Naming and Knowledge-Making

This recent article from eSchool News caught my attention and gave me pause to think about the course I am designing for the fall, ENG 460.

Top News – Google unveils online reference tool

For better or worse, Wikipedia–the online reference site that lets anyone add to its ever-growing body of knowledge–has changed the nature of internet research. Now Google is taking the wraps off a free internet encyclopedia of its own, designed to give people a chance to show off–and profit from–their expertise on any topic.

The service, dubbed “knol” in reference to a unit of knowledge, had been limited to an invitation-only audience of contributors and readers for the past seven months.

Now anyone with a Google login will be able to submit an article and, if they choose, have ads displayed through the internet search leader’s marketing system. The contributing author and Google will share any revenue generated from the ads, which are supposed to be related to the topic covered in the knol.

My interest here is in trying to figure out what value “naming” the author of a “knol” has in comparison to the “anonymous collaborators” that compose Wikipedia entries. I am not so much interested in talking about the authority question, as the one knol that I read on toilet training (a topic of conversation in my house right now!) seemed to be authoritative — and it cited sources — but I couldn’t figure out anything about the author. Also, the main author can open up a knol to collaborators, but not just anyone can chime in. It seems like you retain copyright, too. Finally, one of the stated purposes of the project is to get different people posting knols on the same topic, so having the one, authoritative knol is not necessarily going to happen.

Oh, and it looks like you will eventually be able to serve Google ads on your knol to, I assume, make money.

So, I wonder what this new form of knowledge production will do to the idea of open content. People are free to spend their time and energy wherever they want, be it Wikipedia, Knol, or some other online community. But, I wonder what this idea of sharing one’s knowledge by authoring a knol will do for authors, readers, scholars, and others. By “naming” the author, and being able to verify their credentials, will we feel better about the information presented? Or, does the process that a Wikipedia article goes through still provide more of a peer review process that checks facts and clarifies ideas?

It will be interesting to see how Knol unfolds in the next few months. I may make it part of my students’ final project — post a knol on your topic of independent study. We’ll see how they react to that idea…

Preparing for Tech-Focused Professional Development

For the first time in four years, I will not be going to an NWP tech/writing style workshop, and I have to admit that I am a little bit bummed. Both Tech Matters and the Technology and Writing retreat have been good sources of inspiration and collegiality over the past few summers, and I hope to capture some of those feelings in two workshops that we are planning for RCWP here in August.

The first week, August 4th, we are engaging 40 teachers from Project WRITE in an immerse, inquiry-driven study of adolescent literacy and technology. Much like Bud’s CyberCamp, we are planning to structure this workshop for teachers to make maximum use of the time, access to computers, and collegial support. For the portion of each day that I am planning, I intend to make the first hour a work/collaboration time, with the explicit goal that teachers will produce anything from one lesson to a whole unit, somehow using read/write web technology, by the end of the week. On Thursday, they will share their work with a group of cross-grade, cross-school colleagues to get feedback.

During the other half of each afternoon, I am taking a move from Tech Matters and creating “birds of a feather” groups. Want to brush up on blogs? Go to this room with this teacher leader. Want to find out about photo sharing, which we haven’t discussed yet as a group, but you want to learn something new? Come to this room with this other teacher leader. And so on. Or, keep working on your unit. Throughout the week, I hope to offer anywhere from 3-6 different experiences for people to sample from, all leading to the presentation of their final lessons.

This will be one of the last major pushes with Project WRITE. In September, we will do one of our sessions completely online. Then, we have two full day sessions on Saturdays — one in October, one in November. I am looking forward to seeing what people pull together for our August session, and to seeing what unfolds for them in the year to come as they more fully integrate technology into their teaching of adolescent literacy.

For the second week, August, 11, we are putting on our own version of Tech Matters for the RCWP leadership team. This will involve myself as a lead facilitator, four additional RCWP teacher leaders as facilitators and presenters of their own classroom case studies, and then a number of participants from the RCWP leadership team. Again, the goal is to collaborate and offer people time and space to work, this time focusing more on the work of our writing project site. Each of the case studies will provide us with a situated look at how one teacher employs technology in his/her classroom, and that will open up conversations for the leadership team about how and why we might employ similar technologies at our site for the summer institute, professional development, continuity programs, and youth programs.

Then, in the afternoon, we will have lots of playtime, where we too can do birds of a feather groupings, allow people time to play with tools introduced in the morning, and continue conversations about the future of our site’s work with technology. In some sense, this is kind of the culminating moment of our work with NWP’s technology initiative, as we are now trying to distribute the knowledge of a few key teacher leaders at our site into the larger leadership team and day-to-day work of the site.

I just wanted to capture my initial thinking on these two workshops as we finalize the SB-CEU applications and get ready to move through the month of July in a haze of firework smoke, BBQs, and long, warm summer afternoons. It is good to be thinking ahead to these events and all the great work that teachers will be engaging in this year as a result of them.


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