October 2, 2005

A messy conversation

This could be a difficult post to follow but I think there are some ideas here that might be interesting to explore so try and stay with me…

It all started with a post by Will Richardson. In it, he quotes Dave Weinberger, who has had me thinking since his keynote at NECC. (I wasn’t there but watched his keynote 3 times). Will has a number of good thoughts and I also was challenged by quotes like this:

This [ideas around tagging and multiple viewpoints] makes a mess of your site’s organization. But that’s a good thing. In the digital age, messiness is not a sign of disorder. It is a sign of a successful order. Messiness is a virtue.

Links, not containers: A page is what it points to.

Multiple tags, not single meanings: A thing gains more meaning by having multiple local meanings.

Messiness, not clean order: The best definitions are ambiguous.

That doesn’t sound like the idea of a good classroom. Yet, it’s very freeing, especially if I think about my office. But this scares many of us.

First I send off the article to all the administrators in our school division and as them to be prepared to talk about it along with a podcast by David Warlick about a middle school principal. This will take place on Tuesday.

Next I invite my boss into watch a clip of Weinberger’s keynote. She’s been exploring for a long time new approaches to learning and will engage in conversations about these types of issues with great fervor. So we actually watched the whole clip and once again impressed by his recognition of new knowledge, especially his example of wikipedia. (I even emailed Dave Weinberger about our discussion and he responding later that evening to continue the conversation.)
Wikipedia is a great representation of Web 2.0. Here’s Jimbo Wales, the founder of wikipedia, explaining why it might be better than Britannica:

Wikipedia invites critical dialogue with the text in a way that Britannica never could. I mean this not only in the metaphorical sense of “dialogue” –in that you can review the history of a Wikipediaa article, and the discussion page, and thus come to a more informed understanding of theeditorial choices that were made. But I also mean this in a literal sense: with Wikipedia, you can simply click to ask the authors aquestions, and they will actually answer you. You can leave a note on individual author pages, or on the talk page of the article, or you can even edit the article itself.

What encyclopedia in history ever supported the notion of critical analysis so thoroughly?

Okay, I realize, it’s not the only authority, there are errors, this has been discussed before.

So after that, I read Andy Carvin’s blog to discover he’s polling educators on their hostility toward wikipedia. His perception is that many teachers do not value wikipedia and don’t see it as a resource beyond the typical validity exercise. Jimbo Wales, however, feels that most educators support wikipedia. I think that very few teachers have used it much less heard about it.

Finally I check my EDTECH listserv to see a posting about why not wikipedia. Here’s the comment I reacted to:

Anyone can edit the articles in the Wikipedia free online encyclopedia at any time. That is its great flaw.

After all I had been reading and discussing throughout the day, I kind of flipped and wrote a somewhat passionate response. Since then there have been a few responses, both for and against.

I’m not concerned that some don’t agree. But the very fact this conversation is happening, encourages me and I think in some ways validates my beliefs. My belief, like Dave’s and Will’s I think is that the power is in the conversation and the ability to see multi-viewpoints. Make up your own mind but the opportunity that now exists is what is key.

I still don’t have it all sorted out. Trying to track this entire conversation with about 10 people is tough enough. It is messy. I can live with that. Can you?