Question: Can we consider ourselves (the #introcscl core group + followers) a community of practice?

My answer: No, but I’ll be very happy to engage in dialogue on this. A rather lengthy explanation follows, sorry that it is so long. Here we go…

A summary of what Lave and Wenger (1991) described originally can be found at Wenger’s website:

Anthropologist Jean Lave and I coined the term while studying apprenticeship as a learning model. People usually think of apprenticeship as a relationship between a student and a master, but studies of apprenticeship reveal a more complex set of social relationships through which learning takes place mostly with journeymen and more advanced apprentices. The term community of practice was coined to refer to the community that acts as a living curriculum for the apprentice.

This theory has changed over time but according to Wenger (2006), these characteristics remain (I have used bold text for highlighting):

1. The domain: …It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people….

2. The community: …In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. The claims processors in a large insurance company or students in American high schools may have much in common, yet unless they interact and learn together, they do not form a community of practice….

3. The practice: A community of practice is not merely a community of interest–people who like certain kinds of movies, for instance. [We are a group of people who like CSCL, who find it useful. Perhaps we are a community of interest rather than practice?] Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction. … [N]urses who meet regularly for lunch in a hospital cafeteria may not realize that their lunch discussions are one of their main sources of knowledge about how to care for patients. Still, in the course of all these conversations, they have developed a set of stories and cases that have become a shared repertoire for their practice.

So as I understand a CoP, it is a group of people who share a common practice, an activity, usually a work-related activity as described by most CoP examples, but also other groups that share experiences, stories, ways of dealing with problems they are face with (e.g. gangs, high school students). They share a culture: Lave was an anthropologist and Situated Learning: LPP was a sociological work. In the section titled LPP and Situated Learning (p. 4 if you printed it out), a quote by Lave and Wenger (1991, p. 29, cited on p. 4 of our Communities of Practice article for Week 1) sums it up for me.

“The meaning of learning is configured through the process of becoming a full participant in a socio-cultural practice.”

This plus Wenger’s (2006) description of “practitioners… a shared practice… This takes time and sustained interaction” (p. 3 of the same article) to me indicates a particular meaning for CoP as being a group of people who are involved in the same trade, a trade where there is some kind of common activity. Through informal discussions, members of the community learn from each other and become joint members of a shared practice.

Wenger (2006, found in our Communities of Practice article for Week 1) goes on to explain much later the implications of CoP/LPP for education.

The perspective of communities of practice affects educational practices along three dimensions:

• Internally: How to organize educational experiences that ground school learning in practice through participation in communities around subject matters?

• Externally: How to connect the experience of students to actual practice through peripheral forms of participation in broader communities beyond the walls of the school?

• Over the lifetime of students: How to serve the lifelong learning needs of students by organizing communities of practice focused on topics of continuing interest to students beyond the initial schooling period?

All of these seem to relate to linking school activities to outside communities; in other words, the CoP exist not within school but are external to it.

On p. 6 at the end of the Learning organizations and learning communities section, the work of Barbara Rogoff and her colleagues (2001) is briefly mentioned.

They examine the work of an innovative school in Salt Lake City and how teachers, students and parents were able to work together to develop an approach to schooling based around the principle that learning ‘occurs through interested participation with other learners’.

I am not familiar with their work, but “interested participation with other learners” is representative of a socio-constructivist perspective of learning and is certainly not limited to CoP or LPP.

So, this is what I think about CoP/LPP in a nutshell:

It is a very useful theory for looking at how people learn from each other in a shared practice. Groups mentioned by Lave and Wenger (1991) and Wenger (2006) include butchers, tailors, a youth gang, claims processors in a large insurance company, Impressionist painters, and nurses all share a culture, a shared identity, and they all spend time together physically. High school students are mentioned but I think this is looking at their joining the culture of high school students rather than what happens in classes.

I haven’t yet read much about CoP in online communities; I believe that some of them are CoP and some aren’t, but I don’t think that people have to meet physically to be a CoP. For example, the PerlMonks are an example of an online CoP, but here there is a very distinct shared practice (that of PERL programming) and culture (belonging to the website and its members).

