There was some considerable plugging by Yahoo! of their new “Answers” service at the recent Blogging4Business Conference in London. It’s a neat idea: throw any question into the ether and there’s a good chance that several people will answer it.
But take a look at this:
This is a snapshot from the History category.
Being something of a history bore, I have spent some time surfing the various Q&As and it soon became apparent that most questions were from students passing on their homework assignments to complete strangers. If you consider the criticisms aimed at Wikipedia – a democratically-controlled knowledge base vulnerable to misinformation – then these flaws are writ large if people are relying on Yahoo! Answers to get them over the latest school hurdle.
I threw in the following question:
“Why don’t kids use books to research their homework? Will they get good marks by asking complete strangers on the internet?”
Some people said “laziness”, but there were some surprise answers:
- “It’s probably because they get the correct answers more on the internet than by looking it up by themselves”
- “there is so much information on the internet now days that there really is not much need for books… why waste time going to the library, searching for your topic & a good book on it when you could google it about 10x faster, learn the material and move on to the next subject”
- “Get real – in today’s word you can read a book for your own pleasure, but if you want to get things done quick you get it online – that’s what you do in a job – and that’s what the kids need to learn”
I’m trying to teach my 13 year-old how to research online for his homework. It’s very hard – without life experience he isn’t equipped to spot the trustworthy sites and discard the rubbish. I’m starting off by building bookmarks to good sites, but it’s becoming an uphill struggle when he’s working on tougher projects.
It’s clear that many students, of whatever age, are too trusting of online sources. A page of replies on Yahoo! Answers lacks the safety net of peer reviews and rigorous checking of good old text books. And yet there are some excellent free online sources – but how can these guys tell what’s good, and what’s bad?