Wikiversity:Free education and free school?
Wikiversity for Free Education and Free School: a New Initiative for Global Capacity Building?
Please add comments to the discussion page.
Teemu Leinonen, Tere Vadén & Juha Suoranta
Draft - v.0.8
Wikiversity is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation. The project was launched in June 2006 after an extensive online discussion with xxx on the mission, vision and objectives of the project. According to the approved project proposal
Wikiversity is a network of communities - some local, some global. It is their repository of free, multilingual materials. Wikiversity is an effort to improve the tools which help groups of remote collaborators and their interested communities to create and share an understanding about a subject or event. Wikiversity aims to support them in sharing their learning with their outside worlds. It is an effort to encourage new routines, which, by using new ICT tools, may be more inclusive of a global audience - one that wishes to participate, to some degree.
The construction and remix (link) of materials is led by people who may be experts or learners. Furthermore the Wikiversity community defines Wikiversity to be "a sustainable centre for the creation, use and reuse, and dissemination of free learning materials and events". It's goals are:
- To Collaborate in the creation and hosting of a range of free, multilingual learning materials; for all age groups, in all languages.
- To Host learning communities whose projects share an understanding about these materials,and
- To Complement and develop existing Wikimedia projects in partnership with universities globally.
Wikimedia Foundation is most well known from the Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia online - project. The mission of the Foundation is:
- "To empower and engage people around the world in collecting and developing unbiased educational content under a free content license or in the public domain, and to share it immediately and globally. In collaboration with a network of chapters, the Foundation works to provide for an infrastructure and an organizational philosophy that will support and assist to develop global, multilingual and multidisciplinary projects.
The Foundation will make and keep the educational content from its projects available on the Internet free of charge, in perpetuity. (http://meta.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mission&oldid=573270)
The vision of the Foundation is formulated as follows:
- "Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our commitment." (http://wikimediafoundation.org)
In practice Wikimedia Foundation works for to develop and to promote globally available, free - as in freedom, as well as price - resources to everyone in their own language. However, according to the mission statement the focus is on "neutral educational content". In this sense all the projects of the Wikimedia Foundation are also educational projects.
Wikipedia and Wikiversity are just two projects sponsored by the Foundation. For instance, Wiktionary is a project to create free dictionaries and thesauri in every language. Wikibooks aims to build a collection of free e-book resources, including textbooks, manuals, language courses, and public domain books. Wikispecies is an open, wiki-based project to gather central database of all the species of the world; and Wikinews is providing a free alternative news service. (http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Our_projects). Each of the projects are, in their own way, working on to realize the Foundations dream: offer everyone an access and means to share knowledge and to increase the accessibility of educational content for all.
Wiki-projects are such that they take their form over a time. Wiki-projects are, first of all, communities that are responsible in building their own culture and way of operating. When a wiki-project is started it is hard to know what it finally will become. Wiki-projects do not develop independently, but progress in a social context which is invariably defined by language. Because of the free nature - anyone may join - the context of every wiki-project is always changing, depending on the socio-cultural-demographic of the community members.
In the time of writing this Wikiversity is still taking its form. It looks like communities are not yet exactly sure what architecture and routines offer the greatest utility. Some parts of the Wikiversity are already becoming real online learning communities, one kind of educational entity. One may even see some promising signs of it's routines becoming institutionalized; each article is basically a peer reviewed document by peers without (known) credentials. The slogans used within the Wikiversity project promises a lot: "Universities Working Together" and "set learning free".
There is a chance that Wikiversity will become an important part of an online education institution - one which offers an introduction to free lifelong learning. This philosophy of lifelong education is shared between all members of all projects of the Wikimedia Foundation. It is the foundation stone of Wikiversity.
In this paper we will firstly introduce three metaphors of learning that are common in the Western way of thinking about learning. These are acquisition, participation and knowledge creation. The friction between these metaphors strongly affects the ways in which we go about instituting educational routines. After this we will present the history and practical implementation of free adult education and free school movement and an idea of activist university. The free adult education will be presented as seen in the Scandinavian tradition. The ideas and implementations of the free school and empowering education is be based on number of radical pedagogical thinkers around the world such as Paulo Freire (1993), Henry Giroux (2007), bell hooks (1994), Ivan Illich (1971) and Peter McLaren (2005), among many others. And the activist university, in its turn, is a concept originally introduced by Bertell Ollman.
