I’ve been looking forward to this week’s coverage of wikis because I’ve enjoyed the collaborative projects that I’ve completed for other classes, and I wanted to understand the technology a little better. Especially after the interview assignment last week, I feel like wikis could be an interesting way to creatively engage with emerging web technologies with learners and other educators. The examples given in Schweder and Wissick’s column as well as the Wikipedia Projects and User Page examples opened by eyes to the many ways that educators can use this popular web technology. Additionally, Vicki Davis’s two wikis this week were very helpful, and I thought her step by step instructions on how to create and edit in a wiki were brilliant and to the point. People are often stymied by the idea of editing content, especially things that other user’s have added, and so such clear directions would be very helpful to get the process moving forward with clear expectations. Her Flat Classroom project with Julie Lindsay seems like an interesting opportunity to expand learning beyond the classroom, and I think using a wiki to collaborate with students on the other side of the world is a clever way to promote global citizenship as well as critical thinking about new technologies. McCrea’s article introducing Davis’s ideas and projects in her school captures the way that technology can be contagious, and wikis are a great example of that trend. Valerie Burton, the other featured teacher, made a convincing argument for using wikis as an assessment method for students’ individual and collaborative assignments. I am a big proponent of “not reinventing the wheel” when it comes to lesson planning and generating new practice activities, and so using wikis to store and organize materials makes a lot of sense to me. Students and teachers alike could easily access any information literacy materials I created, freeing up my time for more individualized reference needs.
One of the biggest issues about wikis in education is the validity and reliability of the user-generated information, but I think Wikipedia’s “What Wikipedia Is Not” page goes a long way to address some of the concerns leveled against their site. The page clearly shows that the foundation behind the site as well as the site’s user editors take their information sharing seriously and that they have policies in place to protect the level of scholarship available through their services. The site is set up to be basically self-policing except in extreme cases where the foundation’s actual employees have to intervene. People who are regular Wikipedia contributors tend to be very twitchy about the reputation of the site, and I think that helps to ensure that problem users are identified (and sometimes Internet shamed) fairly quickly. When discussing Wikipedia with students, I always used the example of “What if you wrote in your biography assignment that someone was dead but he actually wasn’t?”, so reading the policies on Biographies of Living Persons, speculation, and scandal mongering were especially interesting to me. I might just start sharing the Wikipedia policy pages with students in the future; they need to understand the process better and not just take the information presented on faith alone. Wikipedia is so large and well-known that it is usually what comes to mind when someone mentions wikis, but smaller classroom wikis are becoming more popular. In these cases, the educator often acts as more of a moderator, but students are still held responsible for the information. I think it can be a valuable way to teach personal accountability as well as responsibility to the learning community. I am looking forward to using wikis in my library service model in the future, and I think that my student and faculty patrons will benefit from having to think a little more critically about user-generated information sources.