Wikiversity learning model/Discussion group

Welcome - this is a discussion about the model (or should that be models?) of learning in Wikiversity. This group is intended to complement the reading group on the Wikiversity learning model - but its scope is wider than finding and discussing readings. Potentially, this group might serve as a means for participants of this group (and of Wikiversity as a whole) to examine our own experiences, understandings, and assumptions of education. However, since it is a discussion group, its scope is entirely up to the participants.

Please add your own questions, comments, and experiences below...

Is there (or should there be) one model of learning in Wikiversity?


The learning by doing model is the one most cited when we discuss a model appropriate for Wikiversity. Why is this? What is it based on, and how is it supposed to work? Are there any issues/problems with it? Personally, I think it is appropriate for some activities and contexts, but not for others (for example, I don't expect someone who is new to both wikis and to organic chemistry to be able to make Wikiversity work for them). So, is this latter example a problem with the "learning by doing" model, with wikis/Wikiversity as a space for learning, or with not having set up enough materials in Wikiversity, in order that the person interested in a subject (like organic chemistry) can get started on their learning journey? Would there be other ways (models) of providing for learning for different people/subjects/age-groups etc? I'd be very happy to hear people's thoughts - and to try and tease this question apart. Cormaggio talk 22:12, 6 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

Viable methods


Two comments from Colloquium discussion on "Problems and actions":

JWSchmidt asks: "Can we identify two or three likely ways to build fun and productive learning communities here at Wikiversity? The default approach is what we have mostly been doing...keep editing and waiting for more like-minded people to show up and join in." He later says: "In my view, most people learn best when they participate in the types of social interactions that arise in normal daily living. In a wiki-based project, "learn by doing" fundamentally involves "learning by editing". Wiki editing works best when there is a dynamic community of editors who share common interests and goals. I think that having viable methods for building communities of like-mined editors, "learning communities", is a fundamental part of "learn by doing" at Wikiversity."

SB_Johnny: "I rather think that our problem of recruiting stems from not having enough recruiting materials: it may be true that "if you build it, they will come", but you can't test that axiom without building something first", and subsequently adds: "In general I think large, broad-based projects that have a good potential for "spinning off" more focused and deep projects will be our best way of getting more people involved."

These are very useful comments. So, I'd like to engage people in imagining and identifying "viable methods" for building learning communities - we can do so right here. Similarly, I'd like to start identifying "broad-based projects that have a good potential for "spinning off" more focused and deep projects" (which is, of course, a proposed "viable method"). I'd also like to throw open the idea of "like-minded" - for me, learning can equally come from having significant differences of opinion. Isn't this also a potential for building engaging learning communities - to have places where people can debate and critique one another? Comments on this, or anything else that's relevant here? Cormaggio talk 10:28, 11 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