Based on the three metaphors of learning and three traditions of education we will present several ideas and recommendations for the future direction for the Wikiversity. Our argument is based on the belief, that without forgetting the basics, Wikiversity – as well as the other wiki-projects – should aim for the highest possible potential intrinsic in their unique combination of free content, volunteer co-operation and massive distribution of labour. We should not be content to replicate or even to replace existing resources or functions. The Wikiversity should be a build on two-fold foundation: (1) the Wikipedia project's success factors forcing genuinely new forms and results in education and learning and (2) tradition of free and liberal educational philosophy and practice.
Three Metaphors of LearningEdit
In the article, "On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one," Sfard (1998) points out that there are basically two metaphors that are dominating our way of thinking about learning. These are learning as acquisition and learning as participation.
In the acquisition metaphor the human mind is seen as a container of knowledge and learning is a process where the learner (or her teachers) is filling the container with knowledge (Paavola et al. 2004). The historical root of the acquisition metaphor can be located to the era when documented information was a scarcity: production and reproduction of written documents was expensive. On the other hand, also the trend of considering education primarily in the context of for profit activity has strengthened the acquisition metaphor. Many people have been taught that to reach learning you must pay for someone who will give you the knowledge you need. Implementations relying on the acquisition metaphor include standardized certification courses with standard materials and tests. In a farmer family learning arrangement the acquisition metaphor would mean that the parents are selling for their children a guidebook with tricks and tips how to run the farm.
The participation metaphor of learning emphasizes participation in various cultural practices and shared learning activities (Paavola et al. 2004). In this metaphor knowledge and learning are situated in people's life-worlds, in their socio-cultural contexts. In this metaphor, knowledge is accessible only by the cultural mediation taking place in socio-cultural activities. The practical educational implementations of the participation metaphor are often such as dialogues among the learning community and learning by doing. The traditional way of learning your parents way of living and their occupation is a good example of the participatory metaphor. With the farmer family example it means that a child crowing on a farm will at first first follow what her parents are doing, later work with them in the fields, and at some point - in time having her own children - will master the tasks individually.
A third metaphor that could supplement the first two, called the knowledge-creation metaphor of learning, has been proposed by Paavola et al. (2004). The model is partly based on the works of Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995), Engeström (1987) and Bereiter (2002). All of them have emphasised creation of conceptual and material cultural knowledge artifacts in communities. The knowledge artifacts are artifacts that are part of the community's or even the whole human-kind's collective knowledge. In the case of learning, the focus is on creating knowledge, to make more knowledge artifacts. Because the situation and context where learning takes place is always different the knowledge artifacts created by the learner are always new. They are new for the learner as she did not have them before. We may see that the knowledge-creation metaphor has a connection to the acquisition and the participation metaphors. In a good learning situation you acquire knowledge but also participate in the process of creating knowledge. With the example of the farmer family it would mean that children would learn farming with their family in the fields, but would also have access to different kind of materials related to farming. Furthermore, based on the acquisition and participation the new generation would try to create new knowledge in the context of their own farm, by asking what practices in their father and mother's way of doing are such that are good to keep and what new ways of farming could be implemented from the materials available. During the learning process they potentially would also participate in the process of creating collective knowledge.
As a platform for learning, Wikiveristy has potential to cover all the three bases. When it comes to the acquisition metaphor, the free/libre nature of Wikiversity content guarantees access and removes scarcity. This in itself is a great benefit, and promises to equalize and democratize learning when technological and ideological barriers of access are removed. The second metaphor, participation, is the forte of Wikipedia, and could prove to be a similar boon for Wikiversity. Arguably, with millions of people editing Wikipedia articles and hundreds of thousands discussing them, Wikipedia has become the largest and most vibrant non-governmental project of democratic enlightenment. When Immanuel Kant in 1784 answered the question "What is enlightenment?", by insisting on the public and authority-independent use of reason, he formulated an ideal that has in various forms guided Western and liberal notions of education up to Jürgen Habermas' (1981) theories of ideal communication. The participation in creating free educational content provides a forum for interactive and dialogical public use of reason that is a value in itself in addition to creating free content.
