The Boston Globe on wikis, Myspace a college requirement?, Dead Documents

Wiki Education Article in the Boston Globe

I talked to a fascinating reporter from the Boston Globe yesterday, Kim-Mai Cutler, as she interviewed me for her article that was published today, "A new high-tech take on a school group project: teachers share lessons learned about wikis."

I was honored to be included in this article. She started our conversation in a way that made me think:

Kim began by stating that she was looking at upcoming Wikimania conference (Aug 4-6) in Boston and realized that she had not seen any significant coverage of wikis in education.

Good reporters smell a story. She is right! As I've researched to write about wikis in education, I've seen some coverage in college online newspapers but overall the only time the media seems to mention wikis is in reference to the latest Wikipedia scandal. (I have a feeling over the next 20 years there will be many more.)

The simple fact that there are Wikipedia scandals is an important reason to teach students to be effective contributors and editors in a global society. (Really wikis should be called we-kis because WE write them.)

This is your life

The old game show "This is Your Life" used to look back on the life of the person it was highlighting and showed vignettes of portions of their life.

Well, as I look at my students, I can honestly say "this is your life" as I show them wikis, blogs, podcasts, open source apps, and other emerging technologies. THIS IS YOUR LIFE!

Requirements to change

My second thought provoking point yesterday was this:

My 20 year old cousin, upon enrolling in college two years a go HAD to get two things: a facebook account and a myspace account. Had to get them?

Yes, had to get them. You see, at MTSU, they use facebook and myspace to communicate dorm activities, school activities and other things. When she became a Resident Assistant (RA - they live in the dorm and manage a group of girls), she was required to get them. She said that facebook was used for mandatory events and that myspace was used for social events and the social calendar.

(Interesting sidenote: will the libraries on college campuses that receive federal funding have to block these sites? If so, whole college communication systems would be shut down by DOPA. Hmmm. I hadn't thought of that one.)

When I asked about vandalism of websites, profanity, and innappropriate pictures, she looked at me aghast and said, "Come on, only idiots do that."

You see, she views the myspace profanity/sex/innappropriate behavior thing much like I view vandalism on wikis. It happens, but it is usually self regulating and can results in osctracism of the person involved from kids who don't condone it.

I do think myspace, xanga, and facebook are useful when used correctly. Unfortunately, most kids are not TAUGHT the responsible use of these tools. In fact, when I first teach blogs, I pre-moderate them at the 8th grade level. This means that I read them before I even allow them to post.

Ephiphany: Inexperienced Kids do dumb things!

Hey, that's not an ephiphany! Kids are kids and in the novelty of something new, they do dumb things. What's new?

How many sixteen year olds go out and wreck their first car? How many kids fall out of their treehouse right after it is built? How many college kids make terrible grades their first semester? How many kids say awkward, dumb things on their first first-date? How many wannabe cooks burn their first meal?

When you're inexperienced, you don't know HOW to do something. That is the definition of inexperience and is why you want to learn: to gain knowledge and learn.

That is why children must be introduced to blogs and wikis in a sheltered, protected, supervised environment. So they can be taught. So they can become effective citizens in a global society.

My vexing question.

I am again. considering getting a myspace account to post reminders for important things to manage National Honor Society. I know I'll have a mixed response from parents (and students.) Every time I think about this, I'm a little closer to doing it, partially because it will help me, and partially for my NHS kids to have the silent message of knowing that they must behave with honor wherever they are!

I consider this, because I honestly ask myself on an ongoing basis, "What is it going to take to make my students successful in college and in life."

My answer as I observe the world as it is (not as I want it to be) is that they are going to need to have effective social networking skills. Just as they must be effective public speakers, effective team players, effective communicators, they must be effective social networkers. That is the fact.

I'm not really ready to get on myspace yet because I don't want to leave those out that are not on it (nor encourage them to get involved -- or do I?)

It is a conundrum of needing to do something, but not having a mechanism to do it that is safe. I wish myspace had accounts that could be set up with profanity blockers and parental monitoring services. That would be ideal.

The need for hypertext rich publications

As I finally reread the article in the Boston Globe, and wanted to learn more about Wikimania, I was dissappointed to see a dead document: no hyperlinks.

This is another thing that students MUST be taught how to create: context-sensitive, hypertext rich documents.

Teaching Hyperlinks

There is a way to hyperlink. I teach my students to hyperlink when:
  • They include a fact from another source. The source should always be hyperlinked.
  • You are writing in response to something. (Unless they want to protect the privacy of the person who said it.)
  • They are talking about a Proper Noun. (A person's name, Company name)
  • A person reading would want to more about that item in the context of the story.
It is an absolute pet peeve of mine how many articles in Wikipedia are riddled with irrelevant hyperlinks to the date, a word, etc. I want some hyperlinks that are related to the topic at hand. Over-hyperlinking is almost as bad as non-hyperlinking.

Dead documents on the Internet are often a waste of time. I bemoaned this as I went through the reams of documents produced by NECC this year. They listed awards given to outstanding teachers, but did not have hyperlinks to their blogs or best practices or anything. If you want to get someone motivated to do something, give them information! People just don't read DEAD documents!


All of this said. Our world is changing. Myspace and other social networking tools are part of the lives of young Americans.

I feel like many older Americans just want to exacerbate the generation gap instead of putting in meaningful, protective policies that will actually have an effect on their online safety.

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