Wikipedia was a hit.
I know it seems a small thing, and Noble looks at me almost comically when I get excited about it, but Wikipedia was a hit in Sharon’s and my last session of our week working with Captonian teachers at Liwa Primary School.
In all honesty, I’d almost forgotten to bring it up in the week, until it hit me on Thursday.
Working with what are slower-than-ideal connection speed, teachers here must be conservative in their use of graphic-heavy sites like flickr or continuously-updating tools like Google Docs. Yes, the connectivity and speed will improve with time, but that’s hardly welcome news to teachers who want to put their learners to work in their computer labs now using current and relevant resources.
And so we showed them Wikipedia.
Monday, when answering the question of what ICT integration could do to help successful learning happen in their schools, many of the teachers offered the almost cliche promise that lies in connecting their learners with the world. Here, they were finding something that did just that almost in real time. To illustrate this point, we looked up the ethnic clashes in China which had begun the day before our workshops commenced. Their interest was audible.
Before setting them out to play and explore, we had a discussion of the possible implications for having their learners interact with and contribute to a reference bank in which they are woefully underrepresented. Each school can literally write the (e)book on the history and culture of its people and township. Imagine primary school learners in the townships contributing content about the places they live while older learners at partner schools in North America study life in South Africa and help to edit and proofread the content.
Meanwhile, the overall online community benefits from a much needed accrual of firsthand information.
The opportunities locally are intriguing as well. South African learners are taught English starting in Grade 4. Wikipedia in Xhosa has only 122 entries. What then, if high schools and primary schools serving the same townships partner so that the high school learners build content connected to the needs of the primary school learners? The implications here cross all content areas and disciplines – from maths learners explaining polynomials to physics learners explaining kinetic energy.
While we oftentimes talk about using wikis to build knowledge repositories that can be used by our classes for years to come, over time these begin to lose authenticity and grow stale. For the South African students, though, they have an encyclopedia in front of them waiting to be written. It harkens back to the compilation of the first edition of the OED.
It stands as one of the most exciting offerings of the Internet (one I’m reminded daily here that I’ve been taking for granted) – all knowledge, one place.