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:
Jan 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.