CommonCraft: Wikis

I’m thinking a lot about Wikis these days.  I’m planning on attending a session on wikis at NECC this coming week, and I think that when combined with Jing and YouTube and Twitter and a few other tools, they represent the future of teaching and learning.  It’s not just that the world’s largest encyclopedia is a wiki.  It’s not just that BestBuy and other companies use wikis.  It’s that the nature of wikis in general mimics culture.

What do I mean by that?

Well, culture involves anti-copyright.  I make a poem, and you like the poem so you set it to music.  Our friend Julie likes the poem and the music, so she records it, but uses her piano instead of your guitar.  Our friends like it, so we sing it at campfires, and eventually the Boy Scouts pick it up to sing in their dining hall.  It’s all a very free-flowing process where usefulness and value to participants take priority over the right of intellectual property.

Cory Doctorow and others have written about this a lot, but the nature of copyright is such that hitting command-N (to make something new) is far less risky than hitting command-C (to copy something).  It also means that images are more valuable than text, in a sense, because text is constantly being reworded – teachers rework material from their textbooks and primary sources, business leaders retell stories, students rewrite pieces of their textbooks to develop writing skills.  But images belong to a specific place-and-time far more clearly than any secondary source can capture.  

How does this change the nature of teaching, and of learning?

Well, there’s enormous wealth of material out there, and more of it is being digitized every day.  But it’s got to be around 70 years old before you can cut it up, mash it up, and play with it.  So part of what schools have to be doing is digging around in the digital archives for things in the public domain, and teaching the process of cut-up, mark-up, and reimaging for the 21st century, without getting caught in the bonds of copyright.  And that means, among other things, finding the old and making it new again.

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