Wenger writes a lot these days about how CoP are useful within organizations, and “he is now an independent consultant specializing in developing communities of practice within organizations.” So to me, CoP occur within people who work together, either in the same company or in the same exact field.

Point 1: As a group learning together at P2PU, we do not work together, and I do not think that we work in the same exact field. As has been noted already, whether or not CSCL is a field in itself has yet to be ascertained. Is CSCL a skill that can be refined, a practice that can be improved? We come from a wide variety of disciplines and have very differing interests and goals. This makes for a very interesting group and a variety of learning experiences – great! We share a common interest, and we are learning from each other. But I do not think that we are a CoP, and I think that is just fine. I have no current need of being a member of a CoP. Being a member of a learning community like the one I belong to at P2PU is exactly what I do need now.

Point 2: I do not think that CoP relate directly to classes, in school or outside of it. CoP are related to work, a common set of shared experiences that help one to become better at one’s job or profession. In school there are so many subjects, and students are not trying to learn from each other in order to improve their job performance (or even their school performance in most cases). Neither are we – are we? We certainly do want to improve our understanding of CSCL, but is this a skill that we can refine over time by sharing experiences? I’m not sure. I do not think that CoP are related to classes, and we are a class. Not within a school, but still a class, with a curriculum and facilitators etc. I don’t think that classes are representative of CoP, so this is another reason why I do not think that we are a CoP or ever will be in our P2PU setting.

Becoming a CoP takes time – months, and later years. A shared practice is what brings members together, and may keep them together over the years of work (together physically, as in organizations, or separately, as in the PerlMonks for example). This shared practice seems to be the refinement of a skill. I don’t think that classes in school or out are representative of CoP, and I don’t think that they should try to be. For me, the learning theory that applies more to us is social constructivism. I’m also looking forward to reading more about constructionism and connectivism as well, as these may apply to us and other learning communities.

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Hi Everyone,

Just wanted to say hello and provide a link to my blog. As you can see from other entries in this blog, I’m very interested in what’s happening in the world, especially in places where wars of greed are started by the rich western nations against developing countries (lately only developing Muslim countries). But I’m too busy with research, family, and organic veggie garden these days to update my blog on international news, tho that is one of my passions. I am also not playing guitar these days… not running either, and the weather is gorgeous here! I can’t wait until this paper I am writing is finished! Actually, I love this paper and will post it here when finished. But I am so squeezed for time these days, and now I am taking a new course (Yay! and ARRRGH! at the same time!).

The course looks fantastic, it’s so cool to see the small but important supports for the course like BBB, WhenIsGood (I live in Japan so it was so nice to just type in my local times of availability instead of having to convert them), I had not seen them before. It’s great to be checking out everyone’s blogs and I’ll be at the first BBB meeting tomorrow. Looking forward to a great course together! 🙂

Cheers,
Jennifer

Hi Everyone,

There was a 7.4 magnitude earthquake here in Japan just recently (11:32 p.m. local time, that’s 11:32 a.m. in Saint John and 12:32 p.m. in Toronto), epicenter at Sendai, almost exactly the same place as on March 11. For us, it felt as strong as the original one, our house shook and lights swayed but according to Japanese news there has been no damage reported yet anywhere and no reported deaths. The tsunamis have already hit and they were from 50 cm to 1 meter high. The Fukushima power plant’s stabilization efforts were suspended because of the quake but the power is still on there and as far as we know, no further damage has occurred there. No fatalities have yet been reported and there is no major damage in Tokyo at least. Some places have power outages but that seems to be the only major effect yet.

That was over 30 minutes ago now and the Japanese news is saying that this is not having the same kind of effect as the main one. Right now it looks like an aftershock with no damage.

