This post was written by Dr Martin Poulter, Associate of Wikimedia UK, to celebrate Open Education Week.
David White is a senior manager at the University of Oxford’s Department of Continuing Education. He co-manages Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning (TALL), an award-winning research and development group. If you attend conferences about open education or the cultural effects of social media, you’ve probably seen him speak.
David recently spoke to Wikimedia UK about some of his research, in which he investigated how learners in schools and universities use online resources. Unsurprisingly, Wikipedia came up again and again in the interviews with learners and staff, even though many teachers and lecturers forbid its use. “I tell my students not to use Wikipedia because I think it’s unreliable, but then I find myself using it all the time,” is a representative quote from a staff member.
In the interview, David discusses how learner attitudes to Wikipedia change over time, and become more sophisticated as people get better at critically assessing information. He argues that, rather than pretending Wikipedia does not exist or that learners are not going to use it, education institutions should see the new environment as a great opportunity. The established models of education were developed in a world where merely obtaining information was harder work than it is now. The skills needed now are less about factual recall and much more about critical evaluation and assessment.
Knowledge, as opposed to mere information, and credibility are still crucially important, but our interpretation of these concepts is changing as open, collaborative processes of writing Wikipedia become more common. “It’s been a really useful focus for me,” says David, “in understanding how learners are evolving their approach to education; often doing that entirely independently of the education institution they are in.”
I’d like to thank David White for giving his time to talk to us, and to Stevie Benton for conducting and recording the audio interview. You can listen to the interview here.