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Wikis, lies, and video clips ...

The battle lines are drawn.

On one side are librarians, second-semester writing teachers, and the history department at Middlebury College. On the other are legions of students and a handful of academics who see possibilities for integrating emerging technologies and their corresponding behaviors into the first "knowledge disciplines."

What's at stake here is not the reliability of Wikipedia or other online encyclopedias: a 2005 study commissioned by Nature revealed that Wikipedia compares favorably to Encyclopedia Britannica in terms of accuracy in selected science articles. Nor is the issue whether any type of encyclopedia, online or otherwise, is appropriate as a primary source for research writing. Instead, the challenge is moving from 20th Century research and writing skills toward 21st Century skills.

At one time, not all that long ago, research writing was limited by access to information. Unless community college students were willing to drive to the closest research library, their topics had to be very carefully chosen. Writing a paper was simply a matter of presenting the information one had found.

In 2007, the stakes are higher. Virtually any information known to our species is available almost immediately, or in rare cases within a day or two. Finding information is no longer the challenge: contextualizing it and applying it are the new standards for successful research writing.

Similarly, educational technology only a few years ago revolved around providing file and print sharing services. Now educational technology seeks to build communities of learners who collaborate together in the building of knowledge structures. Wikis, and other social information networks, are ideal tools to support that process.

Students come to college already familiar with the power of such networks. It's hard to find a first-year college student who doesn't have a MySpace or Facebook account. Colleges have missed the boat on other technologies that students already own and incorporate. Cell phones, for instance, are almost universal and almost universally ignored, even banned by college policy and practice. Colleges have done a little better with MP3 players, but continue to see them as one way conduits for pushing information. What if students produced Podcasts for their classes rather than listening to lectures or supplementary material?

What if students built networks of related facts, dates, statistics, ideas--even events and movements--using the technology of Wikis to share drafts, argue and counter argue, and eventually synthesize their analysis into a coherent view of the subject matter, one that would cross disciplines and involve students (and instructors) with diverse interests and abilities?

The technology of Wikis allows users to interact asynchronously (and sometimes synchronously) in a shared thought/writing space, a model that will soon expand to include audio and video. One can argue that vlogs and video responses in YouTube and other similar sites have already begun that expansion. For an excellent example of this process in action, consider the Digital Ethnography project at Kansas State University, particularly the piece, "The Web is Us(ing) Us." A link appears at the end of this article.

So the question that most needs answering isn't whether Wikis should be allowed as citations in research papers, but whether colleges will embrace them as a tool for producing core learning skills for the 21st Century.

References

Digital Ethnography@Kansas State (2007). http://www.mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/

Giles, Jim (14 Dec 2005; updated 28 Mar 2006). Internet encyclopaedias go head to head. News@Nature.com http://www.nature. corn/news/2005/051212/full/438900a.html

Jaschik, Scott (26 Jan 2007). A stand against Wikipedia. Inside Higher Ed News. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/01/26/ wiki

Mr. Harris is a professor of English at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan.
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Author:Harris, Mark
Publication:Community College Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2007
Words:609
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