Social Construction of Knowledge: Wiki in Graduate School — Nicola Simmons

Dr. Michael Wesch’s opening keynote at this year’s Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education conference in Toronto caused me to think deeply about social construction of knowledge – and how that might flavour my teaching this coming term, particularly with graduate students in education. You may be familiar with Wesch’s video A Vision of Students Today (see YouTube, over 3 million viewers), or his more recent Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us (see YouTube; over 11 million viewers). This guy knows something about getting the message out there, but perhaps more importantly, how that message is socially constructed. His presentation raised important questions about the role of the professor (or any expert) in providing information and the role of students in the creation and editing of knowledge.

If the role of graduate students is to not only use existing knowledge but to also add to that knowledge, it seems to me that the more opportunities I provide for doing that, the better. I’ve heard numerous professors state that they don’t allow their students to use Wikipedia because it’s not a good source of dependable information. And yet, I’m increasingly aware that not all journal or other text publications can be depended upon for their stellar accuracy. I’m finding that I have been incredibly naive in my assumption that texts have had been carefully verified – when in fact, I know of one instance where the writer’s pedigree was taken as enough and encyclopaedia entries were published as submitted with no comment. I would like to argue that it’s not Wiki that’s the problem at all, but rather uncritical use of sources as if they were fact, without any critical analysis applied to their use.

So, on to the fall term. This year, my Master of Education students (I teach part-time at Brock in the Faculty of Education) will have an assignment that will require them to work in small groups to locate an education-relevant Wiki page that needs editing – and to research and make appropriate edits. I hope that this will not only encourage their research skills in an introduction to graduate study course, but will also prompt a discussion about use of sources and cross-referencing. If nothing else, at least they’ll be able to get their first taste of getting published!

I strongly advise watching Wesch’s presentation – see (skip ahead to ~13 minutes to bypass the conference introductions).

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Nicola Simmons

As Research and Evaluation Consultant, Nicola Simmons supports the design and implementation of research about teaching and learning at UW. In addition to co-ordinating the Teaching-based Research Group (TBRG) and LIF/PIF grants program, she assists faculty members with research-related activities: grant proposals, ethics proposals, conference proposals, and publications. Nicola pursues her own research in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), doctoral student and new faculty identity development, reflective practice, and qualitative research methods and ethics, and holds a number of research grants related to program evaluation. Nicola is also a graduate advisor and teaches part-time in the Faculty of Education at Brock University, where she received her PhD for her study What’s different under the gown: New professors’ constructions of their teaching roles. Nicola and her husband, who live in Burlington, have a musical son and a horse-crazy daughter. Her hobbies include making willow furniture and judging science fairs.

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