Sunday, January 18, 2009

Wiki University-- Maybe

Staley's interesting article in Educause on the future of the university as a "wiki-university" is based on an incomplete understanding of the history of the university and incomplete vision of the current state of higher education.

First, a bit of history. In a couple of places Staley suggests that in the 18th century, the university and science were based on amateurs who did teaching and research for the pure joy of discovery and teaching implying that we could return to this model as a basis for fostering higher education. Yes, there was some of this, but the fundamental impetuous of the founding of universities was the need by commercial interests and nation states to "educate" their citizens so that they could compete more effectively with other firms and nations states (See Ian McNeely, Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet for a good overview of the development of "knowledge systems" from libraries to universities to laboratories, and so forth). Although it is true that there were amateurs who engaged in research it is worth noting that these amateurs were often either independently wealthy (e.g., Benjamin Franklin) or they had rich patrons who financed their independent research.

Second, a bit of realism about the state of higher education. Staley is certainly correct that Web 2.0 technologies offer new and interesting ways of fostering "participation" and for sharing information beyond the campus classroom, but he builds his notions of a "wiki-university" on premises that are not real. Implicit in his discussion of "participation" in knowledge creation and the sharing of knowledge is an idea that current faculty and students in higher education do not do these things. Indeed, there is the suggestion that until Web 2.0 technologies that students did not engage in developing knowledge and information independent of what they copied down in lectures. Clearly, this is wrong. Students have been sent to the library (indeed the library is open to almost anyone who has an interest in their own independent pursuit of knowledge) to engage in independent assignments, invited to lectures of visiting scholars, to participate in faculty research projects or to pursue their own guided research projects. Staley and others who write about Web 2.0 are correct that these technologies expand the range and reach of participation and provide a platform for more engaged feedback and wider distribution, but they are wrong to suggest that this future participation is not based on a history and practice of intellectual participation that has been in existence throughout the development of higher education.

Web 2.0 and wikis offer us many new opportunities, but we will only create effective new teaching and learning platforms by having a good sense of our history and a complete view of the current state of higher education. Good use of Web 2.0 "participation" will be built on our successful models of current models of participation.

1 comment:

Parag Shah said...

Nice post. Web 2.0 technologies do make many types of collaborations possible which were not available earlier.

I am particularly excited about the possibility this opens up for independent learners.

People can now freely access information on the web, and engage in interactions which will help them learn.

My own small initiative for open learning -

Parag Shah