Good riddance, Encarta!

Good riddance, Encarta!

Summary: The other day, my 13-year old was writing an essay for school and told me that "we really need an encyclopedia on our computer." I chuckled and then did a double-take.

TOPICS: Collaboration, CXO

The other day, my 13-year old was writing an essay for school and told me that "we really need an encyclopedia on our computer." I chuckled and then did a double-take. He was, in fact, serious. I took his temperature, asked if he'd received any head injuries in school that day, and then asked him if he knew what year it was. Remarkably, he knew that it was 2009 and apparently, aside from forgetting about the existence of the World Wide Web, was otherwise fine.

As it turns out, Encarta was installed on the computers at his school. It wasn't anything we'd paid for recently (certainly not in my tenure as Technology Director), but it was lingering around and was a perfectly useful tool for quick facts in class or as a starting point for research projects. It was, like the dead-tree encyclopedias that came before it and Wikipedia that came after, a handy reference and the lazy kid's guide to writing a research report.

As most of you have probably heard already, Encarta is done for this year. Microsoft summed it up quite nicely on their Encarta FAQs:

On October 31, 2009, MSN® Encarta® Web sites worldwide will be discontinued, with the exception of Encarta Japan, which will be discontinued on December 31, 2009. Additionally, Microsoft will cease to sell Microsoft Student and Encarta Premium software products worldwide by June 2009.

Going on to explain why they were discontinuing the product, the release noted

Encarta has been a popular product around the world for many years. However, the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.

Ya think? I'm not saying Encarta was a bad product. On the contrary, it did a fine job of making encyclopedic articles searchable and accessible on a computer. However, I'm thrilled to see it go because of what it represents. Kids will just go to Wikipedia or the first three hits on Google, now, right? While that remains too true, what it really represents is the absolute challenge to educators to teach kids real Web-based research skills.

Leave the encyclopedias behind and dig. Be utterly critical of the vast amounts of information available online and use Google and its ilk for the brutally powerful knowledge sources they are. Read, understand, and synthesize. Once again, these are the 21st Century Skills that we need to be hammering in to our kids. The encyclopedia is dead. Long live critical thinking.

Topics: Collaboration, CXO

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Wow

    Your biased anti-MS ranting just never stops. Yes we get it that Encarta's time has come and gone. But there is no need to have such a vitriolic attitude towards something that was very useful at a time when things like Wikipedia was not available to everyone.

    Fortunately in the Big Picture, people with your severely one-sided attitude are few and far between.

    Just get over yourself already!
    • Big picture?

      [i]I?m not saying Encarta was a bad product. On the contrary, it did a fine job of making encyclopedic articles searchable and accessible on a computer. However, I?m thrilled to see it go because of what it represents.[/i]

      [i]Leave the encyclopedias behind and dig. Be utterly critical of the vast amounts of information available online[/i]

      Did you read the article or just the heading?
    • Yipes

      Whoa, Qbty, take a chill pill :D

      I liked Encarta, when it was available on the Mac. Too bad MS isn't going
      to try and make it a web app instead for a small yearly fee. They could
      use the same model as the online 'Word' product line.
  • RE: Good riddance, Encarta!

    Perhaps you didn't read the article. The author stated that Encarta was a very good product. But, the demand for encyclopedia-type products are almost nonexistant. Now is a time that students should be taught how to critically evaluate information they get from the internet. You can't just read the first thing that pops up on google and expect it to be fact. Critical thinking skills need to be developed instead of blindly trusting something you read. Next time, use your brain to understand an article instead of thinking someone is bashing microsoft because of a headline you read.
  • RE: Good riddance, Encarta!

    I dunno, I still find comfort in rummaging through tall stacks of musty old book in museums research rooms and university libraries. The hunt is part of the fun, after all.
  • Can we trust other sources?

    Changes to the way we obtain information for research have indeed changed, but sources such as Wikipedia are able to be populated and modified by the general public. I believe that there still remains a reliable source that is only updated by professionals in their fields and certified as trustworthy material. Wikipedia is close, but leaves room to chance and if I were a teacher finding Wikipedia listed as a reference, I would likely mark the student down.
    • That is a reasonable worry

      Can we trust some sources like Wikipedia? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no!

      I still remember the thing on Al Gore's Wikipedia page saying he was dead!
    • Other verified sources available on-line

      There are plenty of verifiable on-line sources; our school district subscribes to Grolier which is then available to students on-line from at home or at school. We also have reference resources available to us on-line through INSPIRE (INdiana SPectrum of Information REsources). Our social studies students use when doing country reports. The point is that sources like encyclopedias need to be on-line to make them flexible in the face of an ever changing knowledge base and need to be overseen by research companies not software manufacturers. I also agree that students need to know how to discern between factual and bogus information on the web but teachers can make it as wild and woolly or tame as necessary by defining what resources are suitable.
      • here, here

        [i]The point is that sources like encyclopedias need to be on-line to make them flexible in the face of an ever changing knowledge base and need to be overseen by research companies not software manufacturers.[/i]

        Here, here.. we do need reliable sources for [b]not[/b] only our kids, but for those of us who need to further our education. True Encyclopedias provide that resource because they are widely known and [b]trusted[/b] whereas sites like .gov may be skewed to only one piece of given information and not backed up by other resources.