However, the greatest unique potential of the Wikiversity lies in actively creating knowledge artifacts, or 'works'. Think of a typical class in a typical school. There is a textbook and a teacher that goes through the topics in the book, and the students try to acquire the information covered. If the teacher is good, she is able to contextualize the topic and involves the students in critically assessing and evaluating the information. This may lead to dialogue and learning by doing. Typically the process would stop here, until the students were to use their acquired knowledge in the "real world" outside the school. However, with free/libre content and massively distributer volunteer co-operation, arrangements like the Wikiversity can provide a setting in which the students (and the teacher) possibly together with other students create a new knowledge artifact (be it a refined version of the textbook, or a contextualised course based on the textbook, or practical examples to illustrate the phenomena discussed through audio, video, etc.). This radical proliferation of knowledge artifacts has the potential of unleashing an unprecedented collective educational process. The Wikiversity should be prepared for this proliferation by not assuming too strict or limiting policies on either the type or nature of contents. (Footnote: For instance, it can be argued that a deletionist policy together with a strict NOR policy in the context of Wikipedia limits the possibilities of emergent collective knowledge production. Consequently, these and related policies should be carefully considered in the case of the Wikiversity.) This emphasis on conceptual artifacts is also pointed out by Jerome Bruner who maintains that externalization as collective cultural activity is vital in all shared learning processes; by externalization he refers to the importance of producing works (or oeuvres) which create a sense belonging, sustain group solidarity and help make a community of mutual learners: works as externalization of the shared learning projects "give pride, identity, and a sense of continuity to those who participate." In addition they "promote a sense of the division of labor." (Bruner 1996, 22–23.)
Crucially, the knowledge creation process includes both the tangible and intangible processes through which the participants learn. In a famous example from cognitive science, John Haugeland (1998, 234-5) describes the way in which a skill is embedded in the complete whole of “agent plus environment”. Think of the way in which a person can find her way by car from one city to another. It is quite likely that the ability to find one's way is dependent on the physical existence of the road system. The cognitive skill and the needed information are coded in the physical environment that in this sense makes possible the “intelligent” behaviour of finding one's way. If the road system did not exist, one could not find one's way to the desired place even if the means, say a helicopter, were available. “Finding one's way” as a cognitive skill is a property of the agent plus the environment. Changes in either one will change the skill.
To take an example closer to home, think about the different way in which reliability is created in the Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica. In Britannica, the reliability of the content is a function of the authority of the writers and the process through which the experts are selected and peer-reviewed. In the case of Wikipedia, the "history" and "discuss" buttons on each page provide a perspective to the genealogy of the article. Reliability grows through interaction and revision, not through authority. Consequently, the nature of the content is cognitively different. Many users of the Wikipedia know that information is not reliable in the same way as information in the Britannica or, say, in the Citizendium, but are still able to use it to their benefit.
The action of learning-by-consulting-the-Britannica and learning-by-consulting-the-Wikipedia are different, and potentially result in different cognitive skills and knowledge artifacts (such as Wikipedia forks, hypertexts, mash-ups, etc.). Let us think Wikipedia and Wikiversity and the kind as storages of gradually evolving and developing information: their beauty – or to be more blunt, the wet dream of a constructivist – lies in the very possibility of tracking the changes of a given article or topic from the archives, just push the history tab on the screen. "The value of this technique will increase over the years as Wikipedia gets older" (Lichtenstein 2007).
This is the potential that the Wikiveristy has to be aware of and nurture: learning-by-using-the-Wikiversity may be a knowledge creating act sui generis, and should not be brought down by the limitations and conventions of conventional education. This matter is most urgent in the case of free/libre nature of the Wikiversity; a topic to which we return, below.
Free and Liberal Adult Education and Free School MovementEdit
The participation metaphor of learning mentioned above also captures some of the essential parts of free and liberal adult education. Free and liberal adult education is the first and foremost participatory activity. It is goal-oriented and collaborative, and it aims at social as well as individual transformation.
Free and liberal adult education is always based on and embedded in understanding social circumstances and local realities. Thus it has a straight connection to people's everyday lives and it stems from their need to solve practical problems by finding solutions together. Three common characteristics for free and liberal adult education are as follows: (1) the diversity of curricula, (2) voluntary nature of participation and (3) learner-based study methods. Free and liberal education is often open-ended; that is, it has no ready-made goals, only a problem-based starting point. Thus it has nothing to do with formal curricula "from above" as in formal schooling systems. The other thing separating free and liberal adult education from formal schooling is voluntary participation; people are not forced to join their forces in adult education. Voluntary participation implies study methods which respect participants' experience and ideas. The most common study method has been study circle; in it adults share their worldviews and lived experiences, and build insights in democratic dialogue.
Historically free and liberal adult education has occurred in many places. Among these are folk high schools, workers' educational centers and civic centers. Also public libraries, museums and the free press can be seen as forms of liberal adult education. Free and liberal adult education is also often linked with social movements in their task of tackling burning social or ecological issues of the time.
In Nordic countries free and liberal adult education has played important role in the socio-economical and cultural development of the nations. The liberal adult education movement's ideological father was N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872), Danish teacher, poet and philosopher who found the first Folk High School in Denmark in 1844. Originally Grundtvig wanted to reform the existing higher education in Denmark which he saw educating only scholars who didn't have any connection to the everyday life of ordinary people. He claimed that the university did not anymore serve the society. In the Folk High School the aim was to educate people for active participation in society and popular life. The focus of studies was on practical skills, history and national poetry. Studies were a combination of practical science and humanities with emphasis on wisdom and equality. The "Grundtvigian" educational thinking took over fast in other Nordic countries where number of Folk High Schools, "workers educational centers" and "adult education centers" were found in later 1800's and early 1900's. In 1960's the free and liberal education's significance for socio-economical development, cultural life and people's well being was recognized and the institutions started to receive state subsidies. Still today taking voluntary studies in free and liberal adult education institutions is very popular in Nordic countries. For instance in Finland in 2004, about 1 million adults (total population of 5.2 million) took some studies in one of the liberal adult education institutions. 70% of the participants were women. 51% of the studies were in the field of art and culture, including handicraft (20%) and music (14%) as the most popular study subjects. Other popular subjects of studies were humanities, education, social and healthcare and sports. (Koulutuksen arviointineuvosto/ Tapio Vaherva 2004, Tilastokeskus).
Free school movement is a "second cousin" of free and liberal adult education, for they share many, if not all, of their characteristics such as open-ended curriculum, situatedness in everyday life, and problem-based and dialogical study methods. Free school movement has its root in the critique of national, "closed" schooling systems. In the critique they were seen as central "ideological state apparatuses" with national political bias and direction, and sometimes, as in the Nordic countries, a comprehensive national curriculum. In other words schooling was defined as politically directed social institution with a western emphasis in the contents of learning. According to critics, like Ivan Illich, schooling is harnessed on the wagons of economical utility, and it is directed by the control of learning contents. This control is called as national and supranational educational policies. In the era of economic globalization the main aim seemed to have been the production of prolonged exchange value of a well-educated citizens. Teachers and students are defined as state-subjects and their learning means merely "having" more knowledge and more production and consumption power.
On the contrary in free school movement education was not defined as state-governed "thing" located in places like schools. Instead it was maintained that education was naturally evolving activity which belonged to people, not to governments. Furthermore education's aim was not to improve people's capacity to buy more, or to be more efficient in serving some corporation, but to enhance people's individual, social and spiritual faculties, and increase their capabilities to self-direction and self-government. One of the early critics of the state-led schooling system, Ivan Illich, imagined a world in his book Deschooling Society (1971), in which learning was expanded across people's everyday lives: to the streets and small study corners where one could watch a film or listen to a record, and have an educative conversation with others. This idea breaks with the old dichotomy between teachers and students and creates a space where former teachers become students and former students as teachers: no one is seen as passive, empty vessel but as active creators capable of sharing and absorbing their lived experience as well as gradually learning how to assess external information. Already in 1971, llich talks about "learning webs," where people are exchanging teaching and learning based on their needs. In Illich own words:
- "The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing and caring." (Illich 1971)
- "A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known." (Illich 1971)
From the Illich's dream, with three corner stones of a good education system, the access to available resources at any time is becoming real because of the Internet, the Web, Wikimedia Foundation and other online free/libre content initiatives. We may assume that in a several years, learning materials in most basic study subjects, in number of language will be available online for all and for free. At the same time, blogs, citizen journalism, camera phones, etc. are furnishing us all to present issues to the public, just like in Illich's third purpose of a good education system. The second purpose - to have free and open marketplace where people can find other people interested to study something together - is not yet happening online.
