Friday, May 09, 2008

Web 2.0: A New Espistemology or Not?

In a recent article in the Educause Review, Chris Dede, asserts:
"Web 2.0 is redefining what and how and with whom we learn. For example, in Wikipedia, “knowledge” is constructed by negotiating compromises among various points of view. This raises numerous questions: How do we in higher education help students understand the differences between facts, opinions, and values—and how do we help them appreciate the interrelationships that create “meaning”? In an epistemology based on collective agreement, what does it mean to be an “expert” with sufficient subject knowledge to teach a topic? Since almost any piece of information can now be found online in less than a minute (along with inaccurate and biased data), what core knowledge does every student need in order to prepare for twenty-first-century work and citizenship?"
He goes on the write:
"In the Classical view of knowledge, there is only one correct, unambiguous interpretation of factual interrelationships. In Classical education, the content and skills that experts feel every person should know are presented as factual “truth” compiled in curriculum standards and assessed with high-stakes tests."
Dede is incorrect about the "classic view of knowledge." This is often the perceived view of how scientific knowledge is viewed, but for at least the past 50 years, the philosophy of science that under girds thinking about scientific problems views scientific facts as embedded in world views and cultural perspectives. One of the important contributors to this perspective was Karl Popper and another influential work was Thomas Kuhn's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962.

At the same time, Dede is correct that many teachers and students have assumed the "classical" approach to knowledge which is there are a set in indisputable facts that need to learned by students and that success in learning is the ability to report about the specific facts.

The power if the Web 2.o tools is that it allows more people to voice their views in more places and to create interactive venues (for example, Wikipedia) in which people can debate and construct information. This has always been what good teaching should be. However, it is wrong to suggest that this is a new "epistemology." Dede writes that the classic view is that "new knowledge through formal, evidence-based argumentation, using elaborate methodologies to generate findings and interpretations." This has not changed as a result of Web 2.0. It may be more chaotic and it may mean that more voices are participating in the discussion, but the rules of argumentation, evidence presentation, logic, experimentation, and so forth still hold.

The great value of Wikipedia and Web 2.o tools is that there are increased opportunities for individuals to practice this critical thinking and to explore a wide range of scientific ideas.

The big challenge for educators and scientists is to open their scientific societies, journals and laboratories to similar types of examination, critical views and open discussion. (See comments about Science 2.0.)

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