Death of online encyclopedias?

Below is an extract of an article from the Sydney Morning Herald of April 2 2009. 

“Microsoft plans to close its Encarta online encyclopedia, which competes in an arena dominated by communally-crafted free internet reference source Wikipedia.

The US software colossus said that on October 31 it would turn off all its Encarta websites everywhere except in Japan, with that service to be terminated on the last day of December.

“The category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed,” Microsoft said in an online message at its Encarta website on Monday.

“People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.”

Encarta was launched in 1993 as competition for traditional reference books such as those offered by Encyclopedia Britannica.

Encarta was originally available for purchase as a multimedia computer resource in DVD-ROM or CD-ROM formats and eventually became available online on a subscription basis.

Encarta’s popularity faded after the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation launched Wikipedia online in 2001.

While Wikipedia lets users continually update or refine entries, improvements suggested to Encarta must pass muster with editors before eventually being incorporated into the data base.”

This raises a number of issues that are of importance to teacher librarians.  Wikipedia is a tool and can have a place in locating information but it is information that cannot be relied upon.  The content is created by people of unknown authority and anyone can edit the information.  This has lead to inorrect and misleading information being posted on Wikipedia and there have been famous incidents of this being reported in news media.  Usually it has surrounded information on politicians being changed during election times.

So where does Wikipedia fit in the teaching process?  This is something that TLs must consider carefully.  Is it to be used as a site to gain some general information about a subject?  Is it to be used at all?  Do students and teachers understand what Wikipedia actually is or do they think it is as good and as authorative as Encyclopedia Britannica?

Now that Encarta is being closed down, where else can schools go online to find an authorative encyclopedia?

If you use another online encyclopedic source, please comment here and let us know why you use it.  If you use Wikipedia, how and why do you use it?  Do you think it is a resource has a place in schools or should we ‘exclude’ it as not being a useful resource?

6 responses to “Death of online encyclopedias?

  1. I think there is a place for wikipedia, but students need to be informed that it is a source that can be altered and is not always from a reliable source. They should also be told about encarta being withdrawn, and why. I think informing the learner about the information they are using, raises awareness about information sources and reminds the student to use this information with this background knowledge in mind.

  2. Heather Swords

    I agree with Jan, having students aware that not all information that they can access will be reliable is a valuable skill. I am looking into Britannica Online. So far it looks fantastic, I would be interested to know how other school have found it.

  3. Monica Brown

    I love worldbookonline and find it to be a wonderful resource. The TL purchased it for our school last year and it is accessible from any computer in the school.

  4. riddleywalker

    I use wikipedia with care and advise students that they should never rely on wikipedia alone because ‘we all know’ that it includes errors and agenda here and there.

    However, is encarta or any other encyclopedia (online or in print) completely reliable? I would suggest not.

    We are foolish if we accept any text as unassailable truth: noone writes in a completely objective space and we and our students should be aware of and alert to that fact.

    We are prejudiced through cultural conditioning towards the ‘names’ and their seeming respectability and reliability (and I admit that I am a huge fan of the OED – I even sent them a correction some years ago) but I think it is more important to doubt all texts and seek further information than to deride or exhalt one (or some) in particular.

    In my ideal world we are all critical readers.

  5. Pingback: Learning Journal 18: Encyclopedias « Riddleywalker’s Blog

  6. riddleywalker

    Sorry – I didn’t mean to link this!!!!

    It just happened ;(

    and I cannot discover an edit function for comments: If I had I would have changed ‘exhalt’ to ‘exalt’.

    If I have committed a horrible cyber crime please forgive me for my incapacity in managing Blogging.

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