Many people see free and liberal adult education and free school movement as an attempt to bypass the state control on education. This is not necessarily the case. The state's role in free and liberal eduction system is to guarantee equality - to make free and liberal education available and accessible for all. The practical implementation of this can be state-run free and liberal schools and adult education institutions, in a similar way as the state is providing library services for all. The whole free and liberal education system - including libraries, free press, schools, higher education, and adult education institutions - should work together to ensure that everyone will have access to the free and liberal education system.
In those parts of the world where free and liberal education eco-system is strong, the free and liberal online education initiative - such as the Wikimedia Foundation's projects - often complement the existing system. However, in many parts of the world the free and liberal education system is very weak or totally non-existing. In these the online free and liberal education projects, such as Wikimedia Foundation's projects, may have an important role to play. They may offer people the change to participate in free and liberal education, and also show governments the power of free and liberal education and its relation to people's well-being. It is possible, in turn, that this drives general education reforms in many parts of the developing world.
We may see that today's free and liberal adult education is increasingly taking place on the World Wide Web, especially when seen as a wider social movement. In his book In the Net: An Internet Guide for Activists, Jim Walch provides a list of 12 categories of ICT for social action. These categories include, to name but a few; creating and enhancing interaction, breaking the censorship of silence, bypassing hierarchy, linking the periphery, distributing knowledge and renegotiation of social contracts (Walch 1999, 145). All of the above-mentioned categories are closely related to free and liberal adult education. In a way they represent adult education in the time of the Web.
For relative long time, both free and liberal adult education and free school movement have tried to deconstruct the pedagogical myth, so common and persistent in the western national educational systems, which divides the world of teaching and learning and intelligence into two. Using French philosopher Jacques Ranciére's words, the pedagogical myth claims "that there is an inferior intelligence and a superior one."
"The former registers perceptions by chance, retains them, interprets and repeats them empirically, within the closed circle of habit and need. This is the the intelligence of the young child and a common man. The superior intelligence knows things by reason, proceeds by method, from the simple to the complex, from the the part to the whole. It is this intelligence that allows the master to transmit his knowledge by adapting it to the intellectual capacities of the student and allows him to verify that the student has satisfactorily understood what he learned." (Ranciére 1991, p. 7.)
The name Wikiversity, with the "-versity" ending, makes reference to "university". The oldest form of University is the classical academy with the virtues of community, criticism and dialogue aiming to wisdom. However, we are not sure if these virtues of classical academy serve the future needs of Wikiversity for, after all, academia was and is built on the idea of intellectual exclusion and professionally covered expertise, and protected by the distance between – using Ranciére's (1991) words – "knowing minds" and "ignorant ones", that is, those who know and transmit, and those who listen and receive. This distinction as such does not hold in the world of Wikiversity. Moreover, the old ideal does not take into account the circumstances under which wiki-projects work – wide distribution, free digital content, volunteer participation – which give them their unique potentials, if also set limitations.
Besides these principles of classical academy there have been initiatives, although rare, over the years for an "activist university." One of them, stated by Bertell Ollman, starts from the idea that the university should contribute to the community and plot its "dependence (both as an institution and as a function) on the state and on the capitalist class". This would enable the university to stay true to its critical function to do autonomous research by involving the entire university community in a shared, collective, cooperative and multidisciplinary research projects.
