Recently a colleague of mine introduced me to an oddball sounding buzzword that made me take notice. "Crowdsourcing", as defined by Wikipedia, is a phenomenon in industry and academia that seems to have one basic principle at its core: many of us are smarter than fewer of us. Ironically, the entry in Wikipedia points to itself as a sentinel example of the collective intelligence of crowds, strangers, teams, competitors, and even adversaries. Apparently this pheonomena predates what we call the information age, but it's the tools of the information age that beg the question - is there an inherent wisdom in wikis and other shared spaces that we are failing to tap into for students and teachers?
To test this theory I visited a site called Nowpublic. com, a prime example of crowd-powered media, a budding movement for citizen journalism. The front page of the website was a living organism, literally rewriting and refreshing itself as I watched. Not like the static, etched in HTML content of other news and information sites. My first thought was, "how cool", followed by, "how scary." I was able to pull up "eyewitness" accounts of the fires in San Diego which are still burning. People describe the smoke in the air, and have pictures and videos that would probably not make it to prime time news.
So how does this fit into the whole concept of "information literacy?" What kind of risks do we have to take if we embrace the idea of "crowd widsom" without some clear mediating authority? I can just imagine some of the conversations I could have with teachers and library media specialists about a thousand reasons why this is not good for students.
Sites that invite equal expression are what puts the "2.0" in Web 2.0. Rather than close the door on something so intriguing, I think we ought to reconsider who we call an expert, and what information we say is credible. Those that penned the earliest accounts of history were often times mere eyewitnesses as well, and they now enjoy the stature of historians. Perhaps now that's a stature we can all enjoy and aspire to: not just in recounting events, but in sharing interpretations of events which reveal the complexity that we hope education attempts to embrace.
We do a lot of work here encouraging teachers to take a serious look at technologies such as wikis and blogs, and other online shared spaces. Rather than debate their value in terms of fact or fiction, perhaps we can reposition them to be less about facts and more about meaning. Because we know that "facts" don't cut it anymore, not in this complex of a society.