Busting Up the Monopoly on Knowledge Production

Dariusz Jemielniak is a professor of management at Kozminski University, in Poland, a Wikimedia activist, and author of Common Knowledge: An Ethnography of Wikipedia. He views  Wikipedia as a professor's best friend.  He quotes Michael Gorman, a former president of the American Library Association, who wrote some years ago that "a professor who encourages the use of Wikipedia is the intellectual equivalent of a dietitian who recommends a steady diet of Big Macs with everything."

Jemielniak not only recommends that his students use Wikipedia but also encourages them to edit and develop it. I tried the same thing with my graduate students about 5 years ago. I wanted them to (1) find a topic in our area of study that has no Wikipedia article (2) create an account and post a first version (3) make additional contributions and get the article to survive until the end of the semester. They told me it was one of the hardest assignments we did. Some could barely get past part one.

I often think that teachers are fearful of Wikipedia because they don't really understand how it works. "Anyone can change something," they say, and that is true. But see if the change lasts. If it's inaccurate or opinion, it will vanish quickly.

Even though studies going back to 2005 show that Wikipedia does not have significantly more errors than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, people doubt it. Teachers at all levels may tell students "You're not allowed to use it in in your research" (as if they could actually monitor student research at all), but those teachers are very likely to use Wikipedia in their own informal or formal research.

Wikipedia has significantly grown and improved in the past decade and it's no surprise that articles often turn up at the top of search results. Everyone uses it.

Jemielniak thinks that the "real reasons for the general dislike of Wikipedia among scholars" is because they are used to having a "monopoly on knowledge production." The idea of these open-source loonies creating and managing knowledge without anyone wanting remuneration or even credit is absurd.

Do students plagiarize from Wikipedia? Yes, as they once did from books and have more easily done ever since we had word processing and the Internet.

And yet, the American Sociological Association and the American Psychological Association have started initiatives aimed at encouraging scholars and students to help develop Wikipedia.

One project I like is the Wikipedia Education Program which carries the tagline: "The end of throwaway assignments and the beginning of real-world impact for student editors."

It's not a difficult idea to use. Professors around the world assign their students to use Wikipedia to contribute to articles on course-related topics. More than 6,500 students have participated in the Wikipedia Education Program around the
world, adding the equivalent of 45,000 printed pages of quality content to more than 10,000 Wikipedia articles in multiple languages.

Writing a Wikipedia article is an excellent academic assignment that requires research, synthesizing facts, teaches how to properly use third-party sources, and is resilient to plagiarism. Wikipedians (those monitors of the pages) are more watchful for signs of plagiarism than teachers.

Just that first part of my assignment - finding a topic that is not yet covered on Wikipedia - requires imagination and a need to review sources with an eye to finding research gaps. These assignments have a life online too. They don't get a glance at the grade and a toss into the recycle basket. Some students remain connected to the article and monitor changes, and continue to write and edit other articles. I've never had a student write another essay that wasn't assigned.

The idea of sharing knowledge with those who do not have the knowledge or easy access also seems to be an ethical obligation that faculty and students should recognize and participate in making better.

One site I found is Adrianne Wadewitz's HASTAC blog. She was hired as an educational consultant by the Wikimedia Foundation and posts about teaching with Wikipedia and especially on gender.

Following the links below, teachers and students can use available instructions and training from Wikipedia on how to do this activity in an academic setting.

Just looking at the second of Wikipedia’s Five Pillars is a worthwhile discussion in any class involving writing:

"Wikipedia has a neutral point of view.
- Strive for articles that document and explain the major points of view in a balanced and impartial manner.
- Avoid advocacy. Characterize information and issues rather than debate them.
- In some areas there may be just one well-recognized point of view; in other areas we describe multiple points of view, presenting each accurately and in context, and NOT presenting any point of view as "the truth" or "the best view".
Please note: All article content should be verifiable based on published material. That means citing published, authoritative sources, especially on controversial topics and when the subject is a living person. Unreferenced material can be removed. Articles should not feature editors' personal experiences, interpretations, or opinions."

Good writing advice to all writers in all settings.

Further Reading

Download a nice 12 page PDF on How to_Use_Wikipedia_as_a_Teaching_Tool

Get involved as a teacher with the Wikipedia Education Program or as a student

Is Your College's Website Ready for Prospective Students?

High school students home on holiday breaks are often looking at college sites and lining up the schools they want to visit in the spring. The title of an article on The Chronicle site tells part of what needs to be there: "Your College's New Website Is Student-Focused, Mobile-Optimized, and Probably Long Overdue."

The article focuses on the website for Columbia College Chicago and comparisons to its early 2014 version and its recent redesign. The part of the article that caught my attention was the decision to focus on potential students, rather than current students, faculty and staff. "Outward-facing" sites are an idea that appealed to me when I was involved in a college redesign about 8 years ago, but that wasn't the trend back then.

