sites are blogs and other personal websites.

Bottom line… My student does have 4 or 5 other sources that easily meet the traditional reliability test. So, I told him that I would consider it acceptable as one of many sources, as long as he was not using it for more than a small percentage of his paper.

Still – I don’t feel that I have a really good answer for evaluating sites such as this.

Blogs…wikis….forums….bulletin boards…. The information landscape has become much more complex. I understand the concept of the “age of the amateur” and the “wisdom of crowds”. But I am not working in a theoretical world. I am living right here in high school – where the rubber meets the road. How do I guide students? Do I perpetuate the “old guard” – insisting that no one is an expert unless they have a degree in the topic – or at least have been hired by a reputable organization? Do I let them use any blog out there that matches the thesis they are attempting to prove? Where is the happy medium?

Help me out here folks!!

Welcome to Blogland

I am so happy that Anne-Marie Gordon has decided to start a blog. I greatly value her knowledge and perspective.

Today – she blogs about Twitter – a web 2.0 app that I felt safe ignoring – until now. Darn. It really does have an educational use after all. Twittering in Outer Space

No wonder space aliens are portrayed with giant brains. People of the future are just going to need more brain space to keep up. What’s the next step after “twittering” – the Vulcan Mind Meld?