The screenshot above is from the last composition course that I taught: English 102: Composition II spring quarter 2013. This was an Honors course at my college, so I tried to take my standard curriculum and create self-directed assignments. Our Honors program focuses on creating quality not increased quantity for students–and I miss teaching these courses.
For this assignment, I used a cell phone poll to ask the students which group–or cohort–they would like to join. They could choose from MOOCs (it was 2013), Film Reviewers, Research Techies, Community Reporters, or Wiki Builders. The idea was that they would break into cohorts with different themes about Food Sustainability in America (that was the course theme). Some students would take a MOOC together, and some would research documentary films. The Research Techies would put together a study guide that I would use for the next course and the Community Reporters would investigate what their fellow students knew about food sustainability. And the wiki builders were going to work with all of the groups to create a wiki of all of the above by working with our assigned librarian. At the end of the quarter, we were going to host an “Honors Symposium” where they would report their research to people we invited. The main idea, I told them, was to not only share their research, they would have something to put on their resumes.
If they were dogs, all of their ears would have pointed in my direction.
When I did this cell phone poll, I expected more of a distribution in their responses, and I was shocked that nobody selected the Wiki Builders. I watched the bar chart shift and change as students entered their choices. My first question was:
Why is nobody selecting the Wiki Builders? Do I need to explain the assignment more?
Crickets. Blank stares.
One female student raised her hand timidly: “I’ve always been told not to use wikis, and I don’t want to get in trouble. I really want to transfer to WSU.”
Me: Why would you get in trouble?
Another student: Wikis got that guy in trouble with the CIA.
Another student: Yeah, I want to do something cool, Ms. Indrunas, but this is scary.
Me: Wait. What? What am I asking you to do that’s illegal? What’s so scary? (Was I being punked by my students?)
Another student: You know wikis are going to send that one guy to prison. Can’t remember his name.
Me: What guy? Somebody get your phone and look this up. Can you guys Google this? I have no idea what you guys are…
Student: Julian Assange. That dude.
I turned off the screen, and give them a little history lesson about how WikiLeaks and Wikis are two very different things. They shared with me how much their high school teachers scared them out of using Wikipedia. They would get zeroes on their assignments.
I ask them–show of hands –how many of you did it anyway? Everyone’s hands shot up.
The “Don’t be afraid to use Wikipedia” lecture was a cornerstone of my Week 2 lesson plan. It was fun to shock them with a story that everyone I know who researches, writes, and for that matter breathes, uses Wikipedia.
I would then advise them to ask all of their new teachers forevermore the following question when they were assigned a research project:
“Professor X, is okay if we start our research by using Wikipedia?”
If they say, “No way! That’s not what scholars do…we walked 20 miles in the snow when I was your age to get to the library….bladdy blahhh blaaa.”
Then nod your head, students, and pretend like you’re listening to them and do it anyway. Advise all of your friends to do the same. Don’t tell anyone you got this advice from me.
If the teacher says, “Why yes, 21st century scholars, I encourage students…I use Wikipedia in my research….I love the Internets…”
Then rejoice and tell all of your friends to take that teacher’s class.
For non-believers who think I’m a bad teacher, well, I corrupted your children for years! Mwhhhaaa hhhaaaa! For the record, most students know how to scroll down to find the source material. They’ve all seen or heard of Stephen Colbert’s Wikiality. Let them use Wikipedia as a starting point. It’s just like Encyclopedia Britannica for their generation, and they understand how it works. They understand its limits.
After I informed everyone they wouldn’t end up going underground for their research assignment, I put the cell phone poll back up, and nobody selected the Wiki Builders again. But this time they all admitted that they liked the other assignments better. I accepted that, and scratched the wiki. My assignment could have been written better, honestly.
What I’ve written above is actually an idea I wrote about by hand in my journal after I read Mike Caulfield’s Wikiality post back in November. I’ve told that “We don’t want to be Julian Assange story” many times as a bit of a joke. But wow, I may have felt differently if I had a daughter in The System.
That high school, btw, should be kicking itself for losing the opportunity to teach his daughter! It’s a bit like telling Evil Knievel’s daughter that motorcycle stunts are a lame waste of time. What a bunch of chump suckers!
Okay, that’s a really silly comparison, but I had to find a way to include that video.
Now that I’m a part of SFWH, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we share ideas. Who owns those ideas. And how we teach students about using those ideas. I am currently a member of the SBCTC eLearning Council, or the eLC, and we collaborate weekly in ways that are counterintuitive to the way our students are being forced to collaborate. At any time, the eLC has to take that Evil Knievel spirit and jump those 19 cars together.
If you have a problem, several people share their solutions.
If you need help, several people come to the rescue.
If you don’t have time to create something, somebody else shares what they did, and you can make it work for your institution.
If you create something that you think is cool, we have a shared repository where anyone at any time can copy, reuse, or remix the information. After spending a decade working in English departments, I can’t tell you how refreshing I find this work. The eLC is one of the best professional experiences I’ve ever had, and my only regret is that I only see them as a group four times a year. My work with the eLC is so unlike anything I’ve ever done as a teacher or a student.
So back to the SFWH: Yesterday when I was working on the SFWH at a coffee shop, my caffeinated husband started singing “As I walk through, this wiki world…” and said, “you need to title one your pages with that.”
Me: It’s “wicked world”–that’s what Elvis is singing about.
Him: I thought you could write whatever you want “cuz, what’s so funny about peace love and understanding…”
Then we looked up the video:
Then we talked about how we choose to see Wilco instead of Elvis Costello at Seattle’s Bumbershoot (a music festival) years back. No regrets on that–then he brought up a story about Seattle that I had forgotten.
And I said, “Okay, I need to focus. I can’t have all those crazy typos again. ”
To which he replied, “Cool, I’ll let you walk through your wiki-world.”