Wikis, learning and faulty knowledge

Information and knowledge in a vocational education setting often has a significance beyond that in more academic courses: in fact, the life and well-being of the students and members of the public may depend on its accuracy. Consider the following scenario:

CC: photo Robert LawtonJan is a nursing lecturer in a department which has recently begun to incorporate a ‘community of practice’ approach, including the use of a wiki for students and staff to collaboratively build publicly-accessible knowledge resources. She logs in one Monday morning and sees that a student has added to the page on clinical practice, including information which is contrary to accepted practice and could put patients’ health at risk.

Jan is appalled: What if another student read that information over the weekend and put it into practice? What if a practising nurse has read it and is about to complain to Jan’s head of department? Jan immediately deletes the incorrect information, then wonders whether she has done the right thing.

How should Jan have reacted? In fact, if Jan’s department had been through a thorough planning process, the risk of faulty information being contributed as well strategies for dealing with it would have been identified prior to implementing the collaborative activity. So Jan would have known exactly how to react.

Some e-learning specialists feel that Web 2.0 tools like wikis have no place at all in vocational education because the risks of ‘faulty knowledge’ are potentially so great. I don’t happen to believe that, but I do believe we need to identify the risks when we are planning, along with what we will do when ‘faulty knowledge’ is contributed. And we need to share this with students beforehand, so that they too understand the risks and how these will be handled.

If we do identify that there is a risk of ‘faulty knowledge’ being contributed, we need to also identify how we will:

  • Monitor the wiki (ie how will we know incorrect information exists?)
  • Deal with the published incorrect information (eg is it deleted, corrected or annotated?)
  • Correct the students’ faulty knowledge (ie that underlies the incorrect information)
  • Maintain a democratic and motivating collaborative environment while retaining the right to intervene
  • Communicate the risks and how we’ll deal with them to students

I believe the potential benefits of exposing ‘faulty knowledge’ outweigh the risks – but we do need a well thought-out plan for dealing with incorrect and potentially dangerous information.

Photo by Robert Lawton

4 thoughts on “Wikis, learning and faulty knowledge

  1. pab

    Thank you, Robert, for sharing the URL for this post in a comment on a My Languages blog post.

    In this post, you express concern about the accuracy of wiki contributions from students, which is of similar concern to language teachers. You allude to consequences of peer uptake of such faulty information or presentation, and cross-link to holistic planning processes which might alleviate, if not negate uptake of erroneous information from peer wiki contributors (Holistic Alignment Module, 06 June 2008).

    In a nutshell, you seem to be advocating contextualization and explanation of all proposals, recommendations, or suggestions that students make to one another in online environments. Moreover, you seem to be modeling that sort of contextualization and explanation in these cross-linked posts.

    Are these hyper-textual interpretations of your posts far off the mark?

    Cheers.

    Reply
  2. Paul Left Post author

    A bit off the mark – firstly, my name is Paul not Robert :-)

    I felt the planning process might highlight that there was a risk of faulty knowledge, not prevent it. But it could also identify strategies for dealing with those risks.

    I’m not advocating ‘contextualization and explanation of all proposals, recommendations, or suggestions that students make to one another in online environments’. I am advocating teachers be aware of the risks and be prepared to intervene where necessary, not as a matter of course.

    Thanks for your comment and questions!

    Reply
  3. Paul Beaufait (pab)

    Oops, I sent that last blast off accidentally, before even typing a Security Code! Sorry for that, and for mistaking the name from the photo credit at the foot of the Wikis, learning and faulty knowledge post (August 13, 2008) as your name, Paul.

    Please pardon me for taking years to get back to this post, lost long ago in a reverse bookmark sync. I understand now that you were suggesting that teachers be aware of risks associated with peer-to-peer interactions on wikis, and have monitoring plans and intervention strategies in place, ready for use as necessary.

    Thanks again for your thought provoking post and response to my first comment on it. There’s no need to reply again. Cheers.

    Reply
    1. Paul Left Post author

      Quote: I understand now that you were suggesting that teachers be aware of risks associated with peer-to-peer interactions on wikis, and have monitoring plans and intervention strategies in place, ready for use as necessary.

      Yes, there are risks – not just with inappropriate interaction (eg conflict) or content but also with factually incorrect content. I find teachers are often prepared for the former but not the latter.

      Reply

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