User talk:Teratornis/Tips for teachers

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About this page[edit]

I started User:Teratornis/Tips for teachers in response to questions that appear occasionally on the Help desk from students and teachers who want to use Wikipedia as an educational scratchpad. While I strongly approve of teaching students to edit on wikis, Wikipedia is probably not the best choice as a teaching platform. This essay guides teachers to finding appropriate wikis for their teaching use.

Thus the essay is primarily for teachers who are fairly new to Wikipedia. Students may secondarily benefit from reading the essay, but as the title suggests, it is primarily for teachers. I suppose we might also need a Tips for students essay. --Teratornis 20:57, 28 September 2007 (UTC)

Collaborators invited[edit]

If you see something in User:Teratornis/Tips for teachers you can improve, go ahead. I only ask that:

  • Before you delete anything, or make large-scale rearrangements, discuss it here first.
  • You leave a note here describing what you did.
  • If you sharply disagree with my point of view, consider writing your own essay rather than rewriting mine. I will happily link to dissenting views.
  • If you can, please help with the To-do entries I placed on the page.

When this essay appears to be good enough, I will move it to the project namespace as: [[Wikipedia:Tips for teachers]]. --Teratornis 20:57, 28 September 2007 (UTC)

Tips for teachers[edit]

Moved from User talk:Teratornis.

Very nice essay. I think you did a great job of thinking out all of the ways teachers might look to Wikipedia and what can be done to help them. Leebo T/C 20:34, 28 September 2007 (UTC)

Thanks. Feel free to pitch in if you see any way to improve it. --Teratornis 21:15, 28 September 2007 (UTC)
One thing I did not address is the subset of teachers who view Wikipedia negatively, advising their students not to use it and so on. Such advice strikes me as extraordinarily misguided, since Wikipedia is a great place for students to learn how to contribute productively to a wiki, a skill that will serve them well when they get real jobs and run into corporate wikis. But rather than try to evangelize the wiki-Luddites, I focused on advising teachers who are already trying to do the right thing. I think the overwhelming importance of wikis should become obvious even to the most obtuse people in a few years - considering how far Wikipedia and other wikis have come in the last six or seven years, imagine where they will be in another five. --Teratornis 03:31, 30 September 2007 (UTC)
I agree. My father's company utilizes a wiki for their collaborative record-keeping, so I see the real-world benefits of wiki-familiarity. Leebo T/C 17:09, 1 October 2007 (UTC)
It should be noted that the teachers who warn students about Wikipedia, do so for a reason. Younger students might not possess the critical thinking and proper judgement skills that we (hopefully) do. When they see an elegant and famous website such as Wikipedia, they might be led to believe that everything appearing in it is heavenly truth. Add the fact that it contains information about pretty much anything they might look for, and they may very well view it as the ultimate, unquestionable one-stop source for knowledge about life, the universe, and everything. Keeping in mind the extent to which a Wikipedia article can go wrong sometimes, this is very harmful indeed.
As teaching students how to use Wikipedia properly is difficult, warnings may be the lesser evil.
Of course, there is the additional issue of students developing the habit of looking up Wikipedia articles as an easy substitute to doing their own homework. -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 17:20, 15 October 2007 (UTC)
Many if not most children in the world grow up receiving the indoctrination of their parents' one particular religion. Compared to that, Wikipedia is a paradise of objectivity, factuality, and multiple points of view. Thus I think children could do far worse, and indeed many have done and are doing far worse, than Wikipedia. As far as finding an easy substitute for doing their own homework, that's precisely what schools should be teaching, because the most important practical skill for a student to learn is how to get answers quickly without having to reinvent them. The vast majority of children will not grow up to become original thinkers; instead they will learn a trade where they repeatedly apply knowledge and skills accumulated by others. Their on-the-job effectiveness will be proportional to their ability to look up and apply the best existing solutions to situations they haven't encountered before, but which other people have already met and solved. Those who do have the ability to make original contributions will only make them faster if they know where to find all the existing contributions, so they don't waste their originality on reinventing wheels.
However, the greatest benefit of Wikipedia is not merely the existing article content, but the transparently evident process by which we create the article content. That's the part students need to learn, because those who do will far outstrip their benighted peers who struggle with the older obsolete methods of working with other people. I read a blog author who called Wikipedia "a glass house made of super-strong glass." Wikipedia is probably the most accessible concentration of human intelligence a student can interact with, easily outclassing what most schools could hope to provide in-house. I.e., on Wikipedia it is easy to meet and work with vastly more smart, educated people than a student is likely to encounter in real life at such a young age. For talented students trapped in information-poor environments, this would be a godsend. It would have been a godsend for me when I was young. --Teratornis 17:50, 15 October 2007 (UTC)
But you turned out all right after all :-).
I hope my comments did not give the impression that I support the opposition to Wikipedia. Regardless, I do personally think that everyone needs creative capabilities in their everyday jobs and lives, not just world-class researchers. I do not deny the importance of readily available existing knowledge, and the importance of the skills necessary to retrieve it efficiently; but that should not replace training the skills necessary to create solutions, which can only come with some DIY experience. Hence, a balance between recreating knowledge and seeking existing knowledge should be sought in any sort of education.
Of course, I completely agree that the process behind Wikipedia is something anyone would do well to be familiar with (I do have a case against some of its aspect, but it sure beats all currently existing alternatives). -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 18:16, 15 October 2007 (UTC)
I think I could have turned out better, or at least gotten a sooner start on some things. In any case, I guess I am proof that kids can be somewhat resilient against suboptimal inculcation. I agree fully about the need for creativity, as there won't always be exactly the right solution a person needs for each problem, but I lean toward Richard Dawkins' concept of technological progress as "midgets standing atop a gigantic pile of midgets." That is, when a person is being creative, he or she is usually making only tiny incremental additions to an existing stockpile of knowledge that dwarfs what any person could hope to originate. Therefore, the raw material for creativity consists of having an encyclopedic grasp of what's already there. Indeed, a lot of what passes for creativity is "merely" someone noticing that they can borrow techniques from some other field and apply them to their own, and obviously to do that a person has to be a voracious reader who goes outside his or her narrow field and studies what other people have done. As far as how to teach creativity, I think if creativity were in fact teachable, the world would be very different than it is now. I don't think anybody begins to understand how some people just happen to look at things and get ideas. Did anybody teach Jimi Hendrix to invent a whole new approach to playing the guitar? Could anyone have taught him? About all we really know how to do is put people in position where they can look at things and try stuff, and hope that some of those people happen to get ideas. I think Wikipedia provides a working laboratory for that, with its glass house paradigm. A huge amount of creativity happens right before our eyes, in the form of talk page discussions, collaborative edits to articles, templates, and so on - people bouncing ideas off each other, with each person's contributions driving the others to get more ideas. (A particularly satisfying example for me is here.) To me, creativity consists of looking at stuff and getting ideas, and the process works best when more brains collaborate to multiply the ideas, and of course to do the grunt work. Wikipedia and other wikis are extremely rich environments for that. In the past, whenever governments needed to invent stuff fast (e.g., the Manhattan Project, Bletchley Park, etc.), they recruited a bunch of the smartest people they could find, and put them in a building together. Wiki technology virtualizes that process, making it accessible to kids who can't get into the physical buildings with all the smart adults. --Teratornis 19:49, 15 October 2007 (UTC)