The explicit aim of these autonomous projects would be to produce, in Ollman's words, "giant reports of findings," and through them "to develop a better dialogue between people in the university and those in the larger community, workers and employers alike. And, like in all dialogues, learning would go both ways. People in the community would learn that the university and those of us in the university are concerned with their whole lives. And people in the university would learn... Well, a lot more than the answers to the questionnaires we pass out." Activist research would activate all persons in the university: everyone from students to faculty and administrators would get involved in some way.
Ollman suggests a special task force which would produce "a wind, a hurricane, that would shake the whole university, that would get every group, department, class in the university looking for ways they could get involved", to bring the university together and to create "a positive education experience for everyone involved". And, more than that, Ollman continues his idea further in the context of The City University of New York (CUNY): "why should research be an individual and small group activity? Let 150,000 people take to their pencils and wits together about something worthwhile. Put mass scholarship into motion. Let's create the first activist university." This, according to Ollman, would be "an education worth giving and getting" and serve as an example to universities all over the world.
These ideas are echoed in the recent debates concerning the role and function of certain human sciences such as sociology. In the conversation it has been argued that sociology, as it has been known inside the walls of academia, must be changed. It needs to take its public responsibility seriously: "at the heart of sociology must lie a concern for society" (Burawoy 2006, 1). In the same vein builders of Wikiversity need to take to their hearts a concern for the world: the social challenges and issues people find problematic in their everyday life. Wikiversity should become the "active university".
Quite surprisingly these ideas are also discussed in the context of corporations human resource development field and in the context of organizational learning. In knowledge intensive industries and business organizations, companies that are able to involve all of their personnel and also their customers and partners in a shared, collective, cooperative and multidisciplinary research and innovation projects are more rewarding than others. Indeed, various forms of social software and the ideas of open innovation (see von Hippel 2005, Thrift 2006) are put forward as hallmarks of an "active enterprise": a company that is - in collaboration with its customers and partners - recognizing real needs of the people and able to find products and services that will fullfill the needs.
The fact that the world outside the universities see the value of "active people" should result as an "activity university," an institution that is educating and nurturing active people. For the traditional universities it will be very difficult to change, whereas new initiatives, such as Wikiversity, may form their operations with very little existing cultural and economical restrictions.
The Wiki Potential for EducationEdit
The digital world has seen the first germs of new media forms that are having radical social, political and economic consequences. Wikis have offered ways to jointly produce content just as blogs, online forums and other (so called) social softwares have offered new ways in which to communicate. Due to their utility, digital information and communication tools have become abundant. In public (WWW) spaces, they provide for a global economy of share-and-share-alike, and lighter governance.
With their use, all kinds of social behaviour can been discovered very easily. We are presented with an overwhelming amount of information or programming. The emphasis of influential Media is changing from hubs of one way (broadcast) media to hubs of two way (narrowcast) media. Wikimedia's great conflation is a harbinger of this change. This broadening awareness is leading democratic eyes to try and improve on the ways in which they communicate, and then collaborate, and then leave a memory. It is driving completely new forms of social and civil organisation.
Perhaps the best illustration is the change in old ideas about research institutions. Researchers beaver away in disciplinary groups, who avoid their outside worlds, until it comes to reporting their findings. When they do, their papers and programmes are presented to peers, often in a language many will not understand, at a (National) conference which is largely ignored due to their overwhelming number. In brief, researchers are rewarded for the number of papers accepted for publication in a peer reviewed journal, not for answering people asking similar questions about their abstracts. The are rewarded for pushing media, not pulling it.
Consequently, an increasing amount of attention is being paid to the differences in the conditions and modes of operation between the traditional media's economies and the “new media economy”. A whole school of writers has argued that, in addition to the old economy, there is another economy, variously called the amateur economy, sharing economy, social-production economy, non-commercial economy, p2p economy, and even the gift economy.
The problem for these thinkers is their belief that the “new economy” works on principles of its own, and that any attempt to force it into the mould of the first economy would be disastrous. I would argue that this hasn't been the case so far, as proved (E.g.) by Google introducing ads around its search results. Ultimately, to remain relevant, every group needs to advertise to their outside worlds. There is always a pull (to conference and journals) and push (through advertising). The real question is how both may be minimized.
