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Being a “Learner” is being Responsible

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There was some interesting and valuable discussion about Wikipedia in the backchannel chat from my day in St. Albert Canada last week. At one point, a participant reminded us that many articles from the “free encyclopedia” include lists of references to other sources for information about the topic. Then “..how often do students click through to those other resources?” someone asked.

It’s a good question, and I suspect that few students or even casual users of Wikipedia click through to the added sources. It really depends on the intent of the research, and I suspect that most casual users have little reason to click through. But the educator posing the question during my presentation probably wishes that students, conducting research for their lessons, would dig beyond Wikipedia.

It occurred to me, as I was scanning through and commenting on the chat transcript, that maybe it depends on the level of responsibility that one feels for the work. If I am completing an assignment, following instructions, or fulfilling items on a rubric, I may not be so compelled to click through. However, if I feel responsible, in some way, for the (authentic) effects that my work may have on me or on someone else, then I may see reason to examine other resources — to get it right.

Though open to exceptions, I am not a huge advocate for integrating video games into the classroom. I do maintain, however, that we have much to learn from that experience. When youngsters are playing most video games, they usually do not approach them with a sense that there is one correct and prescribed way of working the game. You won’t hear them say, when they experience difficulty reaching the next level, “But I did it the way the instructions said to.”

They’re not responsible for finding the right answer. They’re responsible for making it work. Their assessment is, “Did it work?” Programming is another good example. There’s no one way of solving the problem. There’s just making it work. It is a responsive experience, and the power of the responsiveness is not so much its immediacy (instant gratification) as it is with its authenticity.

Of course, there is nothing new in this to good educators and those of us who remember the extensive work going on with authentic assessments — before No Child Left Behind Untested.

With this in mind, it occurs to me that there are three fundamental components to being educated today.

  1. What do you know?
  2. What can you do with what you know?
  3. What can you unlearn, and relearn in order to answer new questions, solve new problems, and accomplish new goals?

An educated person is a learner, and a learner is always working to be educated. A student waits to be taught.

A student may not look at the further references in Wikipedia.

But a learner will.

If all that we assess (and hold our schools accountable for) is what our students have been taught, then we are drastically and disastrously short changing our children’s future — and ours.


  • http://cogdogblog.com Alan Levine

    No offense, but beyond your own supposition, do we know that students do not click through other references? That’s the basis for a conclusion I can’t say I’d follow without knowing more. After all they did follow links to get to an article… I’m guessing the assumption is that students are taking Wikipedia to be an endpoint, but how do we know?

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      It’s a fair point and it would be interesting data to study.

      But my experience, from working with k12 educators, is that they believe that their students are not clicking through. I have to wonder if they believe this because they know that their “students” are not challenged enough — are not responsible enough for their learning — to go beyond Wikipedia.

  • mtyrol

    Part of our job is to guide our students and help them to become learners. We too often assume that they will go beyond “meets” to exceeds without facilitating the process. If we expect in depth research and good learning (as I believe we should) then we must teach and model for our students.
    I have found that many teachers ask for just one answer and that students, through no fault of their own, are conditioned to look for the quick solution because that is what they have learned matters. The grade…not the learning.
    Several of my students, just today, were bemoaning the the fact that their AP classes were about covering material and teaching to the test, rather than about learning. I’m proud that they know the difference, but saddened by the fact that these wonderful thinkers are stressed about tests when they want so much to learn and explore.

  • http://www.DulcineaMedia.com Mark Moran

    If a student is asked to cite a source for information, and knows you cannot cite Wikipedia, then he has no choice but to click through to the references.

    Here are the Top 10 Reasons Students Cannot Cite Wikipedia. Answer number one ? Because Wikipedia says so.


    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      Respectfully, Mark, I couldn’t disagree with you more. Helping students learn by applying rules, though sometimes necessary to assure a child’s safety, is usually the expediency of lazy instruction. If you can’t give students context-based conditions that they can reason themselves through, then perhaps it’s time to rethink your own curriculum. It’s easy to make broad generalizations about something like Wikipedia from individual stories. That a source is scholarly does not, necessarily, make it accurate, reliable, without bias, or appropriate to the task at hand.

      Teaching students to obey rules is no way to help them to think for themselves.

  • http://www.quisitivity.org Gerald Aungst

    An educated person is a learner, and a learner is always working to be educated. A student waits to be taught.

    As I read this I wondered how many teachers actually want learners in their classrooms. I’d like to think that most teachers really want learners, but my cynicism keeps rearing up, telling me that too many would rather have a student who quietly waits to be taught. The students are the ones who are easiest to manage. The learners will constantly think, challenge, and question, pushing us hard and making us stay at the top of our game all the time.

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
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Raw Materials for the Mind

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