I knew that many of you would be worried so I thought I’d better send this message out before going to bed. Tomorrow is the first day of university classes here. Poor students who have just left their families to move here and have an earthquake hit. But like I wrote before, no chance of a tsunami here and very little chance of earthquake damages here. Anyone who is still worried, please look at my blog https://jenniferclaro.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/staying-put-for-now-at-least-march-17-2011/, there is a map of the plates at the end of the post. We are on Hokkaido, the large island to the north-east, and you can see that we are only on one plate and therefore quite safe here.

Nevertheless, I was quite unnerved by this recent smaller earthquake because when you feel it, you don’t know how big it is. For me, it felt as big as the main one on March 11. So right now, I am feeling relieved to see that there has not been any major damage, at least, none has been reported. And they have just downgraded the magnitude of the earthquake from 7.4 to 7.1. And just now they have lifted the tsunami warning too.

I just wanted you to know that we are safe! Big hugs to you all and let’s hope this is the last big aftershock. I feel so badly for everyone still homeless and traumatized from the first quake, the last thing they need now is to feel another quake.

Take care, I’ll always keep in touch by e-mail and via my blog.

In this post I write about what two of my classmates and I have been discussing in our online course together.

What about doing away with linear timelines, taking a worthwhile topic and grinding it into dust and not taking up a new topic until we are satisfied that it has been throughly pulverized? This is actually what the kids in Bereiter’s article “Putting Learning in its Place”, chapter 8 of Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age They came across the topic of growth completely serendipidously and started out with rather uniformed observations and discussions. Months later, left almost entirely to themselves, they had gotten into deep investigation of the issue of growth and their investigation and their discussions became scientific in nature. They discussed theories, collaborated on their own knowledge building, went to outside experts as well as their parents and other teachers, and by the end of the 3-month period (I am not sure if the 3-month period was imposed or if that is when the topic petered out naturally by itself) they had come to understand growth in about as much detail as anyone at age 11-12 possibly could. And they did the research themselves and developed invaluable skills and habits in how to acquire and process information. They become scientists, researchers, and I imagine that many of them are going to use their newfound satisfaction in learning in their life-long process of education. And they will always remember what they learned about growth!

I had a somewhat similar experience, in Clare’s constructivism class. I remember reading Bereiter’s article “Situated cognition and how to overcome it“. What an article! It took me a while to get my head around that one. I had similar challenges with Pea’s article (Pea is a keynote speaker in the CSCL conference in Hong Kong this July!) and maybe one more, but it’s Bereiter’s that I remember the most because it was difficult, new, very different from anything I had learned before, and brilliant. I spent a lot of time on it, writing in our forum, getting into picky points like Dan and I do here, and had a unique learning experience. I was lucky in that I had a few classmates who were as interested in the article as I was, and we really did a thorough job of analyzing it. I think the discussion carried on past the one week. I still remember the feeling of deep satisfaction that I got from wrestling with a difficult and fascinating topic and not stopping until… the discussion was over. Did we really pulverize it? Possibly, but we didn’t allow what we learned on sit cog and distributed cognition to lead to learning about related topics.

One thing that is absolutely essential in this kind of process of deep learning (and KB!) is TIME. I would not have gotten to the bottom of sit cog or distributed cognition if I hadn’t had the time to read, think, write, post, read more, think more, in a cyclical process leading to true understanding at a deep level. Stian wrote about time and how limited his is and how he goes back to previous threads when he has more time. Dan wrote about how topics seem finished at the end of the week for him, but I think that this is because topics have been set up that way. I teach university classes and I know that only a certain percentage of my class is there to learn and has a strong commitment to it. This is true of grad students too. There is a wide variety of Students A, B, and C in all classes, with their related goals of A) task-completion B) learning and C) knowledge building. The majority of students are probably A or B, but maybe this would change if classes were structured around knowledge building instead of around weekly topics. All of the kids in the Grade 6 class were building knowledge together, there were no A or B students (at least, this is the impression I get).

There is also a certain amount of material, a certain number of topics that have been identified in the syllabus/curriculum and need to be covered. What would happen if they were not introduced on a week-to-week basis but on a “once we have dealt thoroughly with this topic we’ll move on”? Some topics might not be dealt with at all. Is this okay?