Discussion about the ownership of information and its copyright can been largely eradicated through the acceptance of the concept of the [public domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain]. Knowledge is exchanged freely.
The acquisition model of learning is connected to the old kind of National educational systems, where knowledge is commodified and delivered in closed (disciplinary) systems. This can not, by definition, be the model for the Wikiversity, as the content in the Wikiversity, like all members of the Open CourseWare Consortium, is given freely.
In the participation-model of an Open University, information and knowledge do not possess exchange value. Value is created through communicating its understanding. The situation is comparable to the GNU/Linux operating system which is available gratis, and thus does not carry exchange value, but does have tremendous value when its use is communicated to a potential user. In the participatory model students are sometimes teachers and the teachers sometime students. Learning by doing, collaborating and creating content - sometimes asynchronously, sometimes synchronously - are the key elements.
However, the freedom of the participatory model is easily corrupted. One advertisement in the corner of a page can turn the mode of an autonomous and voluntary co-operative into a war between factions. A useful illustration may be made using Wikipedia, where the community has discussed various ways to finance activities (including advertising, see e.g.,: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category_talk:Wikipedians_against_advertisements). Everyone hates advertising (and its subversive forms like product placement) but without it we would rarely find out about related events [like this conference http://www.open.ac.uk/openlearn/openlearn2007/conference.php].
It is clear from those kinds of discussion that the manner of financing radically affects the kind of activities undertaken. Sponsorships for events or an article may be acceptable. Banner ads are an anathema in academic circles. Regardless, until the types of revenue generating opportunities are agreed upon by members of Wikiversity, sustainability is a pipe dream. And until members have agreed upon a manner of rewarding members for their contribution, the skills and knowledge required to get an education in a globalizing world are stillborn.
Learning by doing and life long learning in non-conventional educational contexts supports ideas of education as a (global) commons, not as a separate activity run by (national) specialists or experts. Illich's dream of a "deschooling society" refers to this type of education - one which supports the growth of native skills already possessed by the learners. When learning centers on the development of native skills instead of the transfer or delivery of knowledge, from experts to novices, it is possible to see that learners are sometime teachers, and vice versa. This is the forte of a free Wikiversity over other virtual learning environments.
Building trust in a community of co-learners and co-teachers is the essential challenge for a vibrant cultural life. Agreeing upon the ways in which revenue may be raised and contributions may be rewarded is the essential challenge for a comfortable economic life.
Recommendations for the Wikiversity CommunityEdit
Free and liberal adult education, free school movement and active university all emphasizes community, democracy and groups' ownership of their operations. They also see people as active participants in the community with responsibility on their own development, as well as their community’s development and well-being. In each of them people may have and may take also different roles and responsibilities and start to take responsibility on them. They emphasises the idea of "being bold" in the community. This way many wiki-projects and communities work very much the same way. However, there are several issues on which the free and liberal adult education and free school movement differs from the existing wiki-project. The difference is in their focus. In classical free and liberal education in the center there are the people, whereas in a wiki-project the focus is on the wiki-site and its content. To become a Free Wikiversity - the way free adult education and free schools operates - the "center of gravity" should move from the content to the people.
In the following we are presenting five recommendations for the Wikiversity community, building them from the bases of free and liberal education's tradition.
Wikiversity should have clear "study offering". In the spirit of the free education the "study offering" should be fully designed and defined by the community members. The study offering should reflect the needs of the community, and the members of the community should have a right to propose "study projects". To have study offering, all the study projects offered by the Wikiversity should meet some minimum requirement of structure. Each of them should provide teachers/leaders, schedule, registration, syllabus, objectives, means of evaluation and feedback. This would require also some general scheduling for the Wikiversity, such as semesters and fixed starting and finishing dates. Even if education is free and liberal it requires a certain level of commitment from the participants. People must be committed to spend their time and to commit to the objectives of the "study projects".
