Activity 1 – Reference Material
A reference book is defined as a “book intended to be consulted for information on individual matters rather than read continuously.” (Moore, B. (Ed.). (2002). Australian Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.)
I’d like to expand on this definition to say that reference material includes all print reference resources including the almanac, atlas, bibliography, chronology, dictionary, directory, encyclopaedia etc. These are resources that are not for loan and kept exclusively in the library.
I do feel pretty black and white about the fact that reference material should be a term kept only for non-borrowable print resources in the library. While it appears that the reference section is diminishing in size each year, surely there will be some reference material kept; even it’s just housed as an historical keepsake! As TL’s we need to remind our children about how to access print material, which is sometimes easier and quicker than logging on to the computer.
Let’s create a term used for our virtual reference and keep the distinction separate. eRef? iRef? References found from a World Wide Web source is so variable and different in terms of how we access it and it’s reliability. Much of this information hasn’t undergone the same proofreading and editing stages as our print reference material. To me it’s a different type of information resource.
If there are print and digital versions of the same thing available, it needs to be catalogued separately so that students know where to physically go to get it. Print reference materials are more tangible.
Activity 2 – Wikipedia
Okay…so now I know what all the fuss is about with Wikipedia. (Please forgive me – I have been living in the dark ages for the last 9 years!) The fact that Wikipedia is an online dictionary that is community-edited rings alarm bells. No-one is ever going to agree to any one definition. I like the idea that it is being updated regularly, but not that it can be edited by people who lack credibility and authority.
The few times that I have searched for things, I’ve avoided Wikipedia purely based on its appearance! It’s always seemed kind of dull and boring. If there’s another option, I usually go to that first.
However, it is a reference source that is going to appear regularly. Therefore as TL, I would definitely be explaining to the students the reasons that they would need to check any information found on these sites and why. I would be suggesting alternative sources to the students and gently steering them away from using Wikipedia exclusively.
Activity 3 – Dictionaries
Yes, I believe that the school library should still provide students with access to print-based dictionaries. At the moment not all students K-12 have access to a computer. It’s much easier for classes to have sets of dictionaries for quick reference and it’s a social leveller – everyone’s is the same. It is also easier to have a class set of dictionaries that are appropriate to the reading and cognitive level of the students.
Using a dictionary properly is a skill. Students need to learn how to use the alphabet to look up words, how to interpret the meaning, what the symbols mean etc. Dictionaries often contain other resources as well – definitions of parts of language, Australian leaders, countries in alphabetical order and so on. These are all skills that are easier to teach with print-based dictionaries.
The Free Dictionary wasn’t too user-friendly for younger students, but I quite liked Onelook Dictionary.
Online Australian Dictionaries:
I liked this site because it was very Australian. It had the serious explanations of words as well as descriptions of slang Australian words. This site also contained a thesaurus and a link to Aboriginal words. There were links to rhyming dictionaries and ones suitable for children in language, science and maths.
This site included children friendly websites for research, encyclopaedia, dictionary and thesaurus. Good for science/HSIE too.
This one was a maths dictionary – interactive and new.
Online Australian Atlases:
It was difficult to find online Australian Atlases – maybe there is a niche market out there! Here are some that I would use anyway:
Fun and colourful – may need to subscribe though.
Limited for Australia, but some good general maps for younger kids.
More for the older student.
Online Australian Biographies:
If I were looking for a specific person, then I would do a general Google, which reveals a whole variety of sources.
I have used this one while helping students research this term on “Australian Heroes”. It was also handy for students to have a look at some Australians who were significant in order to select one to research.
Good, detailed information, more for the older student.
Once again, good old aussieeducator came through!