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.

The power of reflective practice

This is a thread from a current 9th grade project that is drawing to a close. You’d think that as most kids have presented and handing in their project that activity in the Study Group would be slowing down. So I was suprised to see the sudden appearance of a forum topic :


What is even more powerful is that fact that it clocked up over 120 comments in a day or so. There are a percentage of students that really benefitted and understood the purpose of being in a reflective writing community, a number of others, saw it as work – lots of work. The reality is that it wasn’t ‘work’ as in a task.

I don’t encourage ‘marking’ blogs. I think that that approach gives the impression that being a reflective, individual learner is tied to a ‘task’ and then in turn a ‘judgment’.

Here’s an example of why:

1 more thing based to my perspective i also think that the blogs weren’t really necessary even though it helps the teachers to see what we are learning i just reckon the affect they have on our marks was just to much cause we had quite a percentage coming out of them so yea. BLOGS = NO GOOD.

They understand that blogging helps teachers to help them – but they don’t want this to be a measuring tool. When designing a project, this writing is put into the rubric as ‘participation and work effort’. This means that the student is left to judge how many posts, when to post and what to post. The biggest single motivator is peer pressure, explicit and implicit.

Designing a project, and then facilitating it collaboratively works better when it is large group. But that means you have to know how to do it, manage it and lead it – online. That isn’t something you are going to pick up unless it is extensively modeled and supported.

This seems a little odd in comparison to what Shirky talks about as the ‘tragedy of the commons’ – in which he argues that when more than 5 people come together, getting a concensus agreement is very difficult. As you add more people, it becomes even more complex.

By using a large group in an discource community it becomes easier. Students work in micro-groups, but when they are writing as individuals, they are drawing knowledge and motivation from the macro-group.

Tanuj you said “projects in PBL r never fun but its r imagination and creativity that make it fun……. ”

I have found some projects to be fun including the designing digital media (photoshop car) project, our current animation project, and even the images of Jesus project, mainly because of the photoshop aspect, and best of all SPJ!!, just to mention a few.

This student obviously enjoys learning ‘mastery skills’, but never the less does engage in the macro discourse.

Comment by Charbel Assaf 1 day ago Tanuj, what are you tallking about?
Anyway i have to agree with all of comments made. I think thay all made a valid point. But I do have to agree with Gabby. I commented Mr. Henry’s blog and told him the same thing. I think we should of used a better program. As in our need to know list stated, ‘Which It program should we use,’ I think we should of been given the chance to choose a program, not just be forced to use one of the teachers choice. Anyway its all good. But overall I sort of did enjoy the project, I have to say this project was better than previous projects.

This student is talking about how he feels empowered to give a teacher a comment about being able to select alternate technologies – as he’s identified, in agreement with others, that they he thinks he knows a better way and is able to justify reasons for that. As these students have been ‘pushed’ to write reflectively about their own learning, and draw on the macro learning – after only a few weeks, we are seeing them being critical of not just their own work, but how they learn.

That to me is evidence that EdTech can work for both students and teachers. To be able to design projects strategically to get these reactions is at least as important as meeting outcomes/standards – which is where they begin to talk about their past experiences.

Id love do secondlife and us it as a tool to help our knowledge of the new technology we have in this new aged world also it would be a good tool for , to be houst it was quit boring but secondlife would make it funner.

This is addressing that a presentation or product looks like.

Yes, i would agree with you Reece, i would of liked to use Second Life as a tool in order to succeed my project by getting a A or B. I think that this is a great idea Reece, it would of been alot better in my opinion, so i could show you fellow students what i think Westmead can look like instead of copy and pasting information and solar panels,water tank’s etc.

Here are two students discussing the benefit of the ‘tool’ (their language). They are comparing using Photoshop to doctor images in 2D with being able to create them in 3D. The see a value in it.

They also check what we are checking …

Mr Hays, if I was you, I would have checked that comment more thoroughly before submitting it when your talking about spelling errors because I know the first thing I did after reading it was to go over it and search for spelling errors, and I am sorry to say but I found two. (not to be a smart ass but I found it quite funny)

But even that is an opportunity for an English teacher to get involved and re-address the learning.

Well Reece you need to check YOUR spelling of YOUR.. it should be YOU’RE as you are saying when you’re talking about spelling..

The last two are probably one of the most important. In an online community, you have to relinquish power. You have to accept that there is an ebb and flow of communication, language and hierarchy that probably has never existed before – and that challenges teachers as it is a fundamental shift in pedagogy.

I think that is the same for this project for social studies. Previously, you would have been given a series of broadsheets discussing spatial inequality in some part of Australia that you have never heard of or ever been too. However, in this project you were able to apply your knowledge to something real that you see every day. We learn by doing!

This is talking about the cartesian learning verses collaborative learning in a discource community. But they also notice their perception of how engaged the teachers are with them – and they know what that engagement has a direct impact on their learning.

one thing I notice is that 9.3/9.4 teachers are not using ning as much as the others? could be the reason why the other classes are head of us? :s

9.3/9.4 teachers should be up equal with the other class teachers because 9.3/9.4 are so far behind… Its not fair on the students..

I was asked how we should deal with comments like the last two? – Should we close the thread? I argue not. I think that there is a right of reply offered, and that during the process, teachers had equal opportunity – at least in class. If a proportion of the learning is in Second Life – then go to Second Life, if another is in Ning, then work in Ning – it exposed the embedded notion that learning is linked to geographic proximity when it should be linked to a ‘zone of proximity learning’.

EdTech is about designing ‘projects’ that draw out learners in multiple ways – to make reflection authentic as well as making the project authentic. I am really over people talking about ‘tools’ and ‘possibilities’. I dont know what is not possible right now – so that’s what I want to learn from the inter-webs and other teachers – but I want to see it, be involved in it – not listen to camp fire tales.

This is what I am looking forward to in the Powerful Learning Project – the engagement. And what I want to see happen is that the frameworks created and lessons learned are not talked about later – but work shopped and unconferenced later – to me PLP’s value is to take it on the road in Australia and NZ. We really need it!

Final Word on this : Here’s a tip for ALL VENDORS – get people an/or kids in a room and let them work with the technology – Employ an EdTech to show you what your stuff can REALLY do – You’ll sell more stuff and create better teachers and learners – email me: I’ll show you how to end the digital winter and discussions around ‘what will it do in the classroom’. You’re missing the opportunity! (But I’ve been listening to Kid Rock all week, so yeah I’m cocky).