Honestly tho, topics with no time restrictions at all, no weekly change of topics would be the best way to learn. Topics that are less interesting would take up less time. For me, tagging was worth a very small discussion while something like sit cog and distributed cognition could/should take weeks. It could branch naturally into related areas and each of these could be investigated to the satisfaction of the students. This would be a true Classroom C, where the control over learning and KB would be left entirely up to the students. Well, maybe not entirely because someone has to get us onto the notion of situated cognition in the first place. But you get my drift. If there were no weekly topics, students could contribute whenever they had time. This is great not just for busy people but for time to accommodate and assimilate all the new knowledge we are building.

So why is it that we still follow linear models of learning instead of far more organic models in university classes? If Grade six students can do it, can’t we? I suspect the answer lies in structure, grades, syllabi, and the obvious observation that not all students would like to learn this way (at least not at first). I guess many students appreciate the predictability of one week after another, one topic neatly dealt with and another promptly introduced, like topics coming by on an assembly line… (sorry, it’s not really that bad, is it?). This assembly line model of learning is more convenient for teachers and for many students as well. But is it the best way to learn? How much knowledge building can take place in this kind of setup? Because of my experiences in Clare’s constructivism class, I’d say yes, it’s possible to build knowledge even in compressed amounts of time. But think of what would happen if knowledge could be built in here like a tree, with a trunk going up and branch after branch growing out, all student-led, all generated by interest…

I’m writing here in response to my classmate Shu-Chen’s post, which is a response to my post on Mubarak. In her post, Shu-Chen hit on so many of the problems facing anyone on a quest for the facts. There are so many articles, so many points of view, so many details to read and store and compare new information to. In any new event that comes up the amount of information that must be sifted through looking for the facts is enough to discourage many who would strive for peace if only they knew who represents peace and who represents war. In the recent events in Egypt that Shu-Chen mentioned, we have the western mass media view of an unpopular politician being overthrown by his people, who are reaching for democracy, and we are encouraged to celebrate this. In my view, and the view of some others, the NED “encouraged” opponents to rise against Mubarak in a plan supported and initiated by the US government in order to get rid of a ruler who was becoming inconvenient for US policy in the area. Mubarak was resisting the push for war against Iran, as was Gaddafi.

If we are talking about military action, then the question will be who will take this military action? Who will do it and who has the right to do so?” Gaddafi told the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York. Gaddafi said action against Iran could set a dangerous precedent, noting that other countries including India, Pakistan, China, Russia, the United States and Israel have — or in Israel’s case are assumed to have — atomic weapons. “All of them have nuclear bombs. Why not take military action against them?” Gaddafi said.

The current war against Libya is another “regime change” being attempted by the west. The western mass media claims that Gaddafi used air strikes against his own people, but there is evidence against these claims. See this video by one of the major alternative news sources, RT (Russia Today) “Airstrikes in Libya did not take place” – Russian military.

I had planned to write a post about recent events in Libya but then realized that I was no longer writing a Learning Journal but a political blog (and my time is limited and I have a final paper due soon) so I stopped. But what is important about this, and why I’m raising the issue now, is that this all comes down to the ever-increasing question of “How do we know that what we think is true is really true?” This question is so important today, as country after country is tossed into turmoil and bloodshed mounts, all for what? Are the people of these countries really rising democratically against their leaders? Or are they being manipulated by the west, as so many other countries have been? I will leave it up to you to answer this question to your own satisfaction, but if you’d like a few references, I’d start with Killing Hope by William Blum, Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein and the alternative news websites RT, GlobalResearch, and VoltaireNetwork. By the way, on the topic of Mubarak, Voltaire Network has a recent article titled, “In Egypt, a New Guard” that begins with these lines, “In Egypt, so far not so good despite the recent change of faces. With Egyptian armed forces being a virtual extension of the Pentagon and Washington’s agents preparing to funnel funds to boost pro-US political parties, Steven Gowans doubts that whatever change the Egyptian rebellion will bring about could amount to anything more than a new form of Mubarakism without Mubarak.” And, by the way, who is supplying the Libyan rebels with arms? Egypt. Would Egypt have done this under Mubarak? Not likely. Who is making money from this new war? So far, just the ones who make the weapons, in this case the US. Later there will be reconstruction costs and maybe Dick Cheney’s outfit can help us out with that. Who is paying for the weapons, and who will pay for the reconstruction? The American taxpayers. How much have the war in Iraq and its reconstruction cost Americans? About 781 billion dollars, so far.

