What do all these concepts have in common?
- Constuctivist teaching methods
- Problem-based learning
- Learning theory
- Active learning
- Discovery learning
- Inquiry learning
- Inquiry-based science
They all point to Wikipedia when you search for them on Google. All these Wikipedia articles have been repeatedly edited by a well meaning person (David Lewis, see contributions here and here) who happens to be against them as valid methods or theories of instruction. He is in complete agreement with a critical article published by Clark, Kirshner, & Sweller last year that I covered earlier. That citation is now all over all those Wikipedia articles.
So here is some of the information on the above topics now on Wikipedia:
Constructivist learning activities are quite useful in settings where learners have some prior knowledge (as in graduate schools) but when dealing with novices (learners in a K-12 environment) these activities tend to be less useful.
It has been suggested that students who actively engage with the material, are more likely to recall information later (Bruner, 1961), but some have argued that this claim is not well supported by the literature (Mayer, 2004; Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006).
[from the top of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_learning%5D
While some constructivists feel all learners learn better if they “learn by doing,” there is little empirical evidence to support this claim, quite the contrary in fact (Mayer, 2004; Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006).
* cannot be used to teach students complicated theories and ideas, such as evolution, which were developed by scientists over many decades.
* fails to teach students essential facts and knowledge.
* many teachers are uncomfortable teaching using this technique.
While people can “learn by doing,” today a debate in the instructional community questions the effectiveness of this model of instruction (Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006).
Aren’t theories testable? So isn’t constructivism a philosophy of learning?
[implying constructivism isn’t even worthy to be called a theory,
Constructivist teaching techniques expect a learner to “learn by doing.” Personally it is unethical to “teach a kid to swim, by throwing them in the water.” What’s the difference????
David has every right to make these contributions to Wikipedia. But they seem problematic to me if Wikipedia is supposed to be a non-biased encyclopedia of all human knowledge more accurate than Britannica (which actually isn’t the case). I don’t think Citizendium is any better in this situation. Citizendium is a wiki that requires people to use real names and gives more editorial power to “experts” (which at this point means anyone in college). David more than qualifies as an expert by their criteria (he is getting a phd), and I’ve seen similar biased articles created on Citizendium by “experts.” “Experts” are also creating some of the same trivial content and lists over on Citizendium that are on Wikipedia, content which inherently doesn’t require any kind of expertise (for example: “list of famous canadians”).
The problem might be the “non-biased” part of these respective sites: what Wikipedia and Citizendium call the neutral point of view (NPOV). Google’s Knol project (as well as non-anonymous blogs and journal articles) instead always associates content with the person who created it. So you can have information that may be “non-neutral”, but there is always a link to the person, whose past and future writings you can follow. Knol authors can choose to license their content with an open license, from what I gather, although Google may not require authors to do so.
That’s not to say Google’s Knol project is without it’s potential issues as well though. Will they require real names? It doesn’t appear so although they cleverly marketed it with an example from a real expert. They will let people search and sort Knol pages by rating and by popularity, however, which might be a sufficient alternative means to make the site useful for finding quality information.
Another major issue though is one that permeates most of Google’s tools: the fact that they are not open source. Google isn’t likely to go out of business anytime soon, but they can still drop support for some service they are offering at any point in time (such as what they did with Google Answers). The lack of open source also means you have to live with the features (or lack thereof) and bugs in their tools (vendor lock-in). An example of lacking a feature is Google Trends, which shows you a graph of the number of searches for a term over time, but doesn’t provide any numbers in the y axis, so you have no idea of what the graph really means.
The Google Knol project, like other Google services, is also ad-driven. That’s nice for authors of Knols who can share in the ad revenue generated by their content, but it means many are going to be motivated by the ad revenue first and foremost (see numerous blog-spam sites out there, for example), and might be motivated enough to game the Google Knols ratings and rankings.