        Google encyclopedia and see how many sites come up as the "encyclopedia" for such and such. Are they trustworthy, who knows. I know that Wickpedia, which is widely referenced on the net, is not so trustworthy because anyone can update information.

        While people may trust the .gov sites, I don't know if they double check their information so it could be distorted to whatever information is given to the people responsible for maintaining the site.

        Its sad to see it gone. Luckily, Britannica is still available.
    • That's the idea

      To base your opinion/research on more than one source. Wikipedia is a great start for research, but I agree wholehartedly with not using it as a reference.

      Other sources don't have to just be an encyclopaedia. Journal articles are increasingly being published online, as well as the findings of interest & research groups. I know that younger students aren't expected to look for bias & reliability in their sources, but even having a source with an obvious bias can be a good reference if the student recognises it in their work.
    • Author sites Wikipedia as way

      Point of the matter, Encarta whether it be skewed, or antiquated, the author should of never used Wikipedia as a relevant replacement. There are plenty of equal sources on the internet. Students still need a source to rely on and lets hope they all don't go extinct. Use Wikipedia as a starting point, but be prepared to back it's facts up with other sources.
  • RE: Good riddance, Encarta!

    Sometimes I wonder if the vandalism on Wikipedia is partly caused by the negative light which academia holds upon it.
    • Wikipedia is a great jumping off place

      I love Wikipedia, it is a good place to start to know WHAT you should be researching. I don't think that is a skill for 4th graders but for high school and college students and even the rest of us who just want to know more about something, Wikipedia is a great tool. IMHO the web and open source at its best.
      • as long as you can trust the info in it

        Since Wiki can be edited by 'anybody', and it is not peer-reviewed....well.... it's like surgery - if my neck is on the line, I want to double-check and/or get more thorough and precise info than just trusting Wikipedia long as an entry is done by someone who really knows......
        • You shouldn't trust the info...

          I will repeat the very astute point the author made; do your research and *THINK CRITICALLY*

          There is a sad lack of critical thinking in general these days. Very few people read past headlines and captions. Talking heads give snippets of information and factoids. The method in which those stories are delevered makes it very difficult to put information in the proper context in which to reach a reasonable judgement.

          A plea to all parents: Please teach your children to think crtically; probe, examine, question and crunch, not just the information but the source as well.
  • I don't trust Wikipedia...

    That said, Wikipedia IS useful. There are many obscure articles that you don't find in a traditional Encyclopedia... But like many said: it is useful to get a first idea or an inkling of what some term is about. But I would always want an authoritative voice as I continue delving into the term. Maybe I'm not that 2.0 yet...
    Roque Mocan
    • ... and neither do I, even as I contribute to it.

      I've been editing at Wikipedia for about four years now and have seen many examples of vandalism, some so subtle that it would take a knowledgeable old geezer to detect the phony information; an impressionable grade school pupil wouldn't stand a chance. Much of what appears on the Internet is of little more value than rumor, innuendo and opinion, and it's a giant echo chamber. Unfortunately, many sites now echo Wikipedia articles, replete with errors and vandalism. Just because the top 20 Google hits give you the same results, doesn't necessarily mean that it's true.
      Tony R.
  • Critical thinking

    Critical thinking is the key point here. Who teaches the critical thinking? What is the tiping point that decides that this opinion is a solid, real fact and any challenge to it shows a very low IQ? There are many examples out there where teh critical thinking is stopped and a set of semi scientific opinions are established as indubitably realities - global warming is one good example, PETA, SLA, we can find them everywhere. A good teaching system that puts emphasis on logic, mathematics, competion and rewards excellence is a good start - no more team work stuff, we all take the first prize, no more dumbing down with policyical correctness is good start, in my opinion.
  • Properly used, Wiki and Google are great resources

    I am a now retired lawyer and law professor and spent
    much of my professional career doing research, first in
    books but later online. I have been an ardent defender of
    Wikipedia and Google from their inception but have
    warned others that it is absolutely essential to take what
    they say with a grain of salt and look at a variety of
    sources before reaching any conclusions concerning the
    object of your research.

    It should come as no surprise, then, that I was thrilled by
    Christopher Dawson's piece, in which he stressed how
    powerful Wikipedia and Goggle are but only if one is
    critical and digs into the material and fully understands the
    issues. High marks to Mr. Dawson for a very smart essay.
    • Not Just Wikipedia and Google

      The real problem is that there is now SO MUCH information on the web that it is increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Limiting our concerns to these two may inadvertently lend credibility to other sources that don't deserve it. Always think, always find information that supports what another says, and any tool can work for you.