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.