Wikipedia for Experts

On: September 30, 2010
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About Bram van der Kruk
My name is Bram van der Kruk, I am 27 years old and an aspiring new media theorist based in Amsterdam. My area of academic interest and professional expertise concerns new media in education. Being a full-time English teacher myself, I deal with the drifting apart of educational practice and students on a day to day basis. Moving back and forth from their wired, graphic, global digital environments into the classroom and that one person in front of class to listen to. Any observant teacher will notice this at one time or another during his or her career, a professional requirement for working in school being to listen to and adapt to students‘ needs. But to dig into both the methodological consequences of teaching digital natives and how this would affect their participation in today‘s mediascape is something most teachers will not have the time, resources and background for. The demand for new ideas concerning this intersection of media and education is one of the reasons I chose to commit myself to this area of new media theory.

Website
http://www.meerdanhetbord.nl    

I am in the process of creating an English Wikipedia page for the school I work at, Het Amsterdams Lyceum.

The state I initially found this Wikipedia page in is illustrative of the reasons many teachers believe forms of collaborative knowledge are a threat to accuracy and authority. It included references to famous ex-students (written by those students themselves) of our school who supposedly had become notorious butchers or public figures, the page also referred to outdated inspection reports and was written in poorly spelled English.

With the free production of digital information, discriminating valuable and correct information from disposable and incorrect information becomes a new learning aim for anyone participating in a wired information society. Needless to say, encouraging students to dig for new and original primary information sources, should also take place in schools. Beyond the superficiality of reading and writing skills[1], creating a Wiki or a Wikipedia page teaches that while anyone is free to contribute, any contribution can be subject to scrutiny.

This scrutinizing, when pushed to an extreme in the context of education, does not exclude the teacher nor the method and textbooks he or she uses. The question of authority begs when proposing knowledge communities in learning and, although the popular epistemological nature of this tool doesn’t necessary exclude authority altogether, needs to be dealt with.

Peter Walsh[2] discussed the transformation of the expert paradigm in his publication ‘That Withered Paradigm: The Web, the Expert, and the Information Hegemony’[3] in which he explains the origin of the paradigm as follows:

At its basic and most ancient form, the Expert Paradigm was an undifferentiated variety of what we now call religion. All members of the “expert class” are still in some sense priests, practitioners of a hermetic cult giving access to divine knowledge. And as members of a priestly class, all experts still have special, quasi-religious status.

I am hardly in any position to contest the quasi-religious status of the teacher. The esoteric elements of language teaching (the teaching I am most familiar with) are manifest when a teacher mimics different accents in the target language, meticulously sets apart complex grammatical structures or compellingly presents literary analysis in a traditional classroom setting. Rules and rites of initiation are used to get to the base of the knowledge (of both teaching and language), and there is obviously an interior and exterior to discriminate between those in control of knowledge and the laypersons. But although the status of the teacher traditionally fits well into the expert paradigm, language itself is known to be fluid.  Without breaking down the methodological consequences this outlook on language might have for teaching practice, it will suffice to stipulate that language is typically associated with a democratic consensus on what is “correct” (in grammar, spelling, register, according to context) and what is not. The idea that knowledge does not need to be competitive in nature, but instead can be considered a collaborative effort, entails a profound transformation in the educational practice which will first be felt teaching subjects in which the subject matter itself is constantly on the move.


[1] Superficial when seen in the light of more profound processes of learning and understanding that are required to take part in a knowledge community.

[2] Member of the Intellectual Property Committee of the College Art Association and contributor to the debate on issues of copyright, the impact of technology on culture and the media. (Paraphrased from an online introduction to speakers at the International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting: http://www.archimuse.com/ichim2001/bios/au_3882.html)

[3] Walsh, Peter. ‘That Withered Paradigm: The Web, the Expert, and the Information Hegemony.’ MIT communications forum. 2004. Available at: http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/papers/walsh.html

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