While the official reason for this war is “humanitarian” concerns, there is evidence for other motivations. In this video, RT documents the gold dinar as the currency being promoted by Gaddafi and other African nations. The theory that replacing the American dollar with the gold dinar in oil-wealthy countries being the reason for war cannot be easily dismissed, as both Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi tried to introduce new currencies in their countries, coincidentally only months before wars were initiated by the west in both Iraq and in Libya.

The battle for the control of information has led to a website called InfoWars (see the recent article there by historian Webster Tarpley titled Obama’s Bay of Pigs in Libya: Imperialist Aggression Shreds UN Charter). Even Hillary Clinton has acknowledged the huge impact that Russia Today (alternative news site has on the world, with 300,000,000 viewers on YouTube and CNN (mainstream news site) with a mere 1% of that at 3,000,000. See RT Win: Clinton asks for cash as US ‘losing world info war’ for her speech requesting Congress to increase funding for the US to push more of its own propaganda.

We are awash with propaganda, and as Shu-Chen insightfully pointed out, the victim is truth. Covered by layers of spin, twisted and distorted by the western mass media until it is unrecognizable, truth has to be rediscovered in ways that were not possible before, and few of us have the time to do it. Shu-Chen wrote, “Experts spend lifetimes becoming conversant with the relations between and within countries such as those now in the news. Can media technology short-circuit this process so that the masses can be educated to the point that they can meaningfully participate?” This is the main point exactly. Yes, the information is out there, and we don’t have to be experts to inform ourselves. Once we begin to make our way through the mass of information, certain paths become clearer. The hardest part is realizing that we are being lied to, again and again, constantly, and taking the first step against this, which is doing our own independent reading of multiple perspectives of history and current events. In this way, we take the first steps towards becoming informed and therefore responsible.

We have been facing increasing propaganda and lies ever since the end of WW2, well, even before that, but it seems to have gotten much worse since then. Worse because the US and its western allies are fighting war after war for no other reason than financial gain. Words like democracy and terrorism have taken on new meanings in a vision similar to that of 1984. Democratic nations are those who welcome US foreign policy and free trade, and terrorist nations are those who oppose it. Gaddafi opposes war in Iran, his country has oil, and the US is looking for ways to get an entry into Africa to loot more natural and mineral resources there and therefore it’s time for war in Libya. Could this war really be about bringing democracy to people? How can we be saving lives by shooting missiles? How naïve is anyone who believes in this convenient lie.

What does all of this have to do with education? Well, it has a lot to do with history and social studies, global issues, geography, and current events. And it has something to do with the way we learn, the way we look for facts. If we consider only the mass media view, we’ll be obedient citizens and nod in agreement as more missiles are launched against peaceful people, and civilian casualties are mounting already in Libya. But like Clare said in her video for Week 9, teachers should model appropriate learning strategies for their students, which for me means going beneath the surface layers of easily painted stories and digging for truth.

I don’t say that what I believe is the truth. As Shu-Chen writes, how can anyone really know the truth unless they are working “… in some diplomatic capacity and to have real everyday access to insider knowledge.” But even then you may have more access to one side of the story than another.

The key is something that we have discussed before – multiple perspectives, and we have access to multiple perspectives on the Internet in articles and videos, and we have access to multiple perspectives by choosing a wide variety of books that focus on the issues at hand. We all know the official stories because we are faced with them every day on TV, in newspapers and on radio stations. Official stories are promoted by official media that are owned by those who profit from providing only one side of the story – the side that benefits the US and makes an enemy of anyone who protests against US foreign policy. This is not limited to the US, of course, but extends to Canada, the UK, France, Germany, most of Europe in fact, most of the west in fact. Who doesn’t support American and western foreign policy?

