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Quality and Authority

July 9, 2008

Tony Karrer, in his blog eLearning Technology, explores a question that is often raised about the quality of information added on social media web sites. After watching the Wikipedia “debate” and hearing groups of academics, mostly communications teachers, boast about forbidding its use, I have come to believe that they aren’t talking about quality but about authority.

It takes time and effort to learn about how the social media work and how they can add to the impact and efficiency of knowledge workers. But to simply partake in the chorus of rejection without seriously exploring the possibilities is, IMHO, irresponsible. In my own explorations of the web and how it can be used to help learning, I have noticed two academic reactions. One is the quality card being played, without examination or research, but with confidence. The other is a collection of the most amazing intellectual explorations of this new media environment. I cite the work of Professor Michael Wesch:

This brief video should be studied by all knowledge workers, especially academics who study and teach communication skills. This video, to my mind, displays the excellent intellectual quality of Wesch’s work.

Wesch is an academic, and his work on YouTube can be labelled as good quality because he’s an authenticated authority. The quality of his teaching can be seen in his studying the context of his students, (because it’s a different era from even 10 years ago):

One final citation of Wesch and an anecdote. I stumbled across an hour long video of Wesch presenting at the University of Manitoba. The video is worth several hours of study in what it reveals about teaching, the social media, and students’ learning. –

After I watched this video, I went to Twitter ( and asked if anyone knew which kind of wiki he was using with his class, as I was intrigued by one aspect of it. The same day Michael Wesch himself answer my question. Now that’s good quality communicating! And there are others, academics and non-academics, who are providing work/information of excellent quality using the social media. They are sharing, but you have to find their work, and be capable of recognizing its quality for yourself.

The people who question the quality of work avalable on the social media are actually talking about whether the information is accurate and up-to-date. What they are revealing about themselves is that they are neither accurate nor up-to-date. What we should be teaching and practising in this new communications era is critical thinking, so we as idividuals can distinguish quality without being confused by authorities, who might not be presenting good quality information.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Virginia Yonkers permalink
    July 10, 2008 2:06 pm

    I have never understood the problem with wiki’s. As I look at the mistakes in my children’s texts, I question the authority and accuracy of text books. Some mistakes are so glaring, the elementary and middle school children are able to identify them (i.e. the plural for fish is fish, not fishes…where is the quality control?).

    I worry most about the “face value” that most younger students give to social networks. As you state, it is not the information they have access to, but rather how they use it and evaluate it. I am not sure how to control this without getting rid of what makes social networks enticing: being the first to get the news, being in the know, not having to face a person’s emotions if information is misleading, inaccurate, hurtful, or just plain wrong. There is a sense of control that social networks give that is not found in face to face communication.

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