I had the good fortune to chat with Charles Nesson for about 10 minutes yesterday…he happened to be walking by when I was looking at his picture hanging among all of the tenured Harvard law professors on the walls of one of the buildings here. Somehow we started talking about Wikipedia, and he mentioned that his wife was a teacher and that she was trying to understand the implications of Wikipedia as well. The story goes that her students run to Wikipedia when they are assigned research, which rightfully concerns her and her colleagues. So when her students go beyond Wikipedia to gather their research, at the end of that process she asks them to compare what they’ve written to the online entry. Invariaby, what the students create is better than Wikipedia. Teachable moment, right?
Here’s the kicker. I asked him if she then took the next step, if she had her students then add what they had learned to the Wikipedia entry. And it was obvious to me that he had the same idea. But the answer was no, she didn’t. I got the sense that the ramifications of doing so, good or bad, were just too unclear, too far outside the comfort zone.
And just now, that was all pretty much borne out when they created a wiki for participants to “practice” on. We were all supposed to by parents in a school district that was failing academically, and we were supposed to start rewriting the curriculum. It was, let’s say, less than a success, for a number of reasons, not the least of which that very few had a clear idea of what wikis were all about or how they worked. You could tell that a lot of people just thought the whole concept was pretty much of a non-starter.
And so it goes…