Using “secondary/tertiary sources” (yeah Wikipedia!) to improve your research

My last post highlighted my recent use of a web tool, Meograph, in creating a history resource about Australia’s history for my 5/6 team at school. While my previous blog entry centred on my presentation of the topic, today’s post is more concerned with how I collected the information contained within my Meograph.

Wikipedia can often get a bum rap from many in the education community. Sometimes, it’s for good reason, as it can be a VERY overused information source by students AND adults alike. I wrote a post in defense of Wikipedia back in March 2012 so I won’t go into battle for it again. Today I want to reflect on its benefits as a starting reference or secondary (maybe tertiary) source to start of your research, based on how I used it to research my History resource.

When I undertook the task of creating my Australian History Meograph, I had no qualms about heading straight to Wikipedia as a starting point. I searched Australian HIstory timeline and sure enough, I found the Timeline of Australian History Page as well as, with the help of Google (the lazy student/researcher’s other ‘great friend’) various other timelines of varying quality, accuracy,reliability and depth.

Now I could have just copied and pasted dates from the Wikipedia article, added some pictures and I would have had my Meograph finished in a day, ready to be used as a quick reference for a group of 10-12 year olds to access at the start of a History unit. How much do we want kids of this age to read about anyway? That, of course would have been unprofessional and a waste of an opportunity to follow a process I hope to instil in students ( and hopefully, teachers) I work with this year and beyond. ( in no way am I suggesting I have started a revolution in researching here but particularly for students in pre-university, it’s a process that needs to be modelled and taught better than it has been in the past.)

The Wikipedia timeline became my starting point for every moment that I added to my Meograph. It was a comprehensive, wide ranging collection of events in the history of my country, many even this old “font of useless knowledge” ( one of my official nicknames!) wasn’t aware of. However, it was just a collection of facts, which students might think is enough, but it isn’t. What I want my students to come to terms with this year is that bibliography filled with Wikipedia, Answers.com and Google Search results  links is not a bibliography, nor is it evidence of any sort of research .

Instead, each event on the Wikipedia timeline became the beginning of the real research as I sought out first of all verification on the actual date ( some were wrong –  but then some were wrong on some official Australian government sites too!), a collection of sites to corroborate the facts on the event ( while I was only able to reference one link on the Meograph, I fact checked every event with several references) and whenever it was possible, actual primary sources that proved the event beyond a shadow of a doubt. Now, of course, I could have done this without Wikipedia but I believe starting with the much maligned site had several benefits that will transfer over to the students’ use.

  1. Where do I begin? The biggest problem I have found with student research in the past ( apart from them just using Wikipedia and the first page of Google search results) is the difficulty they have getting started with a Google Search. Despite years of workshops on “How to use Google Search more effectively”, the problem still comes down to what do they actually type into the search engine. I’m of the belief that starting with a Wikipedia article sharpens the focus of a student’s research. This is because a wikipedia author has already pooled many of the basic facts a student needs into the entry, meaning the student has most of what he needs to research in front of him.
  2. Key Word search – From there, the student can better put together the required key words and phrases to make his search on Google much more productive. I’ll admit that I found better results using the basic points found in the timelines I used rather than thinking of what to search for with such a broad topic.
  3. Secondary source drives me to primary source – Because I knew I was starting from a secondary/tertiary source like Wikipedia or one of the other timeline sites I found, I was more focused in finding evidence from more specific sources. Starting from the secondary meant I had the basic idea I needed to complete my timeline event; what I needed was the primary source to verify the facts. I didn’t just do this with Wikipedia articles I browsed to; I did it to every site I went to, be it an official government or university linked-history site or a left or right leaning history site like Convict Creations or Creative Spirits. Having some specific details to work with though made it easier to search for evidence. As a result. I came across some fantastic primary source sites for Australian history like Trove, a digital archive of historical newspapers from as far back as the first published newspapers in Australia; Founding Docs, a site that had scanned copies and explanations of all the bills and laws debated and passed leading to our Federation and future governments; the National Archives, which had a range of photos, videos, paintings and documents related to historical events.
  4. Effective time management for checking sources – Having the secondary source, in my case the various timelines ( I eventually left Wikipedia and and moved onto the Museum of Australian Democracy site’s more specific Federation timeline) as the reference point for all of my research, i used my time more effectively. I could go straight to a specific search for an event each time, rather than randomly searching for major historical events. This allowed me more time to check the validity of the websites I used, going to the About us sections that outlined who the authors were. I found out the Creative Spirits site was not run by Indigenous Australians at all, but a German/Australian with a big interest in their culture, who spent time sourcing info and getting approval from those whose history and culture he was depicting. Reading the introduction, I found out that Convict Creations was compiled by someone with a “fair and balanced” conservative leaning who spent time looking for alternative interpretations from the accepted left leaning history that is commonly accepted. The time I had thanks to using secondary sources as starting points allowed me to find a range of sources with different points of view that I can use with students instead of what I personally consider to be narrow views in official texts and resources from Education Departments.

