Wikiversity – time to vote

The Wikimedia community (e.g. Wikipedia, Mediawiki software and many more) is voting on Wikiversity idea. Wikiversity is a project “to build an electronic institution of learning that is relying on the wiki model”. The voting is made for making a decision on if the community should launch the project or not. I have rather contradictory thoughts about the Wikiversity idea.

I think Wikipedia is one of the most important social innovation of our time for knowledge distribution. The way the Wikipedia is build and how the community work is totally admirable. The wiki way of peer reviewing seems to work in many cases much more efficiently that the peer review in some areas of academic research. Of course review of encyclopedia articles is very different than a review of academic articles, but still…

“Imagine a world in which every single person is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge”. You can’t really argue against the mission statement of Wikipedia. But can this mission be translated to the context of university? Would it be then: “imagine a world in which every single person is given free access to the sum of higher education of all higher education in the world”. I think it can.

Wikipedia is the encyclopedia for the rest of us. My estimation is that about 95% of cases it is good enough for 95% of people. Of course if I am doing research I want to verify the sources of information and look for information from many sources. Still 95% of my needs of information are other than research related and Wikipedia is fully capable to fulfill them. And this is because the Wikipedia people have build up a community with rules and practices that seems to work. This makes Wikipedia a quality encyclopedia.

I think the Wikiversity project should not loose any of the good practices that have made Wikipedia a success. Wikiversity should aim to be the University for the rest of us. Not to be another university, but a different university, just like Wikipedia is not an ordinary encyclopedia. Wikiversity should also aim to have academic activities of which 95% are good enough for 95% of people.

And who will be teaching and studying in the Wikiversity? The wiki way it should be open for anyone to do both. If things go smoothly in some time there will be a “faculty” with members that have a good reputation. The community will find some people’s courses more useful and valuable than others.

So, what is my problem with Wikiversity? I am seriously worried that it may end-up to be just another platform for delivering learning materials – only. Period. I am afraid that Wikiversity community will not understand what are the factors that make a great academic institution. It is not tests, degrees and accreditations. It is the community.

Academia – the community – offers you a chance to work on topics with other people who share the same interest. That makes you learn. It is true that you read books and listen to lectures at the University. But, actually, all this is just a side activity supporting the common objective trying to understand the topics with your peers. This requires dialogue and shared research. In great academic institutions this means group discussions, assignments, exercises, seminars and other forms of active learning.

You also need great teachers who love their topic of teaching and know what kind of obstacles and problems students face when studying this topic. They are all a little different in a different disciplines. The teacher may know the challenges only if she is doing research in the same area, as well. You can show the way only if you have made it yourself. Conducting research means also that you are ready to change your mind and take another path.

Wikiversity should be an institution that is doing research and involving younger generation to this process. It should be a community – not a lecturing machine that is trying to maximize its income. There should be, however, some kind of system of giving credit, even degrees. The more creditable people should hold a right to give credit for those who have made a good job. This shouldn’t be a problem because everything is very transparent in wikis.

I believe that if things are done well, one day Wikiversity will be useful for the people using it and also recognized byt the outside world. It may take a while but it is possible. Some years ago there were not many people who believed on an encyclopedia which anyone could edit. So, I voted “no jaa” (well yes). Lets see.

6 thoughts on “Wikiversity – time to vote

  1. I vote yes as well. Let's hope that Wikimedia foundation knows already, that content itself doesn't result in advancement in the human history. I like the way how some wiki pages fire off a lot of discussions and different points of view. The road to human knowledge is the interaction interface between peers.

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  2. I vote "Yes / Why Not / What Do We Have To Lose?"Good objections and framing of the big issues.But will Wikiversity have a mascot? a football team? a chess club? student theater? frat parties? bike racks? rebelious student news paper? a raving lunatic who shouts at students as they exit the student union?

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  3. Alan: The question of mascots, sport teams, student newspapers and other non-academic side activities is very relevant. Thank you for reminding about them. They are crucial in a community building.However, Wikiversity will be the first truly multi-cultural and multi-lingual University,I hope, and also these activities should be different. I hope there is not going to be any American mascots or sport teams, but some different kind of traditions: graduation party as part of the the Wikimania, speech and debate competition and theater on IRC (in different languages) etc. And of course the most radical students newspaper that anyone is free to edit. 🙂

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  4. Wiki was and will remain mostly American and americanized phenomenon.I don't see Wiki university being much else, except in cultures which have become extremely americanized or penetrated by so called global (i.e. american) Internet culture.Maybe in the next 10-15 years, when they (we) catch up and develop and internet culture of our own.Till then, it's better than nothing though.

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  5. A good example of Americanised style of free wikipedia content and it's american criticism is here:http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2005/10/the_amorality_o.phpUnfortunately it completely ignores the fact that there are about a million more worthwhile and historically important people to write about than Jane Fonda.They just aren't American pop culture icons, and hence unknown to the 99% of the American Wiki writers.Thus we get, not the tradedy of the commons, but the crap of the commons, which now happen to be from the USA.And make no mistake. The situation would be very similar, if the people on top writing this crap were English, Spanish, Finnish or Chinese.It would just be English, Spanish, Finnish or Chinese cultural crap respectively.We all have the tendency to push our own cultural baggage around, without being even marginally critical about it or it's worth.In this respect Wikipedia has utterly failed as it is a inaccurate hodgepodge of pop-culture trivia rather than a proper encyclopedia.Even with it's strong cultural slant, Encyclopedia Britannica is at least factually accurate most of the time.Heave forbid the time, when the majority of people come to look at Wikipedia as a reliable source of information (like teenagers and blind proponents are already doing).Just calling it an 'encyclopedia' or claiming it has 'peer-review' does not factual it make.I hope the Wiki University will be a few orders of magnitude better an effort in practise.

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  6. Dear Smau – our Norwegian friend 🙂 I agree with you – Wikpedia is full of crap of commons and it is mostly American crap, but when you know it you can filter it. On the other hand all language versions of Wikipedia are different from each other. For instance there is no article about Jane Fonda in the Finnish Wikipedia, and I hope there never will be.To keep Wikiversity truly multicultural and -lingual there could be a rule that all the teachers and students must have working knowledge of at least 3 languages. I think this is not asked too much when there are about 6000 languages in the world. I also think that for most people of the world this is not an obstacle at all, as they live in truly multilingual environments and learn different languages already when they are small.Naturally, in the Wikiversity there should be a huge language school that is giving language course for students who do not have the required language skills but are still interested in to study there.

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