Posted by: crudbasher | June 25, 2010

Profound article by founder of Wikipedia on Education

It is easy on the net to get caught up in groupthink.  This means original ideas tend to be drowned out by the masses.  It is a simple thing to build a Personal Learning Network out of people who think the same way as you do.  This would be a mistake.

I came across this article written by Larry Sander, who is the founder of Wikipedia.  While many of the thinkers in education I have in my PLN have been saying that education will radically change in favor of group project based learning, he lays out a case against that.  Actually what I think he is saying is even if you work in groups, in the end the actual learning happens at the individual level.  It’s quite an intense article.  If you have been caught up in the group think like I have been a bit, it is a difficult article to read.  Still, quite well written and well worth the time to read the whole thing with an open mind.

  • Wow. Scathing well thought out argument about how social media based education is not a panacea.

    tags: education, profound, learning2.0, nell

    • Larry Sanger is best known as co-founder of Wikipedia.
    • In the last several years, many observers of education and learning have been stunned by the abundance of information online, the ever-faster findability of answers, and the productivity of online “crowds,” which have created information resources like Wikipedia and YouTube.
    • how is the Internet revolution changing education?
    • I will analyze three common strands of current thought about education and the Internet. First is the idea that the instant availability of information online makes the memorization of facts unnecessary or less necessary. Second is the celebration of the virtues of collaborative learning as superior to outmoded individual learning. And third is the insistence that lengthy, complex books, which constitute a single, static, one-way conversation with an individual, are inferior to knowledge co-constructed by members of a group.
    • to claim that the Internet allows us to learn less, or that it makes memorizing less important, is to belie any profound grasp of the nature of knowledge.
    • Being able to read (or view) anything quickly on a topic can provide one with information, but actually having a knowledge of or understanding about the topic will always require critical study. The Internet will never change that.
    • This is an old argument of many educationists: the ever-changing nature of science and technology in the information age makes it unnecessary to amass a lot of soon-to-be-out-of-date knowledge.
    • But this argument seems fallacious. It implies that the new information has either replaced or made trivial the old information. And this is obviously not so in most subjects.
    • To possess a substantial understanding of a field requires not just memorizing the facts and figures that are used by everyone in the field but also practicing, using, and internalizing those basics. To return to my “glib” argument, surely the only way to begin to know something is to have memorized it.
    • My own view of online collaborative learning is that it can be an excellent method of (1) exchanging written ideas, especially when those involved are interested and motivated, via student forums, and (2) obtaining free public reviews of students’ work, on wikis. There are drawbacks with each of these, however.
    • First, as to online student forums, attempting to spark a lively online, real-time, always-on conversation among reluctant students is apt to be about as easy as sparking a more traditional lively conversation among similarly reluctant students.
    • Regarding the second method — getting reviews of students’ work on wikis — I and my colleagues have discovered that it can be a handy way for teachers to avoid having to read and give feedback on early drafts of student work
    • Another problem is that a significant level of useful feedback cannot be guaranteed.
    • But it is definitely a mistake to think that using a wiki as a tool will, by itself, reliably create the same magic and excitement among students as was created in the days of Wikipedia’s growth.
    • There is no reason to think that repurposing social media for education will magically make students more inspired and engaged. What inspires and engages some people about social media is the passion for their individual, personal interests, as well as the desire to stay in touch with friends. Remove those crucial elements, and you merely have some neat new software tools that make communication faster.
    • It is one thing to engage in a discussion — whether online, in a traditional classroom, or in a study session — and thereby be inspired to think fascinating thoughts, but it is quite another to think creatively and critically for oneself. A person who has no experience or inclination for the latter may work well in groups but would seem to be missing something essential to the ordinary notion of scholarship. My notion of a good scholar — perhaps standards are changing — is someone who is capable of thinking independently.
    • four activities — reading, writing, critical thinking, and calculation — should make up the vast bulk of a liberal education.
    • is participating in online communities via social media a replacement for reading boring old books?
    • Books, we hear, are old-fashioned: they are not interactive, and they constitute a single, static, one-way conversation with an individual.
    • it seems that Shirky is saying that blog and Twitter posts, Wikipedia and YouTube contributions, which arguably weaken our attentional capabilities, are becoming dominant in our culture and that more challenging, pre-Internet modes of expression, like books, are going by the wayside.
    • But is knowledge, even the knowledge contained in great books, now something that can be adequately replaced by the collaborative creations of the students themselves?
    • To be well educated, to be able to pass along the liberal and rational values that undergird our civilization, we must as a culture retain our ability to comprehend long, difficult texts written by individuals.
    • But when it comes to getting a solid intellectual grounding — a foundational, liberal education — nothing is less dispensable than getting acquainted with many books created by the “complex, dense” minds of deep-thinking individuals.
    • My attitude is probably not at all what one would expect from a co-founder of Wikipedia.
    • The key assumption underlying my view is that liberal education and the Western enlightenment ideals that it inculcates not only are valuable but are essential to our future.
    • Reading, writing, critical thinking, and calculation, however much they can be assisted by groups, are ultimately individual skills that must, in the main, be practiced by individual minds capable of working independently.
    • The educational proposals and predictions of the Internet boosters described above point to a profoundly illiberal future. I fear that if we take their advice, in the place of a creative society with a reasonably deep well of liberally educated critical thinkers, we will have a society of drones, enculturated by hive minds, who are able to work together online but who are largely innocent of the texts and habits of study that encourage deep and independent thought. We will be bound by the prejudices of our “digital tribe,” ripe for manipulation by whoever has the firmest grip on our dialogue. I see all too much evidence that we are moving headlong in that direction.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.



  1. I actually agree with a lot of points made in this article. Too often in education (and life) we swing from one extreme to the other and end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Education, like most things in life, requires a balance. For so long the classroom was a place where students worked independently, memorizing for a grade, that now we are swinging the other direction to: everything should be collaborative and no memorization is required. Those of us who grew up memorizing in some capacity take for granted the knowledge and understanding that we bring to a topic. I wrote about this idea in this post (Why Drill and Skill are Necessary)
    When you look at Blooms Taxonomy, there is a definite hierarchy of skills that we are aiming for, but at the base is an understanding, a solid foundation of knowledge.

    • You could also make the case that even though we can look up many kinds of information on the net, we still have to have an idea where to start and how to direct the search. I love reading articles like this that make me think!

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. […] have had a new thought on an old line of thinking. Way back in 2010 I wrote a piece called Profound article by founder of Wikipedia on Education. In it I quoted quite a lot but one big point was it doesn’t make any sense to have students […]

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