Why Wikipedia Works Really Well in Practice, Just Not in Theory, with Jonathan Zittrain

Professor Jonathan Zittrain is, amongst other things, Faculty Director, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. Recently, Professor Zittrain delivered a wonderful Big Think talk about Wikipedia (https://youtu.be/kxrMq-_JUZM). Below is a transcript:


There's a great saying that Wikipedia works really well in practice just not in theory. And that is true. Wikipedia's success is so singular, so spectacular that figuring out whether it's a model for anything other than Wikipedia is a puzzle that even the folks behind Wikipedia have faced as they've tried to do Wikisearch, Wikinews and Wiktionary at different times.

But the idea of having a scheme where the day-to-day governance, the day-to-day edits, whether done for substance to improve the truth level of an article in the view of the editor or done for process, oh that edit shouldn't have been made; it breaks the following rule; I'm going to revert it.

To have the people doing that be members of the public at large is an extraordinary devolution of responsibility out to people who are in one way or another implicitly or explicitly sort of taking an oath to subscribe to the principles behind Wikipedia of neutrality, of fairness, of learning, kind of the values of the enlightenment. And can that survive itself over the long-haul? I don't know.

As you get more and more importance attached to Wikipedia, more and more places that draw from Wikipedia as a source of data, whether it's something like the Wolfram Alpha Knowledge engine or Google to assemble basic facts for results in a search. There may be more and more reason for entities to want to game the results. 

If you can just put yourself in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest beard or something and you don't actually have to grow anything it's like well why not I'll vote myself rich. These are problems that Wikipedia has had to deal with so far relatively successfully. And there's a level of humility that I think it has to maintain in order to recognize new problems, to recognize where there might the structural forms of bias or discrimination going on. And to be able to endure the more targeted intentional attempts to basically poison the well of truth that Wikipedia at least aspires to be.

What would I propose as a longer-term way of shoring it up? I think we should solve a problem with a problem. We haven't really figured out in the early 21th century what to do with kids who are in school for hours at a time every day sort of warehoused in daycare, I think it would be wonderful to make as part of the curriculum from say six grade onward part of your task and what you'll be graded on is to edit and make the case for your edits to an article on a service like Wikipedia and then we'll have new ranks of people being supervised by teachers who are working on the articles and on the product and that maybe even will apprentice to the norms by which you have an argument over what is true and what isn't. And maybe some of them will choose to continue on as Wikipedians even after the assignment is over.

So to me if I think of an advanced civics class, it's great to learn that there are three branches of government and X vote overrides a veto, but having the civics of a collective hallucination like Wikipedia also be part of the curriculum I think would be valuable.

Growing Up Digital: 3 Truths for the Adults courtesy of New Tech City / WNYC

New Tech City, a great podcast hosted by Manoush Zomorodi, has just wrapped up their fascinating series on education and technology with a classroom survey. The key findings are really interesting. Especially #2 resonates with me: Don't asssume. Just because kids are considered to be "digital natives" does not mean that they know how to research, write, communicate or protect themselves on their devices. 

Read/listen here: http://bitly.com/1aI...

and the key findings below: 

1. Don't be alarmist.

Cyberbullying and sexting and all of that are real, but not universal, and it's impossible to gauge the scope of the problems without doing some real, open-minded, first-person research. That's what we believe in. That, and having their backs, technologically or otherwise. 

2. Kids and adults are in a new partnership. Embrace it.

Gone are the days of authoritarian "Father Knows Best." Setting rules on Facebook or curtailing YikYak or banning Instagram can work, but chances are, the ones actually using those platforms will be able to get around it if they want to. 

But you also can’t think “oh, well they’re digital natives,” they’ll figure it out. The mere presence of a smartphone or laptop doesn't mean a kid knows how to research, write, or communicate, or protect themselves on it. Don't assume.

3. Remember, kids are seeing a different world than you did at this age.

This has surfaced in every story in our series (Braille! Data! Blended learning!). So it's not just fun to talk to kids about their phones and their games, it's important. We can't decide what's best for them without their input.



