For some time now I've been looking at the possibility of using a public WIKI as a way of having P-12 students construct authentic content in a real-world context. My rationale is simple, students crave real-world learning tasks where what they produce is valued not just by teachers and their school, but by communities across the world.
This article from "The Education Bazaar" Blog provides an interesting analysis of how this could/does occur and what the underlying assumptions are around the use of WIKIs to meet student needs.
Using a public WIKI, like Wikipedia in schools offers a range of opportunities and challenges, but certainly meets the requirements of authentic learning and assessment which is championed by many educators as a way to engage disaffected learners and to develop higher order thinking skills.
Specifically, I'm interested in developing a WIKI section devoted to indigenous Australians; their diverse culture, history, language and their land. While there is some publicly available information in hard copy publications, it is not substantial and does not detail all of Australian indigenous nations and their people. Online the situation is much worse with very little accurate information available.
Just imagine if all of Australia's school students had an opportunity to contribute to a public WIKI with information about the indigenous people native to their geographical area. Much of Australia's indigenous history is passed down by an oral tradition of story telling. The old people, the elders and some historians have information that could be shared with all Australians and the world.
Currently, Australians know very little about indigenous culture, history, language and the land as this knowledge has not been given a significant level of respect and importance since colonisation/invasion back in the 1700s.
For some years now successive Australian governments have committed to reconciliation with Australia's indigenous people, with a view to acknowledging the wrongs of the past and working towards improving opportunities for indigenous Australians to the same level of non-indigenous people.
In my view, true reconciliation cannot occur until all Australians understand, respect and value the indigenous cultural heritage, history, language and their land. This can only occur when all schools have a curriculum with embedded indigenous perspectives and requires its students to learn and understand the culture, history, language and land of indigenous Australia.
The major challenge to the above idea is Australian education departments' implementation of what is often called "Public Policy". The idea of public schools requiring a "Walled Garden" in terms of Internet policy offers substantial challenges to transformational educational ideas such as that offered above.
In nearly all cases, the response to "Public Policy" is to block public school students from accessing collaborative publicly available Websites. Even if we could get all of Australia's state and territory governments to support a school only Web space for an indigenous WIKI, the results of the student work would still be unavailable to the outside world.
The key concern is student safety and relates predominantly to un-moderated contact with persons outside the school, as well as exposure to inappropriate Web content like pornography or racism.
What about having a shared Webspace available to all of Australia's schools (public and private) where schools would submit a list of eligible persons who could create content and collaborate. Additional roles/permissions for moderators who would again be nominated by the schools.
Make the WIKI in this Webspace accessible in a read only version to the general public as this will remove concerns about contact with unauthorised persons.
Clearly, this would need to be a Federal iniatitive and have the full support of state and territory education ministers.
So how about it Prime Minister Rudd and Ms Gillard? Would this not fit neatly into your "Education Revolution".