Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Wiki Instruction

OK, the last in my troika of thoughts on learning and teaching.

I love Wikipedia. I find it is easy to understand, it's updated much more frequently than other encyclopedias, and you can't beat the price (free).

When I do training or teaching, I find myself constantly evaluating how the instruction is going. Did students get it? What parts were difficult? What did I say that finally got them to understand? What might be a better example to drive the point home?

If I have the opportunity to teach something over and over again, by the 8th or 9th time, I think I do a very good job. I keep the audience involved, I've figured out the quickest and most effective way to teach, and ultimately, I feel, that leads to more 'learning'.

So what if we had a wiki that focused not just on content, but the best way to introduce a learner to content or skills? Maybe they are lesson plans, maybe they are brief articles, but the focus is not on getting content to the reader, rather instructing the reader is an logical and efficient manner.

Wikipedia does this to some extent, but I'd like to see a greater focus on instruction and presentation.

One feature that would be very helpful would be 'layers'. For example, consider instruction on the American Civil War. Maybe at the top level all you have is 5 bulleted points.

  • The Civil War was fought in America.
  • The War was between the Northern and Southern States.
  • The Civil war started in 1861-1865
  • The war was fought over slavery and states rights
  • The Southern states surrendered to the North in 1865.

This might seem very basic, but this would be a good synopsis for somebody who knew nothing about the Civil war. Wouldn't it be nice to have a brief synopsis of the Zulu Civil War of 1817? Or the Russian Civil War of 1917? You could use this level as a lesson plan for a first grade class, or you could read it to have a basic understanding of a historical event.

A second level might include half a page that discusses each point a bit more in depth. Maybe in further levels new points are added, such as the economic situation leading up to the war, notable figures during the war, key events during the war that prolonged the struggle. At the early levels, information would be brief, and easy to understand. Later levels would look at critical points, in-depth analysis, and concepts that move beyond just the basics.

A topic may have 5 levels, or it may have 50. You may also have sub levels. Maybe the battle of Gettysburg starts off with its own 'five bullets', but this information would be a subset of the larger Civil War instructional entry.

This kind of instruction would not be kept just to 'content'. It would include skills as well. How do people learn to program in C++. Is there a good way to teach it? Is there a better way to teach it? What are the 3-5 major steps in learning C++. Where do you start, what do you have to understand first, what order do you follow?

As a user, I could go to a 'surfing the internet' entry and add my two cents. I used to teach senior citizens how to surf the web, and I found they could navigate the internet better if they understood what was really going on. I would add a little module that shows users a diagram of how the internet works. When they understand that they are in fact just requesting information off other computers around the world, they tend to be a bit more comfortable.

Anyway, most wikis never pick up enough users to make them successful. But I think if you could start with public school teachers, and get a nice content base up and running, you might possible end up with something useful.


Maria said...


shelleylyn said...

Looks like a new instructional framework in the making...

Here's a riddle: what would it take to get K-12 teachers to become involved in a learning community outside of their own classrooms?

Matthew Buckley said...

That one's easy. Competition.