Learner at the Center of a Networked World

The Aspen Institute has just published a key report on Learning and the Internet. The Task Force’s goal was to understand the ways in which young people learn today and to optimize learning and innovation within a trusted environment. From there, the Task Force defined how parents, teachers, young learners, businesses and nonprofits can expand new learning opportunities, online and off-line, and inside and outside the classroom. The following is the Executive Summary, with the Task Force's recommendations: 

After a year of study, outreach to stakeholders, public input and internal deliberations, the Task Force believes that a new vision of learning is emerging. But to ensure that young learners are able to take full advantage of the opportunity, we must resolve serious issues of trust, safety, privacy, literacy and equity of access. To help resolve some of these challenges, the Task Force has highlighted five essential principles and twenty-six action steps with the intention they be used as a guide for action—a living tool to help those who wrestle with these issues at the local, state and federal levels to tackle them with new insights, clarity and efficiency. A visual of how each stakeholder—government, parents, educators, school district leaders, students, foundations, non-profits and businesses—can take action appears below.

The five essential principles for creating safe, optimized and rewarding learning experiences for young learners are as follows:

Learners need to be at the center of learning networks. 

We first make recommendations for actions that will truly put learners at the center of the networks that can enhance and accelerate their learning. Parents and teachers need support to help them integrate new methods of learning into and outside the classroom. Community organizations, including libraries, museums and other civic and cultural institutions, must become full-fledged participants in learning networks.

Every student should have access to learning networks.

We recommend steps that are needed to ensure equity of access so that all young people can pursue their learning goals. This includes every student having adequate connectivity—including reliable broadband connections—as well as access to the hardware, applications, digital age literacy and high-quality content necessary to support their learning. 

Learning networks need to be interoperable.

We believe that learning networks need to be maximally interoperable to ensure that valuable educational resources are not isolated in separate silos and that innovations can be shared across networks. Interoperability is also important to allow students to move freely across networks to assemble their learning objectives and to receive credit for all learning accomplishments, wherever they occur.

Learners should have the literacies necessary to utilize media as well as safeguard themselves in the digital age.

We also believe that all learners and educators need a sufficient degree of digital age literacy, where media, digital and social-emotional literacies are present, to be able to use these learning resources to learn through multiple media confidently, effectively and safely. Every student must have a chance to learn these vital skills.

Students should have safe and trusted environments for learning. 

We focus on steps needed to create a trusted environment that will protect children’s safety and privacy online without compromising their ability to learn.Parents should be able to trust that their children’s personally identifiable information is safe, secure and won’t be used in ways other than to help their academic progress. We argue for a shift from a negative, fear-based approach that attempts to insulate children from all harm (and may also create barriers to valuable resources) to a positive approach that will enable students to pursue learning experiences online without fearing for their safety or privacy. 

Summary of Task Force Recommendations and Action Steps

The icons in this section represent the stakeholder—government, parents, educators, school district leaders, students, foundations, non-profits, and businesses—most suited to that action.









Learners need to be at the center of new learning networks.



Redesign learning environments to empower learners to learn any time, any place and at any pace, both in school and beyond.

Action A: Invest funds to develop next-generation models, strategies, tools, services and platforms needed to enable effective student-centered learning networks.


Action B: Support pilots for new competency-based learning approaches that recognize knowledge, skills and competencies achieved in or outside of schools.


Action C: Disseminate case studies and evaluations of effective programs and best practices in advancing student-centered learning through learning networks and competency-based approaches.


Action D: Develop new assessments and tools to convey evidence of student achievement through learning networks, such as badges or other new credentialing, and encourage states to develop mechanisms, such as portable data backpacks, that can assist with the collection and secure storage of student credentials, work and outcomes.




Enhance the ability of educators to support and guide learners in a networked learning environment.

Action E: Invest in research and professional training to better prepare educators for changing roles in supporting students’ use of new and existing learning networks.


Action F: Align teacher quality policies and professional development funding to ensure that educators have the necessary support, resources and skills to leverage technology and to enhance learning for their students.




Every student should have access to learning networks.



Build an infrastructure that will connect all students in all of the places they learn.

Action GBase the bandwidth needs of schools, libraries and other institutions, not on the needs of the institution as a whole but on the collective needs of all learners that they serve.


Action H: Build innovative partnerships among the public and private sectors to bring broadband access to all learners.


Action I: Ensure that all learners have access to appropriate devices that connect them to learning opportunities through a wide range of options that include BYOD (bring your own device), leasing and cooperative purchasing strategies.


Action J: Provide pathways to high-quality content, courses and educational experiences through platforms, applications and curation efforts by educators, students and parents.


Action K: Develop appropriate and effective filtering policies.


Action L: Expand access to learning technologies for students with learning differences.



Learning networks need to be interoperable.



Support the maximum feasible degree of interoperability across learning networks.

Action M: Adopt open standards and protocols that simplify and promote interoperability of learning resources.


