Wikipedia's Wales on education: Openness leads to critical thinking

Also speaking at K-12 symposium, Moodle founder Dougiamas advocates open source course management to meet needs of students and teachers.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor
Keynoting at a Washington symposium on open technologies for K-12 education, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales cautioned against the "fallacy of truth" and said that collaborative knowledge products like the Wikipedia are more robust than the "hire an expert" model. According to an eSchoolNews report:

Calling attention to "the fallibility of truth," Wales said, is one of the more important qualities of Wikipedia, because it forces users to think critically about the nature of the resources they are using and to participate in the creation of knowledge directly.

He said suspicion about the motives and credentials of those who contribute to open-content initiatives is much harsher than the evidence, as a whole, suggests it should be.

"It's like if you...open a restaurant and you decide it's going to be a steak restaurant. As a steak restaurant, the customers are going to have knives," Wales said. "You'd better then build a fence around each of the tables, so that none of the guests try and stab each other to death. Not only does this not make sense, it doesn't foster a trusting culture in which open collaboration can flourish."

Martin Dougiamas, founder of the open course management system Moodle, said open source systems give educators and students the opportunity to create courses according to their needs, rather than the strict rules of systems like Blackboard.

Dougiamas said he based Moodle on a sound pedagogical principle: that people construct new knowledge as they interact with each other. He said he found he could not use Blackboard, a leading commercial CMS, in a way that permitted him the freedom to manage online courses as he wanted.

Dougiamas said Moodle, in contrast, gives educators and students the chance to collaborate in the construction of online learning environments.

Moodle, Dougiamas explained, is based on open standards, which means that it is completely interoperable with other systems, works by a set of common protocols, and has a defined workflow structure with a well-explained sequence of activities that permits the user to build and modify community web sites. The proprietary Blackboard model, he said, locks the user out of such opportunities for collaboration by not allowing access to the base code.

"Administrators need to be convinced that they can take the money they save from having to pay for a proprietary system like Blackboard and use it toward support," he said, addressing concerns about how schools can support open-source technology platforms.


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