Wikiversity: academy, popular education and free school

Wikiversity and Wikieducator are right now the two main wiki-education projects in the world. If we look for the definition of wiki, we may include LeMill to the list, even that is not build on wiki engine. LeMill is a “website that allows visitors to add, remove, edit and change (educational) content” (Wiki from Wikipedia).

Wikieducator is primary a website for collaborative authoring of open E-learning content for users of the eLearning XHTML editor called eXe. There are many other things happening and it is obvious that Wikieducator is still in the process of taking its form.

It looks that also the Wikiversity community is not yet exactly sure what they are or what they want to be. However, it looks that Wikiversity is becoming a real online learning community or educational entity (don’t wan t to call it institution). The slogan promises a a lot: Wikiversity – Free learning Community.

I think the vision of LeMill is very clear and simple – I hope. It is a web community for finding, authoring and sharing learning resources. It is primary designed for schoolteachers but anyone may join.

I think Wikiversity (why not Wikieducator, too) could be developed to the direction of becoming (1) the free alternative online academy, (2) the free online place for popular education / folk high school and (3) the free school online. (Please check these links, before reading further!).

I think Wikiversity should become the free university, the folk high school and the free school of the web, just like Wikipedia is the free encyclopedia of the web. In both cases the most important think is that anyone is free to take advantage of them: use them and participate in the development of them.

In the case of Wikiversity this means that anyone is free to be a “student” or become a “teacher” and start to facilitate study programs in Wikiversity. Even that this is already possible in the Wikiversity, I see several things that are missing from there. Here is my wish list:

(1) Study offering (not sure if this is a good term). In the Wikiversity there should be a culture and practice where people are creating real study programs with schedule, syllabus, objectives, registration, feedback and evaluation (maybe even grades and credits). In some extent this is already slowly happening in Wikiversity. An example of this is the introduction to Spanish, where there seems to be an aim to offer a real study program or course.

(2) Organization serving the offering. In the Wikiversity there should be roles/labels people should be free to take depending on what they are doing in different courses or studies offered on Wikiversity. You should be able to become a “students”, “teachers”, “researchers” or “administrator”. One should also be able to have multiple roles same time: be a student in one situation and a teacher in another. To try this structure I now have on my Wikiversity user page a list of studies I am taking and studies I am teaching (none at the moment) and an experimental “skills and knowledge box” telling what topics I could teach and what topics I am interested in to study.

(3) Focus on communication (not on learning materials). If the Wikiversity wants to be the alternative online learning community we should think what kind of communication tools we may offer for the people interested in to study and teach on it. Teaching and learning in academy, popular education and free schools takes place in a dialogue. Discussion pages and IRC are good, but maybe we could integrate Skype (or some free/libre VoIP) conference to the Wikiversity? I think that the focus on communication tools in the Wikiversity could also clarify the roles between the Wikiversity and the other Wikimedia Foundation’s projects. The other projects are basically building the library of the Wikiversity and the content in those should be linked from the studies offered on the Wikiversity. Also other fee/libre online resources should be used in Wikiversity and wise versa research done in Wikiversity should contribute to the other Wiki projects.

(4) Rethink and -design the “School structure” of the Wikiversity. The current school structure of the Wikiversity is academic. If we want to develop it more to the direction of being a platform for popular education and free school we should redesign it. In popular education the focus is often on practical things with high return on people’s wellbeing or on studies people take only with an internal motivation. In the “popular education” side of the Wikiversity one should be able to take studies on such a topics as farming in their backyard, grafts, languages etc. The study programs should be a such that people could utilize the skills and knowledge gained right in their everyday life. I see this very important from the developing countries point of view. Even if the topics are “simple” one should build a dialogical community around the study programs. The motivation in a popular education is often social: it is nice to study with other people. Same time you gain social capital. Similar way the free school side of the Wikiversity should offer space for school children to study school subjects.

(5) Payments for teachers on their teaching on the Wikiversity. I am not sure about this and maybe this is not necessary at all. But I believe that some kind of “business model” for teachers to get paid on their work on the Wikiversity could make it bloom. One should be free to add paypal donations links to the Wikiversity study courses they are giving. If people are happy about the course they participated, they should be able to donate money for the teacher (and some part of the donation could go for the Foundation maintaining the service).

This may all look that I would like to make out of Wikiversity an educational institution. In a way this is right, but same time it should be kept open, free, libre and democratic – something you can’t say about most of the educational institutions of our time.

5 thoughts on “Wikiversity: academy, popular education and free school

  1. Thanks very much for this, Teemu – I also hope for Wikiversity to become the space of choice for people who want to gain a practical education, and it is for this reason that I am so keen to clarify exactly what our model of "learning by doing" means. I think the major learning that is happening on Wikiversity right now is about learning about how to facilitate learning – I do not see so many examples of people actually engaged in learning projects at the moment. I'm not sure why this is – but I suspect it is down to the fact (as you also observe) that we, in the Wikiversity community, are not so sure yet of what Wikiversity is supposed to be. This creates a kind of circular pattern of confusion and inaction, that is really only broken through trial and error, or "being bold". (Incidentally, this is also why I think the action research model is the best one to really study Wikiversity's workings.) Therefore, I encourage you to be bold with the structuring of Wikiversity – or, at least, be more specific about how you would like to see it structured. Wikiversity should be open to both academic and non-academic modes of study – a key here would be to make learning fun, engaging, and participative, but this is not necessarily exclusive of academia, just an unfortunate characteristic of much of it.I like the focus on communication – though I still think that materials are necessary. There is work underway at utilising VoIP (through the open-source Asterisk platform) in the fostering of educational discussions and experiences – see Topic:VoIP and its talk page. This could eventually also be integrated with the idea of LiquidThreads, where people could find previous discussions on a given subject, and hop from these archived discussions to real-time communication with whoever is online and interested in this particular subject. It doesn't always have to be synchronous, but I agree that communication is at the heart of education.It's an interesting idea to have Paypal donations as a potential attractor for educators – it's something we wrung our hands over a few months ago, veering towards the "say no to commercialism" model. However, I realise that you're not suggesting we compromise the freeness of the material (or even experience), but rather have it as something that people could use if they felt it was appropriate. Please say hi to all in Salzburg Research – and try to pick up a copy of the "OLCOS Roadmap 2012 if you can – I got one in Texas, and it's a stimulating document.