Action N: As a condition of funding, require developers of learning networks and learning resources to make provisions to ensure interoperability.



All learners should have the literacies necessary to utilize media as well as safeguard themselves in the digital age.



Adopt policies to incorporate digital, media and social-emotional literacies as basic skills for living and learning in the digital age.

Action O: Fund and pilot new credentialing systems to recognize and support the acquisition of digital age literacies.


Action P: Fund the development and use of online programs and innovative peer platforms to build digital age literacies in adults, youth and parents.


Action Q: Research existing state educational curricula that already include digital age literacies to identify best practices and gaps that need to be filled.


Action R: Ensure that digital age literacies are incorporated in the Common Core State Standards implementation.


Action S: Make digital age literacies required skills for all educators and expected of parents.


Action T: Along with Action Z, integrate risks related to digital life into all existing risk-prevention education programs.



Students should have safe and trusted environments for learning.



Create Trusted Environments for Learning.

Action U: Foster collaborative efforts at all levels to establish principles of a Trusted Environment for Learning.


Action V: Invest in deeper research and studies on the efficacy of existing federal privacy laws, such as COPPA, CIPA and FERPA, as well as various state laws, and seek recommendations on how to improve and modernize them or develop more effective alternatives to support learning networks.


Action W: Re-examine federal and state regulations governing collection and access to student educational data to provide appropriate safeguards that protect against specific harms relating to learners’ privacy and security and, at the same time, accommodate the future of learning tools and services.


Action X: Design, implement and evaluate technology-based approaches to providing a trust framework that addresses privacy and safety issues while permitting learners to pursue online learning.


Action Y: Fund public awareness campaigns about the importance of and methods for acting safely and responsibly on and off-line.


Action Z: Arm learners with the capability to protect themselves online through both appropriate risk-prevention education and teaching digital, media and social-emotional literacies.


How to Infuse Digital Literacy Throughout the Curriculum

"Just as we anticipate that the traditional communication skills we teach children as part of our established curriculum will translate to a broader skill set, so will their ability to engage with people safely and effectively online. Likewise, just as we do not need to establish a separate curriculum or class for “digital literacy,” we can incorporate updated 21st century communication skills across our established curricular models."

Jennifer Carey, Director of Academic Technology at the Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, Florida, makes an excellent and creative case for how to teach digital literacy. Read the full text here:

So how are we doing on the push to teach “digital literacy” across the K12 school spectrum? From my perspective as a school-based technology coach and history teacher, I’d say not as well as we might wish – in part because our traditional approach to curriculum and instruction wants to sort everything into its place.

Digital literacy is defined as “the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate, and create information using a range of digital technologies.” Many educational and business professional cite is as a critical 21st century skill. Even so, many schools have struggled to adapt it into their curriculum.

This is often because most institutions already have rigorous, established curricula with little wiggle room – and this is especially true in schools subject to state and federal testing. Content becomes king. However, there are ways that schools can adapt these skills into existing structures – integrating them into their current pedagogical framework.

Evaluating online content is a research skill

Administrators often tell me they cannot meet new digital literacy requirements because they cannot add a “digital literacy” course or requirement. Here’s the other way: the need for students to “critically navigate and evaluate” online content is better viewed as an extension of research skills. Just as we don’t teach a class called “research,” we do not need to teach “evaluating online content” as a separate course or unit of study. We should teach research skills in the context of existing subject matter.

For example, when my students do research in US History, they are not only allowed butencouraged to use online content. However, when using internet material (as opposed to a peer reviewed article or an academic book), they need to include further evaluation of the content.

One of my favorite tools to use in doing this is the CRAAP test developed by the University of California at Chico. This method requires students to evaluate a source based on its Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. In fact, this method could easily be applied to “traditional” sources as well. (Here’s a public source handout.)

With the rise of academics who write blogs and use social media (such as Twitter and Facebook), and given the wealth of self-published content generally, pertinent information is now moving away from traditional forms. A student in science can learn a great deal from Neil Degrass Tyson’s Podcast; in fact, it’s likely a more accessible medium for young students than his published articles. Additionally, students need to know what online content they can reproduce and how to credit it properly (digital ethics).

The problem students face in the new world is no longer access to information, but rather how to deal with the glut of content that confronts them when they google a research topic. If we want them to effectively navigate online material (as 21st century learners), then research now needs to include not only “traditional” methods and materials, but digital ones as well. We need to ensure that they know how to evaluate a website, a blog post, a tweet, a Facebook entry. These evaluative skills transfer cross curricularly and prepare students for the broader world of online communication.

