Wikipedia is near enough good enough

97338266_ed37f724dfWhich is more important – getting the answer right or learning how to get the answer right?.  Rather than run PD on skills, maybe you need a U-Turn?

Googling the word ‘solar energy’ at the time of writing responded with  23,500,000 references. That is a lot of reading, which may be one reason that students often favour Wikipedia in which thousands of people try to define and classify the term in just a handful of pages. They don’t see the value in understanding how that summary has been arrived at. Its just there to use.  Learning to how to get the answer is the part of learning that should be teaching with ICTs.

Wikipedia is not always right (as students will often tell you), but they do think it is ‘accurate enough’. For so long, they have been copying and pasting its content into essays and presentations that teacher in-action has made it acceptable.

But what are teachers doing to guide them though the critical thinking processes to evaluate information? What formative scaffolds are in place to be able to show the development in understanding though critical analysis of information from a wide range of sources?

Jenny Luca spoke recently in an online discussion in the Powerful Learning Practice network meeting. As a teacher librarian in a girls secondary school, she has noticed that non-fiction borrowing is almost nil because students turn to the internet for faster ways to get ‘facts’.

I don’t see this as a problem with ‘the internet’ or that books may become redundant,. I see a problem with assessment.

Assessment has been based on repeating ‘content’ back to the teacher in classrooms since back in the day. Mapping student response to syllabus ‘content’ and therefore meeting a learning outcome is the accepted method in most classrooms.

But there is no new learning in using the Internet to do this. It is simply a searching task. Wikipedia is as students say ‘accurate enough’ to give a matched response to question, and pass. When students present an essay or PowerPoint – teachers tick the ‘ICT box’ and the ‘content’ box. Teachers accept that is ‘near enough’ too. Seriously, how could any 14 year old not be able to present a graphical, accurate slideshow to explain ‘solar energy’.

A teacher will say ‘yeah, but I have a test – so if they don’t learn it, then they will fail’. Is that the point of learning to pass a test at the end – or to develop and support them in the process of learning. Testing is not a ‘digital insurance’ policy just in case your students Googled the answer.

Use a test to check to see if students learned ‘enough’ at the end seems to be an acceptance that what you did in the process of learning was not sufficient to gauge the depth of their learning without it.

Teachers need to learn how to use ICTs to develop independent critical thinkers and devise formative strategies that demonstrate a continued effort and growth in student understanding. This is academic not technology skill development.

Professional Development needs to be a three step process.

Firstly teachers need to become ‘media’ and ‘network’ literate and understand how technology and people impact learning. Secondly, they need to want to stop teaching. They need want to become designers, mediators and facilitators of the process of learning. They need to develop ‘media’ aware formative assessment methods that demonstrate how students derive meaning and answers, not just repeat them. Lastly, they develop greater awareness technology itself in order to learn about and select the appropriate ‘tools’ to achieve these goals. They won’t and can’t do step three without the first two.

I worry that the term Web2.0 immediately means ‘software’ when talked about in staff rooms and PD sessions. In order to begin to understand how to use any of it effectively to change learning, it is critical to start at the beginning, not the end. ‘Looking at Web2.0 tools’ is the end of the journey, not the start. It all starts with curriculum renewal, which leads to professional development onto effective classrooms, engaged learning and better outcomes – for students. It’s academic development just as much as it is technological.

2 thoughts on “Wikipedia is near enough good enough

  1. I remember hearing Dave Weinberger talk about sometimes content is “good enough”. Wikipedia is exactly that. It’s not about depth but much of what we need to know doesn’t need to be deep or even totally accurate.

    Example: when I go to a Food Court and am looking for a hamburger it doesn’t have to be the best hamburger in the world, just good enough. Bascially any sandwich with beef and bun and a few fixings will do. If I’m going out for a nice dinner, I want more than good enough.

    Understanding when good enough is okay, is important. That too is a key component of good assessment, particularly when we’re talking about assessment FOR learning rather than evaluation. Providing students with feedback on the quality of their work is important but always asking them to “do their best” often means becoming bogged down in details when they have done “good enough”. Knowing when to have them bear down and go deep, is a quality more teachers and institutions need to decipher.

  2. I recently got introduced to a book called “Pragmatic Thinking and Learning” by Andy Hunt. It’s based on the Dreyfus Model and is geared toward programmers, but I think there’s applicability. According to Hunt, novice thinkers tend to copy and paste, advanced beginners need a template to jump off from, competent thinkers move beyond matching on rules, etc. etc.

    Anyway, it struck me that part of the problem you touched on is that teachers aren’t asking their students to be anything more than novice thinkers. In the past, gathering information required more than novice thinking because the information search was challenging enough. Gathering the data fostered thinking and forced the filtering of input in order to generate meaningful output. The Internet has raised (or lowered) the bar, though, making the introductory information search much more trivial (Wikipedia, Cha-Cha, or more targeted sites like Experts-Exchange). Hence, gathering data has become primarily mindless (even more so).

    Like you said in the post, something needs to change. Teachers are going to have to change their style of teaching to require the same kind of thought that they used to expect during the information aggregation phase. It’s not enough to just say “tell me about solar energy,” since that’s solved with “Google — define: solar energy”. The data’s so easy to gather, now we can move right into analysis and opinions, collaboration and discussion. It’s quite a big shift, and I think everyone agrees it’s going to take some time. But like it or not, it really is a step up in my opinion.

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