Well, I suspect what JWS was getting at was more along the lines of "like-interested" (which is awkward on the tongue). Developing materials and communities about climate change, for example, would work best if there were people who were like-minded in terms of interest in the issue, but not necessarily like-minded in terms of their views on the issue. --SB_Johnny | talk 11:42, 11 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
Idea: making an opinion poll for users of Wikiversity and ask them in what kind of topics they are interested in when it comes to establishing a learning community. Another question can be what kind of method they want to use. For instance, SB-Johnny wants to listen to an online radio station and discuss the radio programm and Erkan and me read an online text on Thucydides and discuss about it.
Afterwards, our discussion group, or action research group could try to come up with new ways to stimulate activity on Wikiversity.--Daanschr 12:28, 11 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
(Copied from my talk page. Cormaggio talk 15:44, 11 February 2008 (UTC))[reply]
"learning can equally come from having significant differences of opinion" <-- one of the original ideas for Wikiversity was that it could host "debate clubs". I expected that some Wikiversity projects such as War Seminar might naturally develop into places where Wikipedians could work outside of the stricter restrictions of doing encyclopedia work. Speaking for myself, I've been reluctant to promote Wikiversity as a place for emotional debates, fearing that until Wikiversity gets larger it could be disrupted if a large group of POV warriors decided to turn Wikiversity into a battle ground. Of course, being guided by such fears cuts Wikiversity off from a key approach to attracting dynamic groups of participants. I do hope that Wikiversity will eventually be strong enough to host scholarly debates that will be both 1) attractive to some Wikipedians and 2) civilized enough to result in the construction of useful learning resources and learning communities. --JWS 14:06, 11 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for the ideas. There have already been a number of discussion/debate-based projects, and SB_Johnny also outlined some other ideas in the recent Colloquium discussion. I think we could explore these further - and without necessarily worrying about POV pushers. (In fact, I think such dilemmas might be useful learning experiences for us.) It's also what I'm hoping to do in this action research project (and on this page) - developing a learning community of people who are interested in Wikiversity being an educational space. Surely this is the most basic common denominator amongst us all here? Shouldn't we be discussing this basic question - perhaps framed by things like 'my most fun learning experiences', or 'what have I learned through my wiki-browsing/editing life'? I shouldn't think we'd need to do a poll on that one. Though perhaps polls might be useful ways for people to express interest in subjects - I often wonder how we can be of use to someone who turns up, interested but unknowledgeable in a subject, finds there's no great content here and nobody clearly interested - what can they realistically do? How can we (anyone) guide them to something useful? Cormaggio talk 16:00, 11 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
The idea of the poll is to stimulate people to start learning communities. It was meant as an inventory, to get information on which we can build. Information we don't have yet. So, what do we want to know from people, which can be usefull for us.
It would be best to aim this tool to regular users of Wikiversity and to advertise for it on a prominent place for new users. The polls can be used to introduce people with eachother, who have simular ideas on topics and learning communities and to try to stimulate them to do something with it. Of course there are other methods possible to make Wikiversity a success.
In the last case you mention, the only thing that helps is to actually make things people are interested in. If they can't find it on a certain moment, than they will leave of course. There is nothing that can be done against it.--Daanschr 20:31, 11 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
I would like to be able to help such people a bit more than saying "there is nothing that can be done". I think we should realise that, even though we are trying to develop content across all subjects/levels in Wikiversity, we will inevitably have areas that are not covered - and that this creates an opportunity for someone to make people aware of their own particular needs, and the fact that there isn't anything on Wikiversity for their needs, inviting others to help. Currently, we have a help desk and a page request 'mechanism' (as well as the Colloquium of course) - and we used to have a link on the main page saying "We take requests!", which linked to Wikiversity:Learning goals. I think this latter page is useful to an extent, but I don't think we give enough clear guidance on how people can turn their interest into a learning process - in much the same way as I don't think we give enough guidance on how "learning by doing" helps anyone. But I do think with better guidance, we could motivate people to turn interests into learning paths, as opposed to just walking away. Some people, like Teemu Leinonen, believe this is all Wikiversity should do - organise activities around mutual interests, and not focus at all on content. I don't personally subscribe to this 'hardcore' view :-), but I do think it raises useful questions. Cormaggio talk 13:30, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
I think the "we take requests" approach is a bit problematic, because we don't have a critical mass of people who are interested in everything. For example, I might help someone work on making a resource about insects or tractors, but I wouldn't be much help to someone who wants to make a resource about dinosaurs or hotrods. It's not that something can't be done, it's more that there just isn't someone around to do it. --SB_Johnny | talk 14:41, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

It comes down to the question what people want when they enter Wikiversity. What are they looking for? Do they want to learn something and discover that the learning resources are limited? Do they want to learn something with other people within a community? Than, why do this communities have a hard time of starting up? Normally someone starts a course on Wikiversity. Sometimes, other people join in and within a month all activity is gone. So, how can we keep people involved who come to Wikiversity?

Perhaps we can compare a future growth of Wikiversity with the economic growth in China in the past 30 years. What China did was to assign a few small areas, Hainan island and Canton, and to invest tax money from all over China in these few areas. When Hainan and Canton became a success, the economic areas were enlarged, and now the outskirts of China are starting to grow, like Ürümqi. Why did China not try to start economic growth all over the country at once? Maybe, they didn't have the right people for the job, the right resources. If you send all your best men to Hainan, than they can develop there and experiment. If they have success, the success can be repeated elsewhere, untill the whole country gets involved.

