Ivory Towers of Learning

We’ve been discussing personal learning networks, and it seems like this week’s readings take a look at the more theoretical processes behind the practical surface of networked learning.  Dede and Siemens discuss how learning theories interact and impact learning by relating some basic differences between them.  Siemens puts more emphasis on the evolution of connectivism in learning, listing ways that thinking about learning has become both more expansive and more specific at the same time, which I think is a valuable idea.  We now encourage our learners not just to learn content but also to think critically about their learning process itself.  “Know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed)” (Siemens, 2004).  Recognizing that connectivist learning is more than just interacting with content (even digital content), its success actually hinges on learners being able to justify their processes for finding and using certain sources whether the source is an expert in the field or an unknown blogger.  That justification is a big step, and networked sources being accepted as a valid resource is still experiencing some growing pains.

Dede contrasts “Classical knowledge” and “Web 2.0 knowledge”, but I’m not so sure that the distinctions between the two are really all that distinct.  He uses Encyclopedia Britannica as his example of the monolithic, traditional, top-down knowledge source that must always been taken as gospel and cannot be disputed.  The assumption is that learners assume that it is correct because it has been published.  There is some truth to that thought, but that is where critical thinking about content and not just sources comes into play.  “In contrast to articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia articles are either undisputed (tacitly considered accurate) or disputed (still resolving through collective argumentation), and Wikipedia articles cover topics that are not central to academic disciplines or to a wide audience (e.g., the cartoon dog Scooby-Doo)” (Dede, 2008).

The first of the two statements of that compound sentence, that Wikipedia articles are accurate or in the process of being accurate and that the process of collective argumentation is preferable, ignores the fact that there is actually a process for challenging content of large-scale traditional print encyclopedias.  It is also reasonable to point out that encyclopedias are not written by one sainted scholar high in an ivory tower.  The articles are written by hundreds of people and must pass through the evaluations of dozens of editors.  What is different about EB and Wikipedia is the amount of time the challenge process takes.  New editions of print encyclopedia sets are published about once a decade (if they are even published anymore), but Wikipedia content updates almost constantly and practically instantly.  The fact that anyone can post and edit is usually touted as the main reason Wikipedia is so amazing and innovative, but that is not even close to the best reason.  Why wait ten years for updated accurate information?  Update it yourself and be crowned Wikipedia royalty.

The second statement, that Wikipedia is superior for generating articles outside the academic disciplines and that appeal to limited, specific audiences, is pretty easy to counter, too.  Scooby Doo? Really?  How is one of the most globally popular cartoon characters not relevant to a wide audience?  There are plenty of ways that information on even just that one cartoon could be relevant and possibly even central to academic disciplines (i.e. criminology, anthropology, psychology, art, etc,).  I can’t say whether or not EB has anything to say about our old pal Scoob, but I do know that there are such things as subject-specific encyclopedias that are generally more favored these days over the large print sets anyway because they take up less space, are less expensive, and are easier to upgrade to new editions.  Take The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons, for example.

I know I went off on a bit of tangent there, but it seemed to me that Dede’s statement was full of easily countered fallacies.  It is certainly interesting that Wikipedia has embraced an innovative author and editor structure, and I’m not saying its a horrible thing or anything remotely like that.  I’m just saying that the fact that it is free and is constantly updated are the real reasons why people use it.  If we ignore that practical fact, then we are the sages in the ivory tower.

2 thoughts on “Ivory Towers of Learning

  1. Karen Yarbrough Post author

    Recent, Relevant, Reliable.
    The Three R’s of the Research Process.
    The first two are easy; the last one is harder.

  2. cnb135

    I agree completely. Justification of information is HUGE step. It’s hard for me to do without thoroughly going through the process so I think, at times, I get intimidated to teach my students how to do it with online, web, sources. This is something that a lot more teachers need to be proficient with to be able to teach it with absolute excellence.

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