I think and write so much about the creation and contribution of content using blogs and wikis and the like that sometimes I think I neglect the other half of the equation, the consumption of blog and wiki and podcast content by students and teachers. And it’s becoming obvious that it’s a much needed and important dialogue that I have to start with teachers here, especially those in the English and Social Studies departments where the research loads are heaviest.
I was reminded of this by a conversation I had this morning with our school librarian who had seen a mention of Wikipedia on a technology in-service agenda we’ve been planning for next month. She wanted to know how we were going to position Wikipedia as a tool for research, and I said that although I felt it was probably as good a place as any to learn about the less controversial topics in the world, I could understand why she and others didn’t feel it should be offered up as a trusted source. But I added that it was important for teachers to understand what Wikipedia was all about, and that they and their students could use it as a tool for learning about information literacy and source validation. Which led to a more intense conversation about the use of blogs in research. I know there are teachers here who will not let students use Weblogs as sources for all the standard they-aren’t-edited reasons. And I said to the librarian and to the English chair, who had dropped in to listen to our conversation, that there are tens of thousands (if not more) blogs and bloggers creating more than valid research content and that we had to at least start some serious professional development efforts to teach them how to assess Weblogs for validity and accuracy. Which led to an even larger discussion about the state of copyright and plagiarism and… Suffice to say, it got pretty intense.
These are conversations that I know a lot of teachers and supervisors don’t really want to have. It’s a big shift. I know much of that hesitancy is based on not knowing how to find the potentially good sources, how to do the assessment, and how to successfully navigate a research process that is becoming less individualized and more and more social. To me, there’s no way we do it without first expanding our definition of “trusted sources” and without re-examining the process in that context. The disruption of self-publishing and open content and transparent negotiation of meaning and the rest require us to start making sure our teachers understand what’s happening so they can teach students effective practice. So I’ve set one of my goals for the first two months of school to create that Moodle site that I wrote about before, for teachers first and perhaps, if the comfort level is there, for parents next. I’m going to try to work on a syllabus this week…suggestions welcomed.