On Wikiversity, we could try to send our best men to some projects, and trying to make these projects a success. The rest of Wikiversity will function as it has always done. If success is achieved, than new similar, or improved projects can be started, untill Wikiversity is busy with all knowledge.--Daanschr 15:08, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

Also, people can be allowed to have some self-initiative. Guidance doesn't always work. The only thing we can do is do our best to present ourselves to the best we can, but we can't help if someone doesn't like us. Such a person can decide to organize something for himself, but it is up to him or her.--Daanschr 15:25, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

If we're assuming that we need a critical mass of people interested in X in order to have a learning community on X, then aren't we saying that people could not initiate a learning community on their own from scratch (ie forming it around their own interests/questions)? I'd like to explore ways of giving people the self-initiative, the agency to begin a learning path from scratch - perhaps this might simply be a generic template of questions to get someone started (eg. "what am I interested in, and why?"; "what resources can I find on this?"; "in what ways could I improve my understanding"; "can I find people who are interested in a similar area?"), along with resources for finding resources and people. I very much agree with the idea of developing a sense of best practice from successful case studies, though I'm not so enthusiastic about using an image like "sending out our best men" - rather, I think that people interested in building learning communities (ie us) should be gravitating towards ones that have a chance of working, and to write up our findings into guidance for development of other learning communities. Cormaggio talk 15:51, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
If building a community is important, than we should stimulate to bring people together. A definition of community is people being together. Self-initiative could be focused on starting new learning communities. But, if these communities (people being together) doesn't arise, than it could be helpfull to stimulate persons not to pursue only your own dreams, but to pursue dreams together with others, common dreams. There is a conflict between community and self-initiative which can't be resolved. There can be too much self and too less community and there can be a comunity which suffocates the individual.--Daanschr 17:22, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
A problem I have here is that we seem to be talking about communities as if they are hypothetical things, out there. My perspective is that we are a learning community, right here - around developing Wikiversity. We are learning about Wikiversity's learning model(s) as we're 'doing' it - and we can use our experiences to guide further developments. So, I don't think we need (yet) to focus our energy excessively on what happens when learning communities don't arise. I do think, however, the idea of a conflict (or, I'd describe it as a 'tension') between individual and community is interesting - and worth bearing in mind in our ongoing analysis. Cormaggio talk 12:24, 13 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
I am interested in learning within a community dedicated to a certain topic, like a class at a school where you can learn something of history or mathematics. Wikiversity as one large learning community doesn't have my special interest. For instance, the colloquium is a nice way to discuss ideas, but i don't see it as a learning activity, it is more like a forum as you already have many of all over the internet and at the Wikimedia Foundation.
For me the interaction between people is going too slow in many courses and resource developments on Wikiversity. At the moment, i like the reading group that me and Erkan have started and i hope that SB_Johnny's discussions based on a radio show will be a success. I don't know of other initiatives that are doing fine here on Wikiversity.
I would like to stimulate these kind of initiatives and i am not very interested in other things, here on Wikiversity. I hope we can both find the audience that we are looking for.--Daanschr 13:19, 13 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
Yes, though I'm confused by what you're saying. The topic of the learning community that I'm talking about is: "Building successful learning communities on Wikiversity". You've already said you're interested in this - and I know that other people here are too. In the quote from JWSchmidt at the top of this section, he asks if we can identify "viable methods" of building successful learning communities - and proposes simply building communities, and see what works. I've tried to build on this by asking what has worked (or is working) and what hasn't - you've identified two that you think are successful (and thanks), but I would like to get some more feedback on this, working from what we've already seen, as well as feeding our ongoing experiences of specific topic learning communities into the larger topic of Building successful learning communities on Wikiversity. There, let's make it a topic. :-) Cormaggio talk 15:36, 13 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
Well, the Bloom Clock is doing fairly well too, but I'm not sure it's an easy model to follow because there aren't that many similar things to do (other than a bird clock, insect clock, etc.). Mike (whose wv username escapes me at the moment) is working on a weatherstation project, but that involves buying a weatherstation, so a bit harder to "fill the class". --SB_Johnny | talk 17:00, 13 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

Perhaps i am too philosophical in my way of communicating. We have been entangled in a typical language game as described by the Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein. What i want to do is to help stimulating more inititatives like the Thucydides reading group and the discussion on climate change.--Daanschr 19:06, 13 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

The good thing is that the discussion continues.--Daanschr 19:06, 13 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

Perhaps you'd like to start a reading group on Wittgenstein, Daanschr? He's a guy I've been meaning to read for a long while - particularly "Philosophical Investigations" (which is from the work you're referencing). SB_Johnny (btw, you're thinking of Mu301 (Mike)), I agree that the Bloom Clock is a great initiative - and I could see it being expanded to other collaborative research projects like "What did I eat today?" (giving data about diet). I'm sure we could think of others - but how easy is it for someone to set up and maintain such a thing? Cormaggio talk 20:05, 13 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
I would like to read and discuss that book. Do you know german? I didn't found the english version of the book in a quick search, but i did find the german one.--Daanschr 20:16, 13 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
I have some German, but there's absolutely no way I'd be able to read a dense book, particularly one by Wittgenstein! I can get an English translation in my university's library - anyway this shouldn't be coordinated here, but at Wittgenstein reading group. Cormaggio talk 19:57, 14 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

Experiences of education


Describe an educational experience that was memorable to you - for being good, bad, surprising, whatever. This doesn't have to be anything related to formal education (ie school) - it can be about a walk in the park, watching a documentary, talking with friends...

