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Wikis are unique to the publishing world because they provide the opportunity for user-generated content. The concept of user-generated content is amazing. Sites that allow for user-generated content allow their users to populate the site with information and allow additional users to add to, alter, or remove the information.
For example, on Wikipedia, various experts (and non-experts) can unite to populate information onto the encyclopedia that represents varied perspectives mirroring various areas of expertise. This translates into some wiki content becoming very wealthy in the value of information provided while other wiki content remains basic or at risk of falsehoods or abuse.
As educators, we have an opportunity to help students and other teachers begin to understand this concept. The goal is to have students begin to work actively as users who generate content. Wikispaces is a great place to start since it can be a controlled, secure environment. Wikispaces is a place where people can build their own webspaces. Students can interact with a wikispace that connects to a unit that they are studying and populate it with content. Later, the same student or other students can take responsibility to help the content evolve. The deeper learning is more likely to take place as students consider how to develop the content by adding valuable content which is both valid and unique. Once the content has been added, students can be taught to consider the organization and design of the site to make it more user or reader-friendly.
Here is a rubric that can be used with their students in order to guide them in developing quality wikispace content as a class.
Below is a Google Tool teachers can require their students fill out whenever they contribute to a wikispace page. This encourages communication and reflection on any changes to the wikispace.
Wikipedia is another tool that educators can use to help students actively understand the concept of user-generated content. Wikipedia is less controlled, so teachers may prefer to create an assignment which includes a proposal to wikipedia edits without actually having the student edit the site. The teacher should serve as a guide instructing students to conduct research which is thoroughly checked for validity and accuracy. Next, the students would look at the existing Wikipedia article and propose edits which would improve the content and/or organization or design. Students should then be taught how to include links to corroborate to the content.
On the cautionary side, the biggest concerns related to user-generated content relate to abuse, accuracy, and responsibility. As educators, we can teach our students the importance of digital citizenship with regards to each of these concerns. We can guide students in ensuring that accuracy has been carefully researched prior to adding or editing information and we can share articles in which abuse and responsibility are addressed (the issue with wikileaks is a good example).
Recently students from Palisades High School & New Hope Solebury High School participated in a blog discussion which asked
on students evaluating and editing Wikipedia.
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