Well, the American people don’t, for one. And neither do Brits, or French, or Germans, or Canadians. 65% of Americans oppose the current intervention in Libya. The majority of citizens of all of these countries are opposed to war. We all want peace. But still we believe our leaders when they come up with stories of “weapons of mass destruction” (have you seen the video of where Bush pretends to be looking for them? Warning: it’s offensive, and there are some graphic photos as well), of bearded men in caves destroying World Trade Center buildings (watch Blueprint for Truth and then try to tell me that airplanes brought down the World Trade Center buildings), we believe them when they say this leader in that country is doing such-and-such and must be stopped. And millions die, and US territory grows, and geopolitically strategic locations and those with significant natural resources are one by one conquered by the rich west. We are back in the times of pillaging and looting, and the worst part of it is that it’s the rich west looting developing countries, and killing civilians in the process. And we support it by paying for it with our tax dollars. We support it by not protesting.

Sorry, I’ll stop here. Watch (and read) John Pilger, read William Blum, Naomi Klein, Michel Chossudovsky, Webster Tarpley, Howard Zinn and Anthony Sutton. This would be just a beginning, but a good one. For a more complete list, see How the World Really Works (excerpts from many useful books are available at this website). The amazing thing about the Internet is that so much information is available there, for anyone who takes the time to go through it. The Internet alone is not enough, though. If we really want the details, we need a multitude of books as well. Yes, it takes a lot of time. But if you really want to know what is going on in the world, if you care about the bombs that are falling on strangers halfway around the world, if you wonder why Muslim countries seem to be taking all the heat these days, read on. I can guarantee that it is not a waste of time, and will change the way we see the world. It is not a world of black and white but grey, so many shades of grey. But the truth is in there somewhere, if only we will take the first step and read.

Shu-Chen wrote, “In considering these three options I am struck by the irony that having given us the possibility of mass participation the actual effect of technological progress may result in increasing numbers of people opting out of the political system…To the extent this occurs the net effect for these countries will have been to exchange a wealth/military autocracy for an autocracy of knowledge.”

The majority of people in our countries oppose war. If only we could arm ourselves with knowledge, perhaps we could challenge our own leaders, instead of fighting against people we have no quarrel with, half a world away.

In this note, I’m going to look at the various kinds of technology I’ve used for the first time since the start of this course. This is mostly commentary on the usefulness of the technology and any problems I/we encountered with it. One of my goals, not only for this class but in general, was to find out about and use more forms of technology. For example, I’ve seen wikis before but never made one myself. As a lecturer in a technological university, I should be up-to-date on the latest tech and know how and if I can use them in my own classes. Here’s my report:

1. Wikis

Q: Why use a wiki?

A: A wiki is a collaborative way to produce a group document. With a wiki, people around the world can work on a document together asynchronously, which is very useful for writing a group paper, or a list of resources, or a website where contributions from many people will be included.

It’s odd that I had never made a wiki myself because I wrote a paper on wikis back in 2005 with my colleague, Rick Lavin. He had been using wikis with his classes and suggested we write a paper together on wikis. He wrote about wikis and I wrote about how wikis represent some tenets of constructivist thought. I was the theory person, he was the practical wiki person. Our paper is good, I think, when I read it now, and it’s a good example of a cooperative (as opposed to collaborative) paper where two people bring very different skills and background to a project, where you cannot contribute much to the other person’s side of the project because you don’t know much about it. In any case, even after writing the paper and presenting it with him I did not try out wikis on my own.

So it’s very satisfying to have finally produced a wiki, and a very collaborative one, with my teammates Anni and Dan. We used one because we had studied wikis in class, knew their affordances well, and a wiki seemed to meet our need for a common writing ground.

Indeed our wiki at Wikispaces, a popular free wiki was very convenient and useful. One of the tools I like best is the History tool. It records all versions of the wiki that have been produced. If you choose two versions, say the latest version and the one before that, you can see all the changes that have been made. All text that has been added shows up highlighted in green, and all text that has been deleted shows up in red. So a contributor who doesn’t know exactly what changes have been made can find out simply by selecting the last version that she/he read, and the latest version. You can also use the Notify Me tool to get an e-mail sent to you every time the wiki has been updated.

I chose Wikispaces randomly from the available wikis simply because of its prominence and because Vincent told me that it had a discussion page. In fact we never used the discussion page because we discussed everything using our online KeC forum and by chatting using Skype. In retrospect, I think it was a good choice, and I like that Wikispaces comes with a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License, which means that anyone can use it or adapt it as they please.

The one drawback to using this wiki, and I think it’s a big one, is that it doesn’t tell you when someone else is updating the wiki. Dan and Anni were both editing at the same time, and our wiki didn’t tell us that, and they had a huge problem in that when they finished the update, the changes the other person had made were lost! This seems to be an obvious kink and I wonder why there is nothing in place to prevent it from happening. The wiki should only allow one person to edit at a time, with a simple message box of “Someone else is editing the wiki now” popping up would suffice.

As a result of my very positive experience with a wiki, I’m going to use it with my second year students, who’ll make a wiki of useful websites for studying and/or practicing English. I’ll have to work out a way for them not to be editing at the same time, so I may designate days where only one group member can edit and contribute. But I just found this discussion where it says that Google Docs does not have this editing problem. And here in Google Docs documentation, it says, “If you and another collaborator are editing the same document at the same time, a box with the name of the collaborator appears at the top of the screen. If other people are editing a document simultaneously with you, you’ll see their edits in real time. You can also see their names listed at the top. Click the arrow to the right of the names to open a tab where you can chat with other editors within the document.” This would solve the multiple edits problem, and it would be useful to have the chat right in the same window as the document!

So maybe I will use Google Docs instead. Anni, Dan, want to try our Google Docs? 🙂

Note: Since this is already a page and a half in Word, I’m going to make it a note by itself. Next time I’ll write about blogs.

I’d like to focus on something that has become even more clear to me over the past week since the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant crisis began on March 11, 2011 – the need to get your information from a wide variety of sources.

Because we live in northern Japan, we (my family and I) need access to accurate information. We got information from dozens of sources, including text, photos, and videos. What became clear is that if you were relying on only one source of news, you’d get a very limited view of the truth. Here are a couple of the contradictions I’ve noticed over the past week:

1. The severity of the situation at the Fukushima power plants

While Japanese officials have rated the situation at Fukushima at level 4 of 7 levels, the French nuclear safety authority has rated it at level 6 according to the “International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale — or INES – which goes from Level 1, which indicates very little danger to the general population, to Level 7, a “major accident” in which there’s been a large release of radioactive material and there will be widespread health and environmental effects”. Chernobyl was level 7. According to this CNN article, experts themselves disagree over how serious the situation is. This gives rise to a wide variety of interpretations in the press from Armageddon to, the Christian Science Monitor’s claims of exaggeration. I am a native speaker of English and thus I have access to reports from countries other than Japan. Many Japanese do not have an English level high enough to read English, so they are dependent on Japanese sources alone. I am trying to find out if outside sources are being translated into Japanese for Japanese websites.

2. TEPCO’s safety record and its past involvement in cover-ups

The Japanese press seems to be just reporting what TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is telling them. According to Yoichi Shimatsu writing for GlobalResearch.ca, “Japanese agencies are no longer releasing independent reports without prior approval from the top. The censorship is being carried out following the imposition of the Article 15 Emergency Law.” Thus Japanese news media are even less free to report than usual.

TEPCO has a vested interest in making themselves look professional and competent, while inside and outside sources say that TEPCO has been involved in a number of cover-ups over the years. According to The Australian, TEPCO falsified inspection records in 1989. According to Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, in 2002, the president of TEPCO and four top officials were forced to resign after it was discovered that TEPCO had been falsifying safety records at its nuclear plants for years, dating back to the 1980’s.” Youichi Shimatsu, former editor of the Japan Times, says that a massive cover-up is now underway in Washington and in Tokyo. Instead of sending representatives of the Department of Energy or from the Nuclear Safety Agency, “they sent members of USAID, which is basically intelligence officials. Already the cover-up is going on at very high levels in Washington and in Tokyo.” (This video made by CCTV News (China Central Television) has been removed from many sites including YouTube but is now back on at YouTube, perhaps temporarily.)

There is more bad news on cover-ups, this time by the government. According to the same Yoichi Shimatsu, this time back at GlobalResearch.ca, “Back in 1996, amid a reactor accident in Ibaraki province, the government never admitted that radioactive fallout had drifted over the northeastern suburbs of Tokyo. Our reporters got confirmation from monitoring stations, but the press was under a blanket order not to run any alarming news, the facts be damned.” As well, Rachel Maddow reports that in 1995 government officials tried to cover up how bad the fire was by releasing a doctored video. According to CBS News in an article titled “Scandal-ridden energy company behind Japan’s nuke crisis”, a worker was told to “edit out footage showing cracks in plant steam pipes in video being submitted to regulators.” As well, in addition to other accidents and cover-ups, “In 1999, fuel-reprocessing workers were reported to be using stainless steel buckets to hand-mix uranium in flagrant violation of safety standards at the Tokaimura plant. Two workers later died in what was the deadliest accident in the Japanese industry’s history.” In another case, “at least 37 workers were exposed to low doses of radiation at a 1997 fire and explosion at a nuclear reprocessing plant operated in Tokaimura, northeast of Tokyo. The operator, Donen, later acknowledged it had initially suppressed information about the fire.”

All of this points to an incompetent industry and lax government oversight. How many of the current problems at the Fukushima power plants could have been avoided if the safety checks had been carried out properly? According to Greg Palast at Truthout, “Last night, I heard CNN reporters repeat the official line that the tsunami disabled the pumps needed to cool the reactors, implying that water unexpectedly got into the diesel generators that run the pumps. These safety backup systems are the “EDGs” in nuke-speak: Emergency Diesel Generators. That they didn’t work in an emergency is like a fire department telling us they couldn’t save a building because ‘it was on fire’.” Were these failed EDG’s checked according to industry standards? With the record TEPCO has, we can suspect that they were not. But with the CIA counselling the Japanese government, we will never know.

The point I’d like to make is that it took a lot of searching to gather this information. If I hadn’t done it, I’d probably be thinking, like most of the world, that this critical event at Fukushima is happening because of an unavoidable act of nature. Well, there are many who would say why build a nuclear reactor close to a fault line, and I’d have to agree with them. But without looking thru the “mass of media” I would not have known about the scandals behind the nuclear power industry in Japan, nor of the cover-ups by the government. I’m more inclined now to trust outside sources who say that Fukushima is experiencing a level 6 nuclear disaster out of 7, and I’m less likely to believe any news coming from Japan on this topic.

Since we live in Japan, it’s vital to get reliable information regarding the amount of radiation being released. The problem is that I know that I cannot trust the Japanese media to accurately report on this, and western media does not have enough access to reliable data either. So we are in a bit of a twilight zone, something of a blackout. People’s lives are on the line at the Fukushima power plants, and this is the result of carelessness on the parts of TEPCO and the federal government. With a cover-up going on, we may never get accurate information regarding this “accident”, which could have been prevented if proper safety checks had been carried out.

Some, if not all, of the workers who are presently working under very hazardous conditions at Fukushima will develop radiation sickness, and some will likely lose their lives. While I agree that these workers are heroes, their families have a right to be extremely angry with both TEPCO and the federal government for allowing this to happen. A class-action suit against both TEPCO and the federal government would be the most likely course of legal action, but it will not prevent radiation sickness and loss of life.