A 4-pronged approach


I've been thinking about a few lines of approach to giving some organization to Wikiversity, which I've brought up separately from time to time here and there. In essence, it means changing the wat we think about namespaces, search, categories, and feedback.

When it comes to the namespaces, I think we really need to stop hanging on to old ideas that haven't been working for us so well. In particular, the Topic namespace has been defended for a very long time as standing in for Departments. However, it hasn't really worked the way it should have, and probably can't really work because there is no organizing principle for what a department does. In brick-and-mortar universities, departments serve to organize, approve, arrange, and support classes. However, we're a wiki, so (a) any organization will be done by the participants, (b) no-one has the right to approve or disapprove anything, (c) there's no real arranging to do, and (d) no-one really knows how to support things.

I'd really like to see the Topic namespace being used for, well, topics. And have topics follow categories (and vice versa). The Thucydides group could be listed in Topic:History, and Topic:Ancient Greece, and Topic:Military History, and Topic:Peleponesian War, etc. The pages in that resource could also be categorized in the same way, redundantly, so that the Topic: pages could also use a DPL tracker similar to what's on the front page of Wikimedian_Demographics#Active_discussions, which uses a DPL script showing the 10 most recently edited pages that are categorized in any particular category.

I'd also like to see our search function modified so that the Topic namespace is default. This would mean that when someone enters a keyword into the search field and presses "go", they would by default be sent to Topic:<keyword>. Search really doesn't work that well on subpaged projects, because unlike an encyclopedia or a dictionary we're not likely to have a page that matches the keyword, but rather people are always sent to the search results page instead (which is rather frustrating to newbies and old hats alike). This would make things a lot easier to find for those who come seeking.

Finally, I'd like to build up a lot more on the feedback schemata. Perhaps we could call them "shows of hands", and we could use category trackers such as BryansBot to let participants know when someone has rendered an opinion about something, and maybe use talkpage notification bots to let people who gave an opinion about whether the peleponesian war was just know that there's another project asking opinions on whether the Iraq war is just. This last part involves a lot of botting and toolserver functions, but worth pursuing after a while, IMO.

In general what I'm thinking of is that people make new resources when something interests them. The Radio Discussion project is one example of that: the idea is that if you hear something on a radio program and are inspired to learn more about something you heard, you can do so by searching for resources both within and without Wikimedia, assemble them as a "course" (meaning both "the course of research I've traveled" and "a class"), and add feedback questions for a show of hands. This can be done for radio programs, TV shows, magazine articles, books, documentary movies, etc. Anything that teaches, in any media, can be used as our "lecturer", anything that provides more information, in any media, can be our "textbooks", and anyone interested can be a teacher-student. Then we connect all of these together using topics and categories that keep track of things for current participants, and makes it easy for potential participants to join the party.

Sorry for the long rant :). --SB_Johnny | talk 16:06, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