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  2. Teemu,That's a solid post and your analysis will assist both Wikiversity and WikiEducator in becoming the learning environments of the future. I should mention that the Commonwealth of Learning is working hard to facilitate and support the completion of LiquidThreads – which of course will be available as an open source solution for both projects. Hopefully we can work on a role definition architecture that would enable teachers and learners to congregate around their particular learning interests.Cormac – we'll keep in touch with the VOIP developments – this will also go a long way in facilitating communication. Teemu – what about another project with Mobile telephony to see how we can facilitate greater interaction in the developing world? VOIP is still going to be a challenge working in the developing world, which is a major focus of WikiEducator.Without diminishing the importance of dialogue in education – we should not forget about the distance education experience where its possible to build in student-content, and student-teacher interactions using simulated communication. For example, providing teacher feedback after an activity embedded in the content. This is a strong focus of our work in WikiEducator. We are also working on achieving a more sophisticated wiki to pdf capability for teachers to generate customised print materials – particularly for learners in the developing world who may not have affordable access to learning materials or connectivity. We're going to take your analysis into account in helping us refine our future paths. Thanks mate.

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  3. Here are some links to Wikiversity pages that are relevant to the "wish list"….."real study programs with schedule, syllabus, objectives, registration, feedback and evaluation (maybe even grades and credits" <– I think "real" means "traditional". Wiki is not traditional. However, some Wikiversity participants are interested in the traditional approach, (see http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Wikiversity:Creation_of_Free_Online_University…).The idea of a schedule for wiki-mediated learning reminds me of the idea that humans would achieve flight by making use of feathers. Wiki is about collaboration that is distributed in time and space…we can just walk away from the restrictions of bricks-and-mortar thinking. "grades and credits" <– If you go in this direction, how do you avoid the need for certified teachers and accreditation? Is a Wikimedia wiki project the place to go down this conventional path? Why did the Board of Trustees previously tell the Wikiversity community not to go in that direction?Userboxes (http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Wikiversity:Userboxes…). Some people like them, some people do not. Some people put a bunch of them on their userpage and their wiki participation ends there."Focus on communication" <– Wikiversity participants are exploring ways to bring threaded discussions, voice chat and moving video into Wikiversity. (http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/LiquidThreads,… http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Wikio,… http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Wikiversity:Sandbox_Server,… http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Wikiversity_Reports…)“School structure” <– It is a flexible structure. For example, see (http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Portal:Practical_Arts_and_Sciences… and http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Portal:Interdisciplinary_Studies…). Wikiversity schools are content development projects and Wikiversity participants can create a school for any area of interest.“business model” <– This is a serious challenge for Wikiversity. What does it do to the volunteer ethic when some people start getting paid? One step in this direction is at http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Wikiversity_NPC

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  4. John wrote: "real" means "traditional". <- not at all. In this case "real" means something where you can take studies and not just "edit wiki-pages". Being real you can still be very non-traditional. For me Wikipedia is a “real” encyclopedia, but still very non-traditional. John wrote: "Wiki is about collaboration that is distributed in time and space..we can just walk away from the restrictions of bricks-and-mortar thinking." <- I am afraid that in a meaningful social constructivist learning we just can not fully get away from the time and space restrictions. Having a dialogue requires time and space. John: "grades and credits" <– If you go in this direction, how do you avoid the need for certified teachers and accreditation? <- Simply by not having certifications or accreditation. I wouldn’t mind if my “Spanish teacher” on Wikiiversity will give me feedback in a form of a “grade” and I can of course add the course I took in my user page.John: business model” <– This is a serious challenge for Wikiversity. What does it do to the volunteer ethic when some people start getting paid?<- You are right. However, if the payment is donation, I do not see a huge problem in here. You pay (if you want) about the time your “teacher” is spending to help you in your studies.

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  5. Thanks for this post Teemu.I've been working with Leigh, Wayne, Chris , Brent and all others to assure that VET training in NSW Australia uses this amazing platform to it's fullest potential – http://nswlearnscope.com/wiki I'm also keen to see WikiEducator and WikiVersity see node development in industry. How this comes about is anyones guess however my five wishes are as follows;1. WikiSySops "time" donations – webcall on demand for a small fee….ie. fully conversant developers willing to directly step through installs and upgrades with wiki sysops2. Space Trading – wiki contacts willing to host ( and monitor / contribute ) other organisational events via a wiki to promote cross knowledge filtering ( outside of main events page ) – an example of this is the growing http://www.wikieducator.org/FLNW2…3. Mobile integration – email image / asset to wiki-gallery function install4. Indigenous engagement – assistance to integrate my ideas here in remote Australia with that of mobile: ed and exe 5. Infrastructural advisory service – key people willing to talk to systems controllers in large education organisations ……synchronously.Thats just a few things on the wish list.

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