It’s all in the discussion

wikipedia1.gif  In a workshop at our campus last year, Will Richardson rightfully(and insightfully) pointed out that one of the most fascinating aspects of  Wikipedia lies in the discussion tab.

It’s not just that wikis allow us to create websites where we can add links easily, but that they have a “comments” or discussion area, where the joint creators of the wiki can hold debates.

In today’s Wall Street Journal article, “Forget the Articles,  Best Wikipedia Read Is Its Discussions” Lee Gomes explores some of the passionate, esoteric, behind the scenes Wikipedia debates.  

Not only was it entertaining reading, but it started me thinking about student projects using wikis.    What are the possibilities of having students produce “encyclopedic” articles for a project as a team, and letting them use the discussion area to hash out the details?  What happens when you let them pick their own passionate areas of interest to write the articles on (like Halo, for example)?   Would the debate that is sparked illuminate their thinking about it?

Cnn News today and Wired Magazine featured a new ingenious software application which allows you to see what IP address edited particular articles on Wikipedia.  It’s the brainchild of a college student of course ;).  

The idea was to illuminate if corporations, agencies, entities, politicians, etc. were editing their own sites on Wikipedia, and to show what edits had been done, since Wikipedia allows that information to be viewed.  It takes transparency to a new level, (maybe one that is a little scary).  But then maybe it’s the added layer of transparency needed by Wikipedia to keep contributors ‘honest’ so to speak. 

What changes for students when they understand that information isn’t something set in stone?  When they realize that even information that is pre-packaged in a printed book or database was hashed out during the editing process?  That writing is a matter of choices?
That some writers have bias or hidden agendas?   That writers feel passionate about their subjects?

And can we translate these examples into a more concrete understanding of the choices made for a news broadcast or newspaper article, for example, or for a textbook, to help create more info savvy students?   Can we translate it into students’ understanding why writers have passion, and inspire them to write about their own passions?

Having a window into the editing process is such a powerful teaching and learning opportunity.  It feels like a fundamental shift in how we teach, learn, and communicate.  

I’m looking forward this year to attempting projects where we exploit more of the power of wikis to build a knowledge consensus, to create community, to empower students to be contributors, and to enable them to better understand the choices writers make.

I’d like to gather examples for my own workshop site of wikis from other campuses, so if you have one you’d like to share, please respond, and I’ll add it to my list of examples!

5 thoughts on “It’s all in the discussion

  1. Carolyn,
    Curious to hear how you will implement these changes at your school. How receptive to innovation are your colleagues? Does change have to come from administration?
    I’d love for my kids to attend your HS if you can promote these types of projects.

  2. Karen,

    I feel like teachers are receptive. I try to approach it at the assignment level, and fit ideas like this into a project someone is already working on, and talk about how using a wiki might add some helpful capabilities to a project.

    I have a lot of things I want to try out this year. We used wikis some the last two years, but I want to take it to a deeper level this year, and use the power of the tool more.

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