Re: Episode 11 on its way!

Hi Chris,

I just wanted to touch base with you about your Teach with Tech podcast. I have been listening for a few months and I appreciate how you discuss new technologies and contextualize them in K-12 and higher ed applications.

Just a quick comment on your Opera segment from last month. I have been an Opera user for a few years (yes, I paid for it a long time ago, before Opera 9, because I thought it was that good). Besides all the great tips that you gave (I didn’t even realize the one about the trashcan), you might also want to think about telling your faculty and students that there are some handy mouse features that you can use on a PC or Mac (if you have a 2 button mouse).

  • Want more info about a word or phrase on a page that you are viewing? Highlight it, then right click and select one of the many search features.
  • Want to email someone, but you aren’t using Opera as your email client? Right click on the email address, copy it, and paste it in your email client.
  • Want to navigate web pages faster? Use mouse gestures.
  • Got a URL that you have copied or a word that you want to copy from somewhere and search using Opera? Right click in the address box or search box and choose “paste and go” to effectively paste and hit enter at the same time.

There are more mouse tools that I am sure are out there that I don’t even know, but these — along with the tips you offered — make my browsing life much easier.

Finally, I did want to say that I am becoming a regular wiki user. You can see how we used wikis in a similar manner to the teacher you described who asks students to keep class notes by looking at the collaborative agendas from our series of summer workshops. Also, a colleague and I are developing a presentation that we will give in October using a wiki.

For a future episode, I hope that you might consider talking about how teachers are integrating tools of the read/write web into the research process. Gone are the days of 3×5 cards, and now we have webquests, RSS for news feeds, Google Notebook, Citation Machine, Writely, and other tools for keeping track of research online as you write. I would like to hear the ways in which teachers are doing this kind of new research with students.

Keep up the great work on the Teach with Tech podcast!


What’s the Matter with Wikis?

Wikis as a collaborative and social writing tool – and not just a way for students to cheat by calling something “original” material or for someone to create truth through “wikiality” – are starting to come into the news. But, I don’t think it is enough. For instance:

Recently, Columbia University has begun to embrace the academic aspects of wikis. The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning has designed a number of wikis to facilitate conversation in classes, and members of the center are among the leading minds on wiki culture.

And yet meddlers, not just altruistic do-gooders, can also update the sites at will. So while the vast majority of Wikipedia’s information is correct and suitable for academic purposes, many students use it as much for procrastination as a tool for researching a paper.

What if a wiki could serve both purposes, however? Project Athena, a wiki in development through Columbia’s Student Government Office, is pursuing that goal. In its most basic form, it would begin as a brochure and then would evolve into an insider’s guide to which bathroom showers at the University have the head installed too low.

Depending on the amount of interference by the office, the site could eventually turn into a campus-wide study guide where users post their class notes, creating a massive form of Cliff’s Notes. (Those involved with the project are calling it a repository for general information on the University, not on classes.)

Wikis Find Their Way Into Academia

As I dig more and more into the aspects of collaborative writing that wikis – and other tools such as Writely – allow, I am more and more intrigued with the collective backlash that still seems to exist about them. The example above shows how it is OK for students to use the wiki to create “repository for general information on the University, not on classes.” Why not on classes? Why not, as others like David Warlick have suggested, ask students to start with Wikipedia and then create their assignments so that they have to verify the facts in the Wikipedia article and, ideally, contribute new knowledge to it.

I was even more surprised when I was working in a school earlier this fall, one that actually doesn’t filter and block Wikipedia, when the teachers told me that they not only don’t want students to use Wikipedia as a source, but that they actively steer students away from it. I asked why. Here is the general outline of the conversation:

  • They said that it wasn’t reliable. I cited the On the Media story that says vandalism last only a few minutes, let alone the Nature study.
  • They said that the articles always come up in the top ten of Google searches. I said that this is all the more reason that they should understand why and how wikis and Wikipedia work, especially as writers learning how to research.
  • They said that the articles were biased. I referred them to Wikipedia’s policy on the Neutral Point of View. I also referred them to the Room 208 podcast on “Wicked Wikipedia” and how students recognize the rights and wrongs of posting to this resource.
  • They said it changes and is not reliable to cite. We talked about putting in dates and times, and the page history that a teacher could search back to. Also, as a footnote, I ran across Wikipedia’s Citation page the other day through someone else mentioning it and wish I could have told them about it.

After that, they kind of shrugged their shoulders and said, essentially, “Hmm, Wikipedia isn’t so bad. Maybe I will try using with my students this fall.” I hope that they do.

All that said, I am still interested in why and how to use wikis and where the resistance is coming from. Is it the fact that we, as educators, are having trouble making the paradigm shift as it relates to the read/write web and how knowledge is made and shared? There are many who think that this is the case, as change is slow in education. And, there are some interesting critiques of digital collectivism that I think warrant attention, Lanier’s essay being one of them.

But, the knee-jerk reaction that we, as literacy teachers, are going ban wikis outright – without talking about the skills embedded in reading and writing on a wiki – really concerns me. I hope to do some more thinking and writing about how we can effectively integrate wikis into the research process, but for now I would highly recommend looking at Paul Allison’s “Ninth Graders Composing on a Wiki” screencast and his students’ wiki. Also, you can look at a post that I used to facilitate a presentation about this topic last fall.

What do you all think? How can you integrate wikis, especially Wikipedia, into the research reading/writing process?

On a related note, you can visit the wiki page that Aram and I are using to facilitate our presentation at MCTE in a few weeks. And, I hope, add to it!

On “Wikiality”

By now, you have seen Stephen Cobert’s piece on Wikiality. If you haven’t, watch it before you read on.

In this response to the piece, Frank Ahrens of the Washington Post takes an interesting angle on how and why Wikipedia works:

But if Wikipedia is going to exist as an open-source resource and is going to resist single-peer review for its entries, then it needs to be transparent, as it has been in l’affaire Colbert. If Wikipedia’s DNA prevents it from hosting a single standard for truth — or truthiness — then its sources of information need to be evident and their tracks easily seen so readers can have as many facts as possible to determine their accuracy.

It’s on Wikipedia, So It Must Be True

So, I have two concerns with this line of thinking. First, it assumes that Wikipedia is meant to be a definitive source on anything and I think that argument was over with the Nature piece comparing Britannica to Wikipedia. (To his credit, Ahrens makes this point clear — and takes a jab at himself ” at the end of the article and suggests that “Not, of course, that anyone would or should use Wikipedia — or really, anything else besides this column — as a single and authoritative source on any topic.”)

Second, and more importantly, I think that Cobert understands the inner workings of Wikipedia, the idea that it does, indeed, try to agree on facts. It is called the Neutral Point of View. And, despite take-offs like Colbert’s and The Onion’s, I think that many people who criticize Wikipedia — and similar projects — forget that it is not about the facts, per se, but one’s ability to contribute to a group’s understanding of the facts.

On The Media did an excellent piece on this issue about a year ago, right after the London bombings and when Wikipedia was the most accurate news source. It was, indeed, the power of the people to collaborate that made it a great site… Lest we lose site of that in our culture’s furor to constantly seek a single truth. Wikipedia has its own form of peer review and, for what Wikipedia is and wants to be, it works perfectly. And that is why Colbert’s idea of wikiality is so funny… because the idea itself just isn’t true.

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