Qwiki plumbs shallows of educational waters

Spoiler alert! If you’re looking for a digital reference for your children to use in middle and high school that is thorough and impeccably reliable, you’re also looking for an app they will never use. If you’re looking for an app that will make them look smart enough to pass their exams and knock off a couple of high school papers, I would rate it toward the top.

And let’s be honest. How much work will your kids need to apply to pass the inspection of teachers too overworked to notice any lack of insight and originality, because Republican legislatures have overwhelmed them with budget cuts and standardized tests even they couldn’t pass?

This isn’t to knock Qwiki, which is actually a pretty good app. This is a knock on Republicans determined to make sure our kids are too dumb to understand how much they intend to impoverish our future. Nor will they figure it out by searching for “Rick Perry” in Qwiki. The most illuminating information about our most cherished Texas governor is a toss-off reference on his attendance at a Bildeberg group conference, but the article included no link to the entry (which, by the way, isn’t very illuminating either).

The Qwiki article on Texas Governor Rick Perry basically supplies little more information than who he ran against and a toss-off reference to the Bildeberg group. But you’ll have to actually read the review to find out more on them.

No mention of his astoundingly stupid policy statements, statements that make George Bush look like a MENSA candidate, statements such as Texas’ right to secede from the union, that social security is a ponzi scheme, the main tenet of the Bible is to “not spend all that money,” that intelligent design should be taught side-by-side with evolution in science class and that it would be treason for the Federal Reserve to boost the economy before the next election.

Nor does the Bildeberg Group article mention that the organizers rank second to the Illuminati in the nightmares of conspiracy theorists looking for plots of global domination.

Maybe it’s for the best.

I actually read real books in high school, and the practice usually led me straight to the principal’s office because I stupidly volunteered information the teacher didn’t think my fellow students should hear. Not sex stuff, but how Johnson faked the Tonkin Gulf incident, how the US inflated VC body count figures and covered up the fact that most of their weapons were taken from our own soldiers in combat.

I told my classmates about the trail of tears and how the US deliberately infected blankets with small pox in an early experiment with biological warfare. You can probably see why my teachers felt that kind of talk was far less appropriate than comments like “blow me.”

Nonetheless, Qwiki is almost perfect for today’s student, flashy and superficial, very little text and even less substance. But at least it will get them to read something. Besides, anyone who thinks students will remember anything from high school beyond the broadest brush stroke is even less perceptive than they.

In fact, the brilliance of Qwiki is that it delivers the sizzle even if it buries the substance. This is an app designed for students with the attention span of teenagers (and that attention span is very short indeed). I’m not suggesting that kids no longer read good books or that they party any harder than kids did when I was in high school.

I do think kids have more distractions, and there is increasing evidence to indicate that their brains are wired significantly differently than my generations’. I also think that given the egregious number of requirements written into standardized school curricula, it would be silly to expect them to remember the topics of the classes they took.

Qwiki delivers the distilled information kids need in a readable and engaging format (if not downright diluted). Once students choose a topic, the app presents them with a multi-window montage of images, videos and maps that they can explore should they actually find themselves interested. And, sooner or later, all but the most brain-dead students do find themselves interested in something.

The Qwiki interface launches multiple expanding windows for each topic, allowing browsers to pursue the topic in more depth. Students can follow the threads visually.

In what might be a brilliant stroke, or completely ill-considered interface blunder, the app opens more like a pop culture zine than a reference app. The menu bar takes readers to articles on news, then actors and even a category “popular” that features articles on things that are, well, popular (the Iron Man movie, Nathalie Portman, NBA stars).

Then, as though they remembered they were a reference app, the developers threw in “cities,” “natural wonders” and “monuments.” This seems like the strangest collection of general categories I’ve run across, and when I looked for a way to customize the home menu I came up blank.

Students can actually find the kinds of articles they need for history and science, but they have to resort to the search engine. The articles returned seemed fairly extensive and Qwiki also includes related articles.

I searched for topics high school students might be expected to research, articles on history, science and arts. The articles were fairly easy to find, as well as related articles to help students explore further. But the search engine wasn’t completely intuitive. On a lark, I did a search for Richard Burton to see if Qwiki would return articles on the actor and 19th Century explorer. I had to try three different search terms to find the explorer.

Qwiki will never be the tool of choice for scholars, and hopefully not the tool of choice for college students. But for a research tool that might actually engage your kids it might prove useful. And since it’s free, it won’t add to the cost of their tutoring.

Jenny Manytoes rates Qwiki

Jenny Manytoes would purr next to Qwiki, and for secondary students I would have to bump it up even higher. It won’t add to the knowledge of anyone who is already well-read and well-informed, but it knows a hell of a lot more than most Tea Party candidates.

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The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat

  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 4 Stars - Purr, Education, Search Engines and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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