This is part of a lesson for the Choose2Matter Course, an online professional development course, with student materials, that will be available June 1. It is based on the life's work of Angela Maiers and our collaboration of the past four years.
Many scholars of the past burrowed into library stacks, read the printed literature on a topic, consulted with a mentor, and emerged with their research.
Today, the Smartest Person in the Room, is the Room.
The scholar of today is more collaborative. While there are many instances of scholarly collaboration throughout history, none rise to the level of what’s possible today, where dozens or scores or hunreds of people from around the world can connect simultaneously and in real-time.
Professor Clay Shirky says that most people “over estimate the value of access to information and underestimate the value of access to each other.”
Related reading: "Why Learning Through Social Networks is the Future."
Students: Master Connecters
While this may be true of most adults, students already understand the power and value of connecting to others, and they are exceedingly comfortable doing it digitally.
I recently participated in a videoconference with a high school class. The acoustics made it difficult for students to ask questions, and the session began awkwardly. I glanced at my iPhone and saw that students were Tweeting to me a long skein of brilliant questions.
Students dominate popular Q&A sites such as Yahoo! Answers, Answers.com and Quizlet. However, these sites are not authoritative, rarely provide links to references, and should not be cited as a source for a student paper.
Fortunately, students can explore dozens of free avenues online to connect with experts in almost any field of study or area of interest. All they need is for adults to open the door and point them in the right direction.
What Could Go Wrong?
When students interact with adults online, there is the possiblity of inappropriate interaction.
On the other hand, the role of adults is to teach students to navigate online safely, and these sites provide excellent learning opportunities not found anywhere else.
All of these resources are moderated to some degree, so when using them, students should be mindful, not afraid.
Just as when a teens venture into the big city for the first time without adult supervision, they need to be aware of their surroundings and take precautions.
Always have an open line of communication with your students concerning their online research.