The Challenge of Wikipedia (a response)

6:55 AM

Will Richardson brought up two incredibly important issues yesterday in The Challenge of Wikipedia.

I’m on a wiki and Wikipedia bender of late, trying to get my brain around all of the implications for educators in terms of how to teach research and the use of sources. I think that this is actually a bigger challenge for elementary school teachers who are in that pre-exposition gray area. For instance, if my daughter gets assigned a “report” on Argentina, why wouldn’t she go first to the Wikipedia entry? The bigger question is why would she go anywhere else? The entry has 4,100 words and about 125 links to more information. It’s got maps and charts and pictures. It’s been edited like a gajillion times, most recently today with updated GDP figures. Ok, I know, I know. It might be all wrong. But you and I know…it’s not.

Many of you have had the experience of demonstrating Wikipedia to a group of teachers, and they become so excited — until you click the “Edit This Page” button. It is no exaggeration to say that they are shocked. If it’s librarians, we wheel in defibrillators.

Richness and extent of accuracy aside, it is understandable that educators feel like their feet have been knocked out from under them by the Wikipedia. We have been taught to assume the authority of the information that we encounter. But today, our information environment is changing into something that is…

less worthy of this assumption
but at the same time
more valuable.

I would make the assignment like this. Look up Argentina on the Wikipedia, and collect the facts and concepts that are appropriate to the assignment. Then prove that those facts and concepts are true, by researching elsewhere for evidence of their accuracy and appropriateness.

We have to stop teaching students to assume authority and teach them to prove it. A big shift in the nature of how we teach!

Will takes us to the next level when he says…

The bigger, bigger question is why should she do that report at all? I know she has to learn how to write, to organize ideas, to use different sources of information etc. And believe me, I want her to do all of those things. But do I want her doing what I did as a kid? (I did Argentina, you know.)

I did a report about Argentina too. I remember nothing about that report, but I do clearly remember the Bola that I made, and demonstrating it’s use to the class. Took us almost 30 minutes to get Skitter Jones free from those things. 😉

Part of learning is expressing what we have learned, and more than that, expressing it in a way that accomplishes something. I do not write reports any more. I haven’t written a report since I was in school. But I do write, and I draw, and manipulate images, and edit sound and video. I produce information products that are designed to affect people in some desired way. Rather than giving students an assignment to write a report, they should write a travel log of Argentina, or make a travel brochure, or a news cast of some even happening in the country. Assignments should reflect the new information environment.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.