Last Thursday night I attended a meeting of the Lamar County Coalition of Education, Business, and Industry. My role there was to present a web application I’ve been developing. Also in attendance were representatives from each school district in Lamar County, three students from each district, and a few business people from the area. I think there were about 25 people there total.
The Coalition’s goal is to develop a website to bridge the gap between high school students and business people in order to help students prepare for jobs. With this in mind, I thought a wiki would be the perfect tool to facilitate this collaboration. Also, I’ve been working on a wiki of my own for a while now (more on that later), and I thought this might be just the thing to push me into finally completing it.
Over the last few weeks I finished up all of the essential features of the wiki and added some content provided by a guy from a local business. My hope was that this site could be expanded by students and business people into something really useful — similar to how Wikipedia is maintained by visitors to the site, only on a smaller scale.
I was in for some big surprises that night…
Before I showed the website to the students, I asked if anyone in the room knew what a “wiki” was. Out of the 20 students in the room, three raised their hands. All three were students in my class at Paris High. Next, I asked if anyone had ever heard of Wikipedia. A few more hands went up, maybe five or six students had at least heard of it. So I gave a quick overview of wikis and Wikipedia in particular.
A wiki is a type of website that allows anyone visiting the site to add, to remove, or otherwise to edit all content, very quickly and easily, sometimes without the need for registration. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for collaborative writing.
With this out of the way, I proceeded to take them through the site. There were only four pages to look at, so it didn’t take long. I mentioned how students could post comments on each page, and showed how easy it was to add and edit pages. I was quite proud of myself at this point, but it was obvious that the students were unimpressed by the limited content on the site.
One student had already mentioned how she went about researching her chosen career of Marine Biology. She spent several days searching the web for information about the job including colleges offering Marine Biology as a major, required courses, job opportunities, and basically everything else you would need to know to become a Marine Biologist. Seeing as she was now an expert on this topic, I asked if she would contribute to the site.
Her answer was simple – No. I asked the rest of the students if they would contribute to the site, and they answered in a similar fashion. If the content they wanted was available on the site, they would use it, but if they had to do research to find what they were looking for, they would not return to the site and share the information. So much for sharing.
Keep in mind these weren’t just average students attending this meeting. The three from Paris High were National Honor Society members. This really made me wonder about all of the “user generated content” on the web. I wonder how many people use Wikipedia compared to how many actually edit articles. Who generates the content in the first place? Obviously someone out there is working on it, but it’s no one that I know.