Last weekend I took part in the RecentChangesCamp – a three day open space conference for people interested in wikis and related topics.
I met some new and old wiki-people, which some of them I may soon start to call my friends. I saw several interesting demos and had some quite nice discussions about wikis in education, wikis in informal, nonformal and formal learning.
I am today more convinced than ever, that wikis are soon taking over in classrooms around the world. More and more teachers are starting to see the wiki-platform as the fastest and the most comprehensive web technology to support collaboration in and outside their classroom. When some teachers have made something successful with a classroom wiki, others will follow. At some point use of a wiki will becomes more a norm than an exception. I think, sooner than we think, a wiki in a classroom will be as common appliance as paper and pen: if there isn’t one everything else you try to do in the classroom becomes pretty useless.
This is good news for the whole “e-learning field”. When these children will grow-up and enter to higher levels of education they simply will demand wikis in their classes. Only area that is left for the “learning management systems” (still remember the term?) will probably be distance (training) courses and corporate training. Wiki-way of doing things simply represents many values that are important in teaching and learning. For instance the issue of vandalism, and the ways to take care of it, is … well, you know … pretty educational.
If you are a teachers you may simply go to the wikispaces.com and start a wiki for your class. It is worth of it. Why I am promoting Wikispaces and not some other wiki hosting service? Wikispaces-service is already working closely with educators. For K-12 education use it is completely free and free of advertising. Their wiki is easy to use with a simple interface and pretty good discussion tool. There are some things I would like to be different in the Wikispaces. At least, two things: (1) In the discussion tool there could be an option to use some knowledge types. (2) In education the matter of language of instruction is extremely important. To make Wikispaces more useful in the non-english speaking world the user interface elements should be translated. Teaches do not want to spend time to translate for their students the widgets like “Join this Space” or “Recent changes”. Time spend to this is out of the actual things one should do in a classroom.
Wikihow is not a new project, but for some reason I have been ignoring it for some time. Also it is not something that people would widely discuss or make references to when talking about “open educational resource” (OER). I think the reason why I have ignored it, is simply the issue that the self-help / how-to manual culture have been very strange for me. It is still strange for me, but when now reflecting the idea of having “a collaborative writing project to build the world’s largest, highest quality how-to manual”, I see that it is actually close to something I consider to be the most valuable genre of open educational resources. I am even kind of ready to claim that the Wikihow is THE most valuable collection of Open Educational Resource we have today online. For instance, comparing Wikihow to something like MIT Open Courseware may sound silly, but if you are honest what kind of information is globally more valuable: manual explaining how to fix your bicycle or Physics I: Classical Mechanics? Both are great and important, but if you think about their value for us all – about 6 billion people – I am pretty sure fixing bikes will win the classical mechanics. So, if there is anyone interested in to translate and localize OERs to other languages and cultures, maybe you should have a look of the Wikihow, too.
Writing new how-to manuals on topics relevant for people living in challenging conditions would be a great project. For instance how to get a job probably works pretty well everywhere in the world, but why not encouraging or even paying for someone to write such articles as “how to use TransMilenio in Bogotá” or “how to have a garden in urban slum”. Before you say: “why don’t you do it”, let me explain that I actually did, but it looks that the Wikihow does not support Unicode, and I failed when starting a title where there is á -character. I am not going to write an article with the title Use Transmilenio in Bogot, because I do not know a place called “Bogot”. Uhh… Anyway, Wikihow is a great OER site.
From the Wikihow comes also very interesting new Mediawiki extension. It’s called
Import free images. It “allows users to import properly licensed photos directly into their wiki from flickr”. With the extension you can have in your Mediawiki installation a search that will find you e.g. images that are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license and import those you’ll find useful in your own Mediawiki installation. This kind of things, that are making the free content to move from one service to another are really important to reach the world where free content is truly reusable.
When talking with wiki-people they often say that they are editing wikis because they feel that they learn while doing it. Several studies have also reported learning to be the main motivation of open source developers to contribute and participate in open source projects.
Editing wiki is always informal learning, but hardly random. Most of the people are also aware of the learning side while editing: You recognize that you are learning while editing, because you are spending you cognitive surplus to do research, to think and formulate words, sentences, images or whatever media. Same time you are also engaged to community of other editors who are giving you feedback and comments. You may of course use your time for watching TV, which will also result as “learning”. The challenge of learning by watching TV is that in this case you are more often much more unsure what did you learn, if anything. Because of this you hardly ever found watching TV motivating, similar way as doing other thing where you are more aware of your learning. When editing wiki you are steering the activity. When watching TV – whatever how “educational” the program is – someone is trying to steer you.
Often I hear wiki-people saying that just editing wiki is the only right way to learn with wikis. According to them one should not formulize learning in anyways. They claim that if there is form it is not anymore a self-organized wiki-way of doing this.
I highly appreciate the “philosophy” of wiki-way. There is, however, now more and more interest to think how we could use wikis in a bit more formalized way. My solution is to move from the totally open and informal way of learning to the direction of “non-formal” learning – something that is between totally informal and formal learning.
The difference between informal and non-formal learning is that when informal is something that happens all the time, non-formal is intentional and organized, but still informal in many ways. An open space conference is a great example of non-formal learning situation: everybody are free to come, to speak or just listen, wear shorts or a suit. It is informal but with some form – shared interest and objectives, time and space – and rules to make it useful.
The move from informal to non-formal in wiki-learning is somehow reflecting the old discussion about networks vs. groups in learning. I strongly believe that there is a third way, beyond the network and group learning.
Any examples of this kind of activity in wikis?
Yes. With a group of 22 people we actively worked together for ten weeks in a Wikiveristy course/class called Composing free and open online educational resources. The form – including weekly program and assignments – was pretty much given by me. I made the first outline of the program, I selected most of the course reading, and designed the assignments. As it was in a wik a few other people also edited it – very few. More form to the process we have gave with Hans, my co-facilitator, by writing facilitators’ course blog and once in a while by commenting participants’ assignment posts in their blogs.
It’s been a lot of fun, but also a lot of work for all the participants. The drop-out
rate, from 70 to 20 in ten weeks, probably tells about it. So, how is this representing the “third way” beyond networks are groups?
With these people we got together as a network of people, through various connections. From the network of people we formed an open group to get some things done. Our objective was simply to learn together about open educational resources. Soon we may again “disappear” to the network, be in touch if we want to, and maybe one day again form another non-formal group when there is something we want to do together.
*) My “third way” concept does not have anything to do with the “Third Way” -political philosophy of Anthony Giddens and Tony Blair.