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Stack Exchange

blendedlearning's picture

If the idea of crowd learning makes you a little nervous, don't worry - you're not alone. The maxim "never trust what you read on the internet" is as old as Wikipedia itself. But it might be time to update the way we view the information available online. That's where sites like Stack Exchange come in. Stack Exchange started as a way for computer programmers to help each other and answer each others question by forming a massive, online peer network. The premise of the site was that it created a place for programming experts to come together and help each other - perhaps providing some useful information for non-experts along the way. From that one specific Q&A forum, Stack Exchange has expanded to over a hundred different topic-based sites catering to a wide variety of needs. Each site has an elected expert moderator who ensures the quality of the responses and the integrity of the site by reviewing flagged posts. However, the moderator is supposed to play as small a role as possible. instead, Stack Exchange's Theory of Moderation relies on users building up their reputations. Reputation points give users basic privileges to support, highlight, or discredit answers around the site.

Basically, Stack Exchange is designed to be self-regulating, and that self-regulation is supposed to get the best answers from the right people to be easily available. It's a network focused on getting answers from experts, and that creates a type of credibility for the information provided in the top answers. Even if educators aren't convinced about the credibility of Stack Exchange and other crowd learning resources like it, the idea of being able to ask their questions to a crowd and get answers has an obvious appeal to students. One way to try and negotiate crowd learning is to address it - and investigate it - head on. For example, by trying a teaching exercise where students are asked to find information using Stack Exchange and sites like it, and then to independently verify the answers they find. Such an exercise would help students understand when crowd learning can be useful, and what websites are reliable places to turn for information. On the other side, it would help educators discover whether or not these sites really are a threat to learning and the pursuit of reliable information. Not all information available on the internet is going to be useful, but just because a resource isn't traditionally published or formally peer reviewed doesn't mean it's inherently useless. Sites like Stack Exchange are growing, and it's worth giving these new forms of scholarly communities a chance to impress.


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