I can hear your grumblings already. The word “social” has come to take over our lives and has attached itself to new concepts like social media, social networking, and social learning. But unless you predict the demise of Google, Twitter, and Facebook anytime soon, it is part of what we do and in fact, has proven quite useful for educators all over the world. You only need to check out the latest #edchat stream on Twitter, join Classroom 2.0, or attend a local EdCamp to see how pervasive it has become in our industry. So why has the idea of social knowledge on Wikipedia become so taboo when talking about research in academia? After all, Wikipedia is the best place to start research on anything. Here’s why.
Media literacy has become a critical component in K-20 learning and an important skill for all successful learners. It has become far less important to deliver knowledge to students and much more critical to show them how to teach themselves. It is a simple skill to read a document and take it for face value, but a much higher skill would involve the understanding of bias, deciphering truth, and verifying the information in the document as a thorough investigator. And educators can teach their students to do just that. This puts Wikipedia in a unique position to serve as a powerful and accurate repository of information and as a place where talented researchers can hone their craft.
Furthermore, if we are guiding learners to become e-consumers and discriminatory toward the data they collect, it makes sense that we provide quality resources to support the process. It just so happens that Wikipedia aggregates the resources related to a topic for us at the end of each entry. Scroll to the bottom of any entry and you will see anywhere from several to hundreds of cited sources – often with active links for students to drill down further. For instance, after reading the entry for Benjamin Franklin, I noticed the active link to his autobiography in the notes. I was further intrigued by the wealth of American and European history embedded in this deeper content. Isn’t this why hypertext was invented? So we can have rich and interactive media? I was overtaken by the inquiry and discovery within these links. It would have been easy to spend a few hours just surfing these resources, and isn’t that what we want for our learners?
So we have the choice – continue to hold on to our sacred cows of research or embrace new media and social knowledge with the focus on helping the next generation of leaders grow as talented, diverse, and discriminatory investigators of media-rich information. I choose the latter. I am not going to ask students to do research on a Commodore 64, watch documentaries on a VCR, or waste time digging for a book on a ladder on the fifth floor of the library. It’s time to move on.
Find more information about Wikipedia at its own Wikipedia entry here.