 

Level 6 History Skills Descriptors

I want to be able to use this experience as a model for the students this year. In fact, I want to be able to lead them through this very process, not as a one off workshop presentation which just leaves them with a list of instructions they won’t follow effectively, but as a shared research experience. We have the technology for large groups to collaborate on research, starting from a secondary source like Wikipedia ( or alternatives) and sourcing references for various facts within the  events. The technology that allows direct hyperlinking to references is also an effective way to check on the type of sources they are using as well. This would be a better way to develop the research skills that our History curriculum in Australia expects, particularly the Historical skills.

As adults, we are expected t0 have advanced research skills. Students, on the other hand, are a long way off. We need to guide them to be better researchers. I think a good way ot start is to allow them to access secondary sources as a starting point to find the real evidence. What do you do when teaching research? I would like to know what others are doing. Join the conversation.

Meograph – 4 Dimensional Story Telling Web 2.0 Style

What I love about Web 2.0 apps is the simplicity. Bloated desktop apps like Office and Photoshop, with their hundreds of menu items and toolbars, are powerful tools but become difficult for non techies to handle. Web 2.o tools, on the other hand, are focused on specific purposes, allowing them to be streamlined and simple enough for anyone to use.

Meograph, a relatively new tool ( released in July, 2012 and still in Beta form) is one such simple to use but still powerful web app. It sells itself as a “4 Dimensional Story telling” app. In a nutshell, it allows you to tell stories through (1)images/videos, (2)narration,  (3)maps and a (4)timeline (hence the 4 dimensions) OR WHO/WHAT, WHEN and WHERE. Now this could be done using a variety of software options but what I love about Meograph is that the whole process only involves 8 simple steps, which I am about to outline for you using the above screenshot and some simple instructions. There is also a video embedded below that provides a demo of the tool.

  1. ADD A MOMENT. Once you have set up your FREE account and created your first Meograph, click on +ADD A MOMENT. This brings up the simple data field box for you to input the required information.
  2. THE DATA FIELD BOX. Here you can see the 3 fields to input information. WHEN, WHERE and WHAT. Type in the year or specific date (in MM/DD/YYYY format), the location the event took place (be specific for correct location on map) and information about what happened. The information can be a single sentence or at least a whole paragraph – I haven’t tested its limits but some of my entries have been over 100 words. Once you have added the information, it becomes part of a list of dates. If you add another Moment that occured before your last entry, it will automatically move the moment into the correct chronological order.
  3. LINK. You can add a link to related information by clicking on the Link button and typing or pasting in a website address. The link appears between the image and timeline in a black band. The website page name appears but if it is a PDF web link you only see a diagonal arrow icon.
  4. TEXT. The information you input into the WHAT field is displayed above the image in a simple text box. If you want to add extra information, you can edit the text here instead of the small WHAT field.
  5. MAP EDITING. You can change the Zoom level of the Map by clicking on the CHANGE MAP ZOOM button. You will get a familiar Google Maps slide scale to enable you to zoom in or out for your desired result. That is the only editing you can do – you can’t drag the map around or move the placeholder.
  6. MEDIA. You can upload an image or embed a YouTube clip using the two buttons provided. You can only add one or the other – not both. You don’t paste YouTube embed code; just the page link. You can resize the image and move it around. With the YouTube clip, you can select specific sections of the clip so that your viewers don’t have to view the whole clip when you are only referring to a specific part. This is a useful feature – I only wanted to show 3 minutes of an hour long documentary on YouTube for my History Meograph below.
  7. NARRATION. You can record narration for each moment to help tell your story more effectively. The length of your narration determines how long the moment plays before it moves on to the next moment. Without narration, the Meograph moves from moment to moment almost instantly. The maximum length of narration for each moment is 20 seconds.
  8. MAP VIEW OPTION. You can choose between Google Map or Earth view for the Maps in Meograph. What isn’t in the screenshot above is the option to include or exclude Lines connecting placeholders as you move from moment to moment.
  9. SAVE. Once you have finished your Meograph or you simply want to stop your editing for the day, you simply click the DONE AND SAVE button which returns you to the ready to play Meograph page. You can always click on the Edit button if you want to continue to add or make changes.
  10. PLAY CONTROLS AND TIMELINE. At the bottom of the Meograph is the Timeline and controls. If you want to simply view the Meograph, hit the Play button and it will progress from Moment to Moment. The timeline is like a video progress bar that has the dates displayed instead of the minutes played. There is a time display on the far right. If you want to manually control the progress of the story, pause the video and use the FF/REW buttons for greater control. This is recommended if you want to check out the linked information.
That’s all there is to it. ( One more thing – it has share and embedding options so that you can add your Meograph to your own website/blog, as I have done, or post it directly to Twitter, Facebook and other popular Social Media sites like Pinterest, Google+ Delicious and StumblUpon.) If you want to see first hand how to use Meograph, you can check out the tutorial video below.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

While I have found Meograph to be a very useful and simple to use storytelling tool, there is room for improvement. Of course it is still only in Beta so there are still glitches to the tool. Since the creator actually asked me to do a review, I will list my ideas and criticisms here. I’m not sure if these can all be addressed but hey, worth an ask.

  1. The Timeline. The only way to move from event to event is using the video controls. I would like to be able to drag the timeline dates across like you can on videos so I can move more quickly to a specific time or event without laboriously going moment by moment. This is probably not a big deal for quick stories but in a big presentation like my History Meograph it is needed. Meograph is being aimed at the Education and Journalism markets so there will come a time when I’m not the only one making really long meographs!
  2. Maps. Would like to be able to move the map around rather than just zoom in and out. Would like to move the placeholders too. Some of my locations were a bit inaccurate and a quick drag of the place holder would fix that problem.
  3. Text. Not a big deal but possibly some simple textformatting tools wouldn’t go astray for greater emphasis – size, colour, bold, italic would be enough. Then again my opening paragraph did talk about Web 2.0 simplicity vs Software bloat, so no drama if not done.
  4. Full Screen view. At present, the Meographs are a touch small to view. A Full screen option like Youtube and other video sites offer would make it better for viewing, especially for whole class viewing on a screen or iWB.
  5. Image AND Video instead of OR. Again not a big issue but sometimes I was faced with the choice of using video or image. Would have been nice to use both. Same goes for….
  6. Multiple Links.  From an Educational perspective, it would be good to link to multiple references to verify accuracy of information.
  7. iPads. You can watch it on an iPad just fine but editing is very difficult. Sometimes I managed to add new moments but often the buttons didn’t work. of course that is common with a lot of web 2.0 tools ( but not all). Be interesting to find out if it can be improved.
Everything else is Beta based Bugs. Sometimes it slowed down to a walk, especially when adding additional text. There were times when images or videos wouldn’t load and I had to close the browser and restart a session. There was a bit of a lag when inputting Where/When/What Data at times as well. Sometimes there was inaccurate map placements but that may well be Google Maps’ problem ( Apple’s IOS maps aren’t alone in location errors).
Having said all that, I have found MeoGraph to be a great addition to my teaching toolbox. Below is a yet to be completed but still lengthy Meograph I am putting together for my Grade 5/6 teams who are teaching Australian History this year. I see a lot of possibilities for History, Geography, Biographies, place and time based narrative investigations in this tool. I would like to hear from teachers about whether they would use or have used Meograph.
(Word of warning: Like most Web 2.0 tools, the Under 13s get a raw deal here. However, I can’t see why you can’t set up a class account controlled by you to avoid COPPA problems-Meograph’s Terms and Privacy policies are inconclusive here and the site itself doesn’t seem to have any inappropriate material easily accessible once logged in. It appears possible to use one account on multiple computers – I’ve tested it with my Meograph and even added different moments from different computers logged in at the same time. Meograph might not agree with me here but I’ve said it)