From the article (emphasis mine):
"The new website’s home page would be aimed at only one audience: potential students. Since the home page often creates the first impression for not only the site but also the entire institution, it is the logical place to speak to prospects, says William L. Vautrain, director of digital and online strategy at Columbia.

The new home page would provide clear and easy access to what that the team’s research found potential students wanted most: information about programs, admissions, and financial aid. That information, he says, was "completely hidden away" on Columbia’s old site. The new website would be designed with mobile browsing in mind. About half of four-year colleges now have mobile-optimized websites...

The new website would be leaner and cleaner. Trying to make things simple for prospective students, and for mobile-friendly design, means a radically scaled-back site over all. Rather than paragraphs of explanatory text, a few precise sentences would have to do. And much of the content found on many university websites—departmental pages, administrative information, internal information for current students and faculty members (some of it out of date)—would be handled on separate sites or in password-protected areas. Many pages would not exist on the new site at all. The old Columbia website contained about 36,000 pages, Mr. Vautrain says. The new site has 944.

read more chronicle.com/article/Your-Colleges-New-Website-Is/150189/

Is Online Teaching Student-Centered?

I'm looking over a review of an article from the Higher Education Research Institute at the UCLA that has comprehensive national data sets on the attitudes and working conditions of undergraduate instructors.

The section that interested me talks about at their finding that even if professors are not embracing all-online instruction, they using methods that they feel increases student-centered learning and that is often about using technology.

They report that less than one in five faculty members report teaching exclusively online and report a "lack of movement" among faculty to teaching a course exclusively online. In their
 2012 report, 14% said they’d taught a course online and this year it was 17%. The highest percentages are, not surprisingly, at public four-year colleges where 27% have taught online. (But still up only 3% since the last report.)

Who is least likely to report teaching fully online? Full professors

Inside Higher Ed's own recent survey of faculty attitudes toward technology also suggests that despite widespread skepticism of fully-online instruction, faculty seem to be moving toward “student-centered methods.” (Based on responses from 16,112 full-time undergraduate teaching faculty members at 269 four-year colleges and universities.)

What would be examples of this student-centered shift?
- 83 percent reported using class discussions in all or most of their classes
- using student-to-student evaluation was up 18% to 28% this year
- using student-selected topics for course content went from 9-26%

But some stats - increased use of YouTube and other videos in the classroom - does not fall under the heading of student-centered for me.

Those who teach in business, engineering, fine arts and education are the ones most likely to say they “frequently" assign work requiring their students to work outside of class with classmates.

The report also points to some external pressures to make learning more student-centered, such as the National Science Foundation awarding large grants for experimentation with such techniques.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the shift is stronger with junior faculty, but that indicates that the shift is likely to increase over time.

Gettin Some SOLE

Educational researcher Dr. Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall experiments have shown that, in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest.

In 1999, Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.

More recently, Sugata has inviting parents and teachers globally to setup their own Self-Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) by downloading his toolkit and creating their own learning environments.

Self-directed learning is not new. Malcolm Knowles published Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. It reads like a text published last week, talking about the changing landscape of life and learning in an information age, the value of place-based learning, the need for teachers to be mentors and facilitators and project-based learning. Learner-centered education.

                    This is Mitra's 2013 TED Prize talk.

Knowles wrote that the most critical part of a curriculum is helping students learn how to learn for themselves. That seems obvious but he makes a point to contrast this as very different from learning how to learn from teachers. The latter consists largely of skills like listening, remembering, taking notes and taking tests to prove that you have done so.

Okay, that is a pretty harsh view of classrooms, but compared to self-directed learning it is quite different. The goals of SOLE or self-directed learning is to prepare for a lifetime of learning, unlearning, and relearning as knowledge changes from year to year or decade to decade.

Do most students ask great questions, establish their learning goals, devise a personal learning plan and leverage their existing knowledge? Probably not. Teachers do it for them.

Knowles was writing before the Internet and YouTube, Wikipedia, Google, online learning, MOOCs, Skype, Google Hangouts, blogging, and social media. Taking Knowles self-directed model of connecting with local resources and connect it to the Net and it might come close to Mitra's vision.

It might frighten teachers and schools to envision learning in the absence of any direct input from a teacher. This environment is no small feat to create. It needs to stimulate curiosity, allow learning through self-instruction and offer peer-shared knowledge.

Mitra is now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK). He likes to call this approach "minimally invasive education."

Could it be as simple as putting a computer in front of kids and letting them go?  No. And I don't Knowles or Mitra means it to be. The desire is to make schools prepare students to be self-directed learners by making their curriculum more student-centered.

Download the SOLE Toolkit on How to Bring Self-Organized Learning Environments to Your Community