As someone who has never understood some of these namespaces anyway, and is in favour of shaking them up or reducing them, what is the difference between (your concept of) "topic" and the "category" namespace? BTW: I approve of your rant :) --McCormack 16:24, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
I'm running out, but briefly: Topics are annotated by human editors who create a sensible narrative connecting the resources linked from a topic. Categories are added so that the software can keep track of pages, and so that the software can be employed by human editors to make interpretations using DPL and other functions that enable the MediaWiki to do automated things that human editors don't have time to do. --SB_Johnny | talk 16:29, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
So effectively any "topic" will have an equivalent "category" (but not vice versa), and the topic is the human-written accompaniment of the list-like category - ? Yes - I can go with this. --McCormack 17:12, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
Yeah, more or less. I'd say that most "simple" categories would have a topic attached, but meta categories and project-specific categories wouldn't. So for example we wouldn't want a "Topic:Discussions" to go with "Category:Discussions", nor would we need a topic for a category like Category:BCP/SEPA/1 (which instead is reflected by Bloom Clock/Keys/Southeastern Pennsylvania/January within that project's pages). But we would want a topic for "Lunar Exploration", "The Peleponessian War", and perhaps "Symplocarpus foetidus" (which has pages in both Plant identification and on the Bloom Clock), and perhaps also topic redirects like "Skunk Cabbage" and "Eastern Skunk Cabbage". "Global Warming" (both category and topic) would cover any pages in any project addressing that issue, and so on. I have an idea for a template as well which would appear on the bottom of any page that would both add the category and link to the associated topics which would further assist navigation (and perhaps help Wikipedian visitors understand that category redundancy is not a problem here, since the "semantic tree" is in the topics, while the categories are instead being used as a software assistance). --SB_Johnny | talk 17:37, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
To my eyes, there's not much effective difference in the way that the "Topic:" namespace is used and how you propose it to be. I think "Topic:" pages can only be considered "departments" if we think of them as hierarchically inferior to "schools" - and as a kind of nod to people who want to think of Wikiversity as analogous to a conventional brick and mortar university. However, in practice, topic pages are usually simply there to develop content/activities in a given area. Perhaps then "School:" is the bogus namespace in your reckoning? In any case, I like the idea of streamlining the search mechanism towards a useful starter page for a given subject (and it makes sense for that to be a topic page - unless there's a really nifty portal instead :-P). I also very much like your ideas around feedback, and of utilising nifty, botty tools for this - however, I am completely clueless on the uses and potentials of bots, DPL, and the like, so I'll continue throwing in the occasional naive question here and there. :-) Cormaggio talk 17:53, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
I guess it's more of a feeling I have that whenever I talk about using the topic namespace in that manner, I tend to get slapped around by those who do like having analogs to the brick-and-mortar U's. I'm not a real good bot person either, but I'm hoping to track down a friend who is more experienced with things of that nature (and templates as well, because I'm not going to have time to be the "designated templater" for anything but the bloom clock now that spring is approaching (I'll have time to play again come December, but that's a long time from now in dog Wikiversity years). I think the only staffpersons we have who could actually change how search works are Sebmol and Darklama, and both of them are busy with other things these days.
As for the School: namespace, I think it's more or less reduntant with the portals. I've never really done much work on the meta-levels of WV though, so I might be mistaken.
PS, after edit conflict: your conception of the semantic tree is interesting, though I think it's due to my lack of understanding about DPL that I don't fully understand your distinction. Cormaggio talk 17:53, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikispecies, and Wikimedia Commons all use a semantic category tree. IOW, blue squares are in "Category:Blue Squares", which is in "Category:Blue" and "Category:Square", but you wouldn't put blue squares in all 3 categories, since they're already in the two upper ones as members of the smaller one. Wikibooks (which, like Wikiversity, uses subpages) uses categories differently, for example all the pages (modules) of a book are in one category, but the pages can also be in other categories as well.
The DPL stuff can sound confusing, but it really isn't. DPL can be used in one of two ways: as a way of narrowing down a search, or as a way of keeping track of the most recently edited pages in a category.
Does that make it clearer? --SB_Johnny | talk 20:43, 12 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for this - though the confusion I had was how the topic namespace would replace categories as the semantic tree. In any case, there is work to be done in figuring out how to develop and use 'nifty tools' for our purpose of building learning communities. This seems to be a learning project in itself - even if people don't have full mastery of bots etc, couldn't they (including myself) be able to get something going, setting up a dialogue with developers, putting out requests for help on another wiki/mailing list? Isn't this worth pursuing in its own right? I'd also like to lay open what you're saying in getting "slapped around" by brick-and-mortar-philes - why couldn't you have done what you are proposing previously, and is our structure too constraining? Cormaggio talk 12:37, 13 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

(reset tabs) I'll try to make up an example of it, but really just organizing topics as parent, sister, daughter, etc. in a similar manner as categories are used on Wikipedia and Commons (to see a very well-defined tree, have a look at how w:Category:Plants is structured). I'm pretty busy lately though, both with real life and getting the Bloom Clock ready for the northern spring. As far as my difficulties trying to get alternative ideas going, it's more often a case of "well, this is how the namespaces were originally intended to be". A lot of it's my fault too, because I'm not always the most articulate person (I need someone to continue to interrogate me because the ideas always "make sense to me", but not necessarily to anyone else :-) ). --SB_Johnny | talk 13:53, 14 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]