Engaging online is a modern communication skill

Engaging in effective discourse and debate is a necessary skill that many of us learned in school via class discussions, group activities, classroom debates, in class presentations, etc. Being able to effectively communicate is a requirement to success in many facets of life (academia, business, personal life, etc).

In our emerging digital world, a new medium of exchange has developed: online engagement, especially via social media. Effectively engaging online requires a myriad of skills that we strive to foster in school – effective written communication, brevity and civility. These components are often highlighted in Digital Citizenship programs, but in tradition-bound K12 education, we often deride social media as trite or ineffective.

However, social media use has quickly grown in professional and academic realms. I recently had a conversation with a friend from my high school days, Brian Muse. Brian is a successful attorney with a practice focused on the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). The primary focus of our conversation was the role that social media plays in Brian’s practice.

Even I (an avid proponent of the power of online engagement) was surprised at how much value Brian and his peers put on social media. In addition to maintaining an active Twitter account (with the full encouragement of his firm), he also writes a blog on relevant ADA law.

Brian told me that social media, especially Twitter, is an effective tool for legal professionals in several ways: networking, branding, and research. As an attorney in a dynamic field, it’s his job to predict where the law is going; Twitter serves as an effective crowdsourcing medium for him to take the pulse of labor law. His online presence and engagement (through his blog and Twitter account) allows him to share his knowledge with others and has led to several referrals from attorneys or chambers of commerce.

Speaking both a professional and a parent, Brian told me: “Any child that graduates high school with these skills will have such a leg up in this business world.”

Just as we anticipate that the traditional communication skills we teach children as part of our established curriculum will translate to a broader skill set, so will their ability to engage with people safely and effectively online. Likewise, just as we do not need to establish a separate curriculum or class for “digital literacy,” we can incorporate updated 21st century communication skills across our established curricular models.

Students need to create. Projects become digital.

If you are familiar with the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, then you know that creation is at the highest order of learning. Teachers recognize this; it’s why we give students various projects and assignments: a science experiment, a research essay, a model UN debate, etc. With new technologies, students have the ability to create dynamic, multi-media projects quickly and easily. By combining these tools with a sophisticated topic, we can engage students in new and creative ways.

For example, my history students make documentaries for class. This project requires that they perform sophisticated research (using both traditional and digital resources), incorporate a variety of media (images, video, sound, etc), they must write, and then they present/peer review in class. This modernized research project addresses all of the elements of digital literacy in my classroom yet doesn’t require additional in or out of class time to implement. It is an effective way to engage my students in effective, 21st century learning.

One reason that teachers are often hesitant to adopt new technologies or give students digitally enhanced assignments is because they themselves are unfamiliar with the available tools – and suppose that giving a “Movie Project” requires that they teach about movie making software. I try to encourage my faculty to “let go.” Tell the students what the final project should look like (such as a video) and then tell them to pick the venue that works best for them to create a finished project.

New technology is easy to use/navigate and with YouTube and online blogs, students can easily teach themselves how to use them. Now this doesn’t mean that faculty should not learn these new tools. In fact, I often challenge my faculty to use MovieMaker for their laptops or iMovie on their iPads to create a video of anything they want (their children, a pet, a favorite sports team).

Not only do they discover how easy it is to use the software, they see how quickly they can overcome any hurdles they encounter in the process. In fact, I often tout creative problem solving as important skill for students to develop – projects like this help them to develop those skills.

Digital Literacy: An everyday dimension of learning

Digital Literacy is a crucial skill that we as educators must foster and encourage in our classrooms (and administrators must support in the broader curriculum). I hope that these examples have helped to demonstrate how 21st century skills do not require additional class time or new course development. They often do require some tweaking of our established curricula.

I strongly encourage administrators to provide robust professional development and learning time for their staff and faculty. Your teachers can integrate digital literacy into everyday learning, provided you share the resources and support they need to shift a traditional curriculum to a more innovative one. If you do, our students will be better digital citizens and curators of online content; a necessary skill for success in the 21st century and a valuable contribution to civil society.


About the author

Jennifer Carey is Director of Academic Technology at the Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, Florida. "I am a lover of new technologies and their ability to share knowledge." She blogs at Indiana Jen and you can find her on Twitter @teacherjencarey


Posted by Jennifer Carey on Mar 26, 2014 in Making The ShiftVoicesWeb Tools That Deepen Learning | Originally posted here: http://plpnetwork.com/2014/03/26/infuse-digital-literacy-curriculum/

and on Jennifer's personal website: