Wikipedia as a reference (part II)

A few months ago I mentioned the fact that the use of Wikipedia as a source of credible information for students is something we should encourage.  Whether we like it or not, we need to acknowledge that students are using Wikipedia, as well as other online sources that aren’t nearly as credible.  Rather than ban
it outright, which would be like trying to fight the tide, we
should teach students to use online resources responsibly and critically.

Here are a few guidelines that may help students get the most benefit from articles on Wikipedia.

1. Citation link
Students will cite online sources but often will format the citation poorly. In the left hand navigation column (the “Toolbox” box) of the relevant article on Wikipedia, you’ll see a link titled “Cite this page”.  Clicking it will provide you with a correctly formatted citation for that article in several different styles (e.g. APA, Chicago, etc.).  It also includes a great explanation of why you shouldn’t be using an encyclopedia
as a primary reference.

2. Reference lists
Most good articles will have comprehensive in-text citations and complete reference lists at the end. Encourage students to use these and other cues to establish the credibility of an article.

3. Add and improve
Students should be encouraged to add to and improve the content available on Wikipedia. If they see information they know to be incorrect, advise them on how to correct it, checking grammar and spelling and adding references to back up their contention.

4. Follow up on external links
Encourage students to follow up on the list of external links and references at the end of each article. That way, they may begin to understand the academic discourse that leads to the clarification and discussion of ideas in a specific field, as well as read the original sources of information.

By discussing these issues with students and providing them with the tools to critically analyse and evaluate the usefulness of content, they may learn how to distinguish between high quality, credible articles, and those which should just be used to provide background information.

Edit (25/09/08): Here’s a link to an article discussing a “study” of the use of Wikipedia by students.  It’s interesting because of the subject but also because it gives some insight into the research method used to come up with the data:

Conference: Higher education as a social space

I just found out that the abstract I submitted for the Higher Education as a Social Space conference has been accepted.  I’ll be presenting a paper on the use of ICT by physiotherapy students
in South Africa, based on the results of my masters thesis.

The conference will take place in Grahamstown from the 30 November to the 03 December and will include the following themes:

  • Institutional development (including quality management and enhancement)
  • Curriculum in higher education (including teaching, learning and assessment)
  • Academic staff development
  • Student development
  • Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in teaching and learning

Obviously my main interest is in the use of ICTs in teaching and learning, but I’m hoping to attend a few presentations looking at curriculum in HE.

e-Learning is not an option

A few weeks ago I posted a quote by David Warlick who suggested that e-learning is not an optional approach to education and in fact has little to do with good teaching (Digital kids / Analogue schools). He points out that it’s merely a tool that’ll be used with varying degrees of success, which will be dependant on the quality of the teacher, not the tool.

This idea that e-learning is happening whether we like it or not, was highlighted to me the other day when I received a letter regarding a conference taking place in Israel that will look at the management of higher education institutions. The author, Dr. Joseph Shevel writes:

“This shift from reading books to e-learning isn’t optional; it doesn’t depend upon the assessment of educational experts as to whether it is good or bad. It doesn’t depend on whether these institutions are ready for such dramatic change. Regardless of whether they have the money, the infrastructure, the staff, the skills – or most significantly – the online content – digital delivery is now a reality of every classroom…”

Dr. Shevel goes on to say that “e-learning is here to stay, it will increasingly become a vital item in the training plan, there is a growing need for experts in designing digital teaching and learning, and in response, we must learn how and when to use it to it’s and our best advantage”.

The question is not whether e-learning works because e-learning is already happening. Our students are using this new methodology in the way they work, socialise and communicate, right now. The question is: “What are we going to do about it?”

Facebook privacy and copyright issues

I know that there’s quite a lot of interest in using Facebook, the social networking site, as a platform for interaction with students (1, 2). Whether that interaction is going to be on a social level (and the implications of that alone are certainly food for thought) or academically, it’s worth taking note of Facebook’s Terms of use, which states that:

“By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

And it’s Privacy Policy:

Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (e.g., photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalized experience. By using Facebook, you are consenting to have your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to say we should avoid using Facebook as a platform for engaging with students. However, I’d strongly urge anyone considering this option to be aware of the fact that Facebook is essentially a closed environment over which you have no control and it seems that the copyright of any and all content published on the site will revert to Facebook, to do with as they will.

Teaching and learning workshop outcomes

Two weeks ago I attended a teaching and learning workshop on campus that was pretty interesting. I just received an email from the coordinator highlighting the following key points that were raised:

  1. Our students…experience many social problems and this could be regarded as a barrier to their learning.
  2. As lecturers we have to make active use of the support structures on campus when we are constructing our curricula, which means we have to involve our librarians and the individuals in the Centre for Student Support Services and other support structures on campus in an active
    process of collaboration. This could mean that we involve these individuals in meetings, making explicit what we require from them and they will in turn make their expectations and needs explicit.
  3. Lecturers mentioned that we should consider what we as teachers in higher education could do to improve the teaching and learning on campus rather than focus on the deficits that students have.
  4. We need to coordinate the academic and support structures on campus so that we can provide a holistic higher education experience to our students.
  5. The academic programme, support structures and social activities should add value to students’ experiences so that when they graduate they are confident, competent and independent
  6. We admit students with different language backgrounds and different mother tongues and we should look at ways of using this as a resource.

For me, the main benefit of attending the workshop was finding out just how many resources are available to the students. Whether or not they’ll make use of them is another story 🙂

The “Hole in the wall” project

“In 1999, Sugata Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in the wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What
they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other”.

From the profile page on Dr. Mitra from

Hole in the wall projects have since expanded to many other countries and continue to “light the spark of learning” among children.  Using a teaching pedagogy known as “minimally invasive education“, Hold in the wall projects seek to provide sufficient stimulation to motivate children to learn in groups without any teacher supervision.

This is just another way that makes me realise my role is less a source of knowledge (how can I compete with the Internet) and more a facilitator of learning. Rather than telling students how it is, doesn’t it make more sense to tell them where it is and what to do with it?

“Education-as-usual assumes that kids are empty vessels who need to be sat down in a room and filled with curricular content. Dr. Mitra’s experiments prove that wrong.”

Linux Journal

Link to the Hole in the wall project homepage:

Link to the presentation Dr. Mitra gave at the LIFT Conference in 2007:

Link to an essay on the hole in the wall project:

Tactical Technology Collective

I attended a teaching and learning workshop yesterday which was pretty informative in that I saw how many other lecturers in my faculty have an interest in using new technologies to push the teaching and learning agenda in new directions. As a result of attending, I was told about the Tactical Technology Collective.

From their website…

“Tactical Tech is an international NGO helping human rights advocates use information, communications and digital technologies to maximise the impact of their advocacy work. We provide advocates with guides, tools, training and consultancy to help them develop the skills and tactics they need to increase the impact of their campaigning”.

I haven’t spent much time on the site and so don’t really have any insight into what they’re about but it seems worth exploring.

Here is the direct link to the site:

10th annual conference on World Wide Web applications

Yesterday I registered to attend the 10th annual conference on World Wide Web applications being held at the University of Cape Town from the 3-5 September. It’ll look at the impact of the web on our daily lives, focusing on four tracks or themes, namely; e-commerce, e-learning, e-government and e-society. Some of the presentations I’m interested in include:

  • Trends in student use of ICTs in higher education in South Africa (Prof L Czerniewicz, University of Cape Town)
  • To opensource or not to opensource – the case for e-learning (Mr HS Oliver, African Online Scientific Informations Systems (Pty) Ltd – (AOSIS)
  • Electronic abuse in Web 2.0 based social networks: responsibilities for students, educational institutions and online intermediaries in South Africa (Prof M Kyobe, University of Cape Town)
  • A study about the use of Facebook for social encouragement among citizens within a community on the Cape Flats (Mr D Minani, Cape Peninsula University of Technology)
  • Assessing researchers’ performance in developing countries: Is Google Scholar an alternative? (Dr OB Onyancha, UNISA)

I’m really looking forward to the conference and will be posting here about my experiences.

How web 2.0 is changing medicine

The British Medical Journal published this article in December (2006), which may not seem like a long time ago in the traditional approach to academic publication but which in terms of the Internet is already old news. It asks, “Is a medical wikipedia the next step?”, a question I think is becoming more and more relevant as we see user-generated content proliferating in all spheres of our lives, but more and more frequently in the field of healthcare.

The author, Dean Giustini (librarian at the University of British Columbia Biomedical Branch), looks at the advantages of web 2.0 technologies or social software (e.g. RSS, blogs, wikis and podcasts) with particular reference to the creation of open content, improving access to information and the impact all of this has on medicine. We need to be asking ourselves how we can use these new technologies to better inform the way we teach, learn and communicate with our students and colleagues.

I think the final paragraph sums up my own opinion of the role of the Internet in influencing those of us who are creators and publishers of content:

“The web is a reflection of who we are as human beings – but it also reflects who we aspire to be. In that sense, Web 2.0 may be one of the most influential technologies in the history of publishing, as old proprietary notions of control and ownership fall away.”

OpenPhysio launched

OpenPhysio is an attempt to create a free, online, learning resource for physiotherapy students, physiotherapists and physiotherapy educators that anyone can edit (think, Wikipedia for physio’s).  While I’m sure the idea of students creating content in a (*gasp*) non-accredited, non-peer-reviewed, unstructured and unsupervised environment is horrifying to some, I believe that this is partly where the future of education lies.

Rather than creating walled gardens and restricting students in what they can read, write and learn, why not give them the opportunity to find their own voices and to describe the world as they see it?  Of course, we’ll need to make sure they have the tools to navigate this brave new world and maybe that’s the problem.  Not that they’re doing it their way, but that we don’t always understand what their way is.  Oh, and also that they’re not doing it our way.

Bear in mind that OpenPhysio is a new project and as such is very limited in the scope of it’s content and the reliability of using it as a resource at this point is questionable.  However, rather than condemn it for it’s limitations, students and educators should look to it as a tool that can be improved by anyone.  I’m excited by the prospect of seeing what physiotherapy students come up with when we set them free, and how educators make use of new technologies to better facilitate the teaching and learning process.

%d bloggers like this: