WIKIS

Wikipedia

According to teachersfirst.com, a wiki is a website that permits site visitors to become participants by creating and editing the website content without any special tools. Another powerful feature of a wiki is the democratization of the process whereby any authorized user can revert back the content to a previous level to modify input and historical versions. This is an essential component of wikis to help move content forward.

While searching for the term wiki, the first eighteen pages of a Google search are all related to Wikipedia. I am often puzzled when educators blindly disregard the validity and reliability of Wikipedia content, the mother of all wikis. The most common complaint seems to be about the legitimacy of the content, despite existing studies dating back to 2005, or articles encouraging the Wikipedia model for research studies publication in 2008, or a lawyer’s perspective on using and citing Wikipedia. Information literacy is an important part of the learning process. Therefore, no bodies of information should be taken for granted, regardless of the source.

I remember growing up and relying on a singular volume of encyclopedia at home, or at best, access to the voluminous copies of Encyclopedia of Britannica in the library. Granted, the content came from vetted expert perspectives, nevertheless, the content is still skewed from a singular cultural perspective. For example, in the West, Genghis Khan is considered a merciless ruler that ruthlessly dominated the world through destruction. Yet, rightly or not, in Mongolia he is still worshiped as a god like hero. His commandments are still followed to this day. Conversely, we view Alexander the Great as a hero and a conqueror in West, yet in parts of the East and central Asia he is considered a murderer who destroyed cultures and burnt libraries. It is a perspective that is not often explored in the West.

From my viewpoint, wikis permit the democratization of content. Perspectives from experts as well as novices help form a bigger picture.  Some authors believe Crowd sourcing is informative and often as reliable as a field expert’s perspective. If not, then at a minimum it can help shape the conversation. Beyond that, wikis can help form learning communities which would not have been imaginable otherwise. Overcoming distance and time permits common enthusiasts working together to share knowledge and contribute to a singular source.

Wikis can also facilitate democratization of conversation through the talk tab built into Wikipedia. This is an arena where experts, novice, enthusiasts, and even students can discuss various perspectives before forming consensus on knowledge construction. Granted, it is still not a perfect system, but I believe students should be trained to take part in these conversations to help develop research skills. They cannot only converse with field experts in a natural setting, but also contribute to the body of knowledge.

The availability of multiple languages can also help shape different perspectives. Topics in Wikipedia are not identical across different languages. Emphasis is made based on local interest and passion. For example, Abraham Lincoln in the English version of Wikipedia holds over two hundred references. However, in French or in Punjabi it holds only nine, but not the same nine resources. Nonetheless, these references may hold different sets of information that may still uncover facts about Lincoln that may have been lost in history from a different perspective unbeknown to us. Built-in web-browser translators such as Google Translate facilitate access to such treasures transparently with a click of a button.

Last but not least, a free encyclopedia that is available worldwide in multiple languages at no cost can bring knowledge to the far corners of our world. It is not just the richness of the resource in various languages, but also the portability of the knowledge. A classroom in a village in Afghanistan can instantly have access to volumes of information equivalent to the best libraries across the world. Knowledge at our finger tips, anytime, anywhere.

The perspective offered here does not just apply to Wikipedia. Any content developed on a classroom WikiSpaces has the same potential. Schools can form their own web presences using wikis. For example, teachers working together can create their own digital textbooks or class resources in multiple languages in an open source environment. This will free up precious resources for more needy purposes in education such as the purchase of digital devices to access such vast resources. After all, why would students want to limit themselves to a linear, sequential, non-searchable, singular heavy object that is a detriment to their posture called a textbook?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: