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User:JWSchmidt/Blog/31 December 2007

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Wikiversity, Wikipedia, and Participatory Learning

It was nice that the Stanford Open Source Lab had a workshop called "Wikiversity, Wikipedia, and Participatory Learning". It is rather astonishing that they did not bother to have someone from Wikiversity to talk at the workshop. It was nice of the Open Source Lab to make a video of the session and release it on the internet. It was informative to hear what the Wikimedia Foundation executive director and her new deputy had to say about Wikiversity.

Learning projectsEdit

Erik Möller showed some examples of learning projects that have been created at Wikiversity: Lunar Boom Town, Filmmaking, Bloom Clock. I think Wikimedia wiki communities (in general) and the Wikiversity "e-learning model" (in particular) are inherently mysterious to most educators. Sometimes I try to imagine what newbies experience when they come to Wikiversity. One question at the workshop was about Wikiversity schools, topics, projects, etc: "Is it a matrix or is it a hierarchical organization?"

Edited version of the workshop video with just the Wikiversity parts.

Erik's reply to this question was, "Its a mess" (about at 30 minutes and 30 seconds into the video). I think this statement by Erik has much to do with an observation made by Sue Gardner (about 63 minute into the video). Sue made the fundamental point that wiki communities develop complex systems to facilitate the collaborative creation of wiki content. Wikimedia wiki projects now have a seven year history of discovering what level of complexity is needed to make a wiki community viable. In particular, Wikimedia wikis have found that it is useful to have a system of "namespaces" for organizing webpages according to their functional roles. When new participants arrive at a wiki, features such as the namespaces can be off-putting for new participants because it takes a while to learn what a namespace is, why namespaces are useful and how to correctly put pages you create into the correct namespace. We certainly need to do a better job of explaining such things to new wiki participants. However, it is unfortunate that Erik would call the organization of Wikiversity a mess. Apparently, Erik had no idea that Wikiversity "school" and "topic" pages are being used as content development projects. Having such specialized pages is no different from having the Wikipedia "wikiprojects". The only difference between Wikipedia and Wikiversity is that at Wikiversity we have two special namespaces to hold content development projects while Wikipedia puts them into their "project" namespace. Maybe if Erik actually participated at Wikiversity he would learn how to explain Wikiversity organization to educators rather than tell them that Wikiversity organization is a mess.

Portal pages function like directories to provide user-friendly access to large numbers of related pages. The Main Page and the Browse link in the the left side-bar navigation box provide access to the major portals. If you are interested in content development, follow links from portal pages to content development projects in the School and Topic namespaces.

My expectation is that Wikiversity might come to have more learning resources than Wikipedia has articles. Wikipedia has rules for restricting the creation of articles. Wikipedia articles must meet standards of notability and are supposed to talk about what has previously been said elsewhere by reliable sources. Wikipedia does not allow multiple versions of articles; all points of view are supposed to be put into a single article. At Wikiversity we are open to a wide range of learning materials and projects. If a Wikiversity participant wants to learn about a topic they are free to create pages where they can explore their interests. If two people have different approaches to the same material they can each create their own page about the same topic and explore it from different directions. It makes sense for Wikiversity to have many specialized content development projects where participants can collaborate to create, organize and develop learning resources for particular topics. At Wikipedia, there is a hierarchy of more general content development projects and more narrowly focused wikiprojects. At Wikiversity we just have names for the wider-scope projects ("schools") and the more narrow projects ("topics"). I think this is a sensible and practical organization for Wikiversity that has clear roots in how things are done at Wikipedia. Apparently, Erik either does not understand the challenges of organizing wiki content and collaboration or thinks that the existing methods "are a mess". Judging from his edits it looks like Erik has never participated in a Wikipedia wikiproject, so the whole concept might either not be to his liking or it might just be outside of his experience. There is always a danger that managers become out-of-touch with what they are trying to manage. This is why it would have been good to have some actual Wikiversity participants at the workshop.

Maybe some day all these high tech people will figure out how to do teleconferences and Wikiversity participants could then participate remotely in workshops and Wikimania. Many Wikiversity participants have an interest in such things, but the community is still struggling to find a way to get the Foundation to support the special needs of projects like Wikiversity.

Wikiversity as a "beta" projectEdit

Erik described Wikiversity as a "beta project" (about 23 minutes into the video). When Wikiversity was launched, the Board said, "The beta stage of the project will run for six months, during which guidelines for further potential uses of the site, including collaborative research, will be developed on the beta wiki. These guidelines will be reviewed by the SPC at the end of the beta period."

In my view, the "beta period" is long over. It was understandable that the Board was made uneasy by the fact that the Wikiversity project proposal included the idea that the Wikiversity community would explore the role of research in the project. "Guidelines for what would be appropriate research will be developed during the beta phase of the project through a community consensus process, and reviewed (by the Special projects committee) after six months. There will not necessarily be "approval" of research added to Wikiversity - though some sort of review process needs to be established which will deal with potential problems."

Research guidelines were created, but as far as I know, there was never any review of the matter. The Special projects committee seems to be defunct.


Erik indicated that he thinks there is a need for more thought about how to structure Wikiversity (32:00 - 35:30 in the video). He mentioned WikiEducator as an example of, "a wiki that is more focused on the people who are using the material themselves.....its more structured than Wikiversity and the users who are participating there have a better idea of what they want to achieve with it."

Erik talking about WikiEducator (just one minute).

The audio is not great quality on the available .mov file that shows Erik talking at the workshop, so I hope I correctly transcribed what was said. What does it mean?

  • "the people who are using the material themselves" <-- If you start from the perspective of Wikipedia, you can imagine that Wikimedia wiki projects have one purpose, to create wiki webpages that can be used as learning resources. Applying that fundamental idea to Wikiversity you get one half of the Wikiversity project proposal, the idea that Wikiversity websites will, "host a range of free-content, multilingual learning materials/resources". In particular, you might imagine teachers in bricks-and-mortar schools coming to Wikiversity to grab a lesson plan that they will then use to teach a class. Within such a conceptualization, there might be Wikiversity editors who would create/develop lesson plans on Wikiversity webpages and those Wikiversity participants would be distinct from a far larger group of teachers who might just visit Wikiversity, never edit, but download "teaching materials" for use in their classroom.
However, the hosting of "learning materials" is only one half of the Wikiversity proposal....the other major part of the proposal was described by Jimbo in these terms: "..... the idea here is to also host learning communities, so people who are actually trying to learn, actually have a place to come and interact and help each other figure out how to learn things."(source)
The Wikiversity project proposal said that Wikiversity would, "Host scholarly/learning projects and communities". So what does it mean to say that WikiEducator is, "a wiki that is more focused on the people who are using the material themselves"? I think it must mean that WikiEducator is more focused on the idea of being a website that hosts static learning materials. I think that is true. The idea of a wiki as a destination for learners who want to "interact and help each other figure out how to learn things" is outside of the normal pattern of thinking for teachers in bricks-and-mortar schools. Of course, the people who do come to Wikiversity to "interact and help each other figure out how to learn things" are also "using the material themselves" if you expand your concept of "materials" to include the webpages that comprise Wikiversity learning projects. So, what Erik was saying is that WikiEducator has a more limited conceptualization of how to use wiki technology to support learning. WikiEducator is exploring how to make wiki websites an appendage for conventional education. Wikiversity is also exploring how to use wiki technology as a platform where learners can explore collaborative learning and active learning projects based in a virtual online space.
  • Erik said that WikiEducator is "more structured than Wikiversity". I wonder if that just means WikiEducator is less open to allowing its editors to, "interact and help each other figure out how to learn things". Does it matter? If you are graduate student and your professor gets a grant to "make online learning resources", then your day is fairly structured. The person who funded the grant is probably expecting you to spend your days putting learning resources online that can then be used as a "free version of the education curriculum" for "schools, polytechnics, universities, vocational education institutions and informal education settings". So, ya, in addition to that goal, Wikiversity also allows editors to do what they want to do, even if that does not directly result in conventional cogs for the "education curriculum". Why? First, because that is the spirit of wiki. What kind of volunteers are going to edit at Wikiversity? A student with an hour of free time is going to want to work on something they are interested in. A paid graduate student might sit down for an 8 hour shift and put chunks of a pre-defined "education curriculum" onto wiki pages. Wikiversity participants are going to have different motivation, interests and approaches to wiki editing. Around here, we often say that "rule one" is that editing must be fun and that means that all kinds of learning resources are going to be made that do not fit into any conventional curriculum.
  • In speaking about WikiEducator, Erik said, "the users who are participating there have a better idea of what they want to achieve with it." I think it is true that if your mission is restricted to making "on wiki" versions of "education curriculum" then you can have a fairly simple concept of what you are doing. For example, you can get some professional educators who have grant support and pay some graduate students to put "education curriculum" onto pages of your wiki. It is also true that many people who stumble upon Wikiversity are not sure what is going on. Nobody is standing at the gate saying, put "education curriculum" onto pages of this wiki. Some Wikiversity volunteers do take on that task. Other Wikiversity participants are exploring other ways to use wiki technology to explore their interests and learning goals and they might not have a good idea of where their efforts will lead. Some of us feel like we are experimenting and inventing new ways to use wiki technology for online learning. Being unsure of where all this will lead but wondering if great new systems for facilitating learning will be created is part of the fun of participating at Wikiversity.
  • "how do we work together without competition; we all want the same thing." Amen.

Vision for getting various wiki projects to work in an integrated wayEdit

About 60 minutes into the video, Erik was asked to talk about his vision for getting various education-oriented wiki projects to work in an integrated way. Erik said that he had been discussing this with Wayne Mackintosh and looking at ways to have a new beginning with a limited scope. "At Wikiversity there has been interest in really abstract discussions about the future of learning like de-schooling and things like that. I'm not sure that is the kind of thing you want as a core thing in the project. You want to limit the scope a little bit and you want to structure it a little bit." Erik mentions trying to have some kind of organizational meeting and establishing a "governance structure". (60 minutes 1:01:50)

These comments from Erik are rather mysterious. What does it all mean? It appears that Erik is interested in restricting Wikiversity to one half of its approved mission.....the part that is already the mission of WikiEducator. To me, it seems very strange for a Wikimedia Foundation trustee to participate at WikiEducator. Now that Erik is paid staff for the Foundation, it seems strange to watch him call Wikiversity "a mess" and propose changing the mission of Wikiversity to be more like that of WikiEducator. It makes more sense to me that we should work on cooperation between educational wikis. (some previous comments here) It would be nice if the Foundation would support the Wikiversity community rather than try to turn Wikiversity into some sort of puppet of another project. If Erik thinks that as Deputy Director of the Wikimedia Foundation he can impose some mysterious "governance structure" on the Wikiversity community and write out of existence half of the Board-approved mission then we have interesting times ahead.

I'd like to know if the folks from Stanford Open Source Lab feel that Erik's vision for the future of Wikiversity is what they were expecting hear when they set up their workshop on "Participatory Learning". Had they know about Erik's interests they might have called it, "The WikiEducator model for Participatory Learning".

Additional resourcesEdit

Discussion page - comments and links