Wikiversity community should be active in recognizing groups that would most benefit of it and encourage them to utilize Wikiversity. Wikiversity should be proactive in this by promoting itself among groups with low socio-cultural-economical and political freedoms in local and global context. In tradition of free and liberal education the focus has been on those who have less favorable combination of circumstances in the life and in the society. Free and liberal eduction considers itself as a mean for people to reach better social, cultural, and economical position. Similar way as free and liberal education has served the social change in the 20 century's national states, such as in Nordic countries, Wikiversity could server the social change in the 21 century's globalized world. Wikiversity should aim to find solutions to the challenges of its time, similar way as the free and liberal education was part of the solution to build more equal, fear and free societies.
Wikiversity should have an organization that is serving the study offering. It could mean some new roles, which the community members should be free to take depending on what they are doing in the different study programs offered on Wikiversity. One should be able to be a student, teacher, researcher or administrator in different situations. One should be able to have multiple roles in different activities taking place in the Wikiversity: be a teacher in one study program, student in another one and administrator in a third. Democracy and flexibility are some of the core ideas behind the free and liberal education. In free schools each student, teacher and parent have an equal right to speak in the school meetings. If there are competing proposals for decisions each will also have one vote. Flexibility in free and liberal education means that teacher is open to see himself as a learner, too. Students may also take a role of being a teacher. To enrich the learning experience a free school may also use some of the parents as teachers in some situations.
Wikiversity should focus on people and less on content. As pointed out earlier, probably the most fundamental change for the wiki-community . with the strong vision and commitment on content production – is that in the Wikiversity the focus should be more on people and communication, and less on content and wiki-site. From the wiki-platform it would require more advanced communication tools. Wiki discussion pages and IRC are good, but not enough. Integration of free/libre VoIP online conference tools to the wiki-platform would open it for such a group work we people are "hard-coded." The VoIP online conference tool could also result as much higher level of belonging and group cohesion. In free and liberal education one of the most common form of learning is a "study circle". Study circle is a form of learning where a small group of people meet to discuss about topics they are interested in to learn about. The focus in a study circle is to explore and inquiry the topics, not simply socializing. Often study circles are using some reference materials, such as a text book or audio/visual material, to simulate the discussion. The aim of the study circle is to improve the participants understanding of the topics discusses.
Wikiversity's main library should be the content found from the other Wiki-project sites. The change of focus from the content to people would also clear up the relationship of Wikiversity with the other projects of the Foundation. In the Wikiversity's study projects the "neutral education content" found from the Wikibooks, Wikipedia and Wikispecies would be the primary learning materials. The other Foundation projects would in practice be the "library" of the Wikiversity. In some more advantaged studies in the Wikiversity, student could also contribute their study results to other projects of the Foundation. An important part of free and liberal education ecosystem is free press/media and libraries offering access to different kind of reference materials. People involved in free and liberal adult education are often also the heavy users of public libraries. Some free and liberal education institutions also maintain their own libraries and have publications to support their study offering.
Wikiversity does not exist and cannot be studied or developed without social context. Thus our focus as developers and theorist of Wikiversity should be, besides the technologies and their uses, in the often gritty realities of the people of the world. If our goal is to get an equal access to Wikiversity, then we need to study not only access to free and liberal education system, free information and communication but also peoples' real life situations. How do they spend their time? At hard, exploitative labor, or in a Caribbean cruises? And what they need to do in order to survive? How do they spend their possible leisure time? Studying, consuming, exercising...? These questions bring us to the very fountains of critique of current political economies known as economic globalization boosted with constant advertising and consumerist ideals.
In our search for truly open and enhancing Wikiversity, we would also need to reach beyond the boundaries of traditional definitions of intelligence as aptitude for school subjects and skills. Here we are inclined to think as Howard Gardner who maintains that for a fuller view it is not enough to link literacies and facility to a certain kind of problem-solving. Rather the goal is to educate people "who not only can analyze but also will do the right thing; individuals who will be admirable not only as thinkers or creators but also as human beings. We endorse Emerson's aphorism: 'Character is higher than intellect'." (Gardner 2000, 248.)
In addition, if and when these questions have been solved (and the task is not small) – then at least the following questions succeed. How to solve the problem of western cultural bias, or to protect other than western local knowledges and forms of wisdom? And how free is Wikiversity after all? Who makes the decisions: nerds, "experts," or laymen – and how to draw the lines between them?
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