Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2008-05-09/Wikiversity interview

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Sister Projects Interview: Wikiversity

By OhanaUnited, 9 May, 2008
Wikiversity logo

This interview is a collaboration by contributors of Wikiversity. Since it is a collaboration by many, no individual interviewee(s) will be named.

What is Wikiversity?

Wikiversity is the Wikimedia Foundation's youngest project, aimed both at creating educational materials and at providing a forum to learn interactively in a wiki environment. Originally begun in Wikibooks, it was split off officially in 2006, with the English Wikiversity, Beta, and three other language Wikiversities established in August 2006. Contrary to what people might think in relation to its name, Wikiversity is not limited to university (tertiary) level materials/activities, but incorporates in its scope materials and activities of all styles and levels – from pre-school to lifelong learning. There are seven individual language Wikiversity projects – English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish – as well as a multilingual hub for inter-project coordination.

Wikiversity is both a repository of educational content, and a space for learning. As a repository, it follows a model similar to other sister projects, particularly Wikipedia and Wikibooks – though it strives not to overlap unnecessarily with these projects – and there are good 'course'-type resources in areas such as filmmaking and technical writing. However, as a learning space, it is in a much more experimental phase – learning about how learning can be facilitated in a wiki (specifically Mediawiki) model, and how other technologies (such as IRC, voice chat, blogs, as well as a dedicated "sandbox server") can be utilized to augment the wiki model. There is a strong emphasis on "learning by doing" (or "experiential learning") in the Wikiversity learning model – and there are also initiatives to make Wikiversity a personal learning environment (see examples). Several reading groups have evolved, which indicate promising and viable means of "learning the wiki way".

Wikiversity's scope, mission, and inclusion guidelines differ radically from the other Wikimedia Foundation wikis, in that it encourages the use of the wiki for building learning communities, and voicing opinions – many users have blogs in their userspaces, and there is a certain amount of freedom to go beyond NPOV through disclosing bias. There is also freedom to undertake and report on certain types of original research, the horticultural Bloom Clock being the oldest and largest of the research projects. Due to its educational mission, Wikiversity also has a more tolerant approach towards content and activity, preferring to educate rather than deter participants (by deleting or banning).

How did Wikiversity evolve historically and how has it progressed?

The roots of Wikiversity go back to August 2003, when Wikibooks was being formed and the idea of a larger learning project was being brainstormed. As a result of these discussions, Wikibooks was set up as a textbook repository, and Wikiversity was set up as a sub-project within Wikibooks. When Wikiversity was proposed for deletion from Wikibooks, there followed a vigorous and lengthy discussion about where and how Wikiversity would exist, and what its future would hold. This prompted the development of a proposal – on Meta – to set up Wikiversity as a separate Wikimedia project. After much discussion, and one rejected proposal, Wikiversity was finally launched in its "beta phase" as an official project in August 2006. Wikiversity has never officially been declared to have emerged from its beta phase, and the probability is that it will continue in its experimental phase for some time, perhaps some years.

Wikiversity's motto is Set learning free

Measuring Wikiversity's progress can be difficult due to its wide scope, but it has managed to build a very strong community, and content has been slowly but steadily created and improved over the first eighteen months (somewhere in between what one would expect of a glacier and a rolling snowball). Currently several users are working on outreach efforts aimed at brick-and-mortar institutions and organizations to see where and how we can be of assistance in helping to create educational materials and learning communities.

For further reading, see History of Wikiversity, a summary written by editor JWSchmidt, and the future of Wikiversity

What is Wikiversity's vision and mission?

There are many visions for Wikiversity – a repository of open educational resources (see also currently running learning project composing free and open online educational resources), an experiment in wiki-based learning, a global learning community, a radical alternative to fee-based education – but to name a few. Wikiversity is adaptable and broad enough to incorporate many of these visions – and certainly the first three of these are inherent aspects of Wikiversity's scope and mission. Whether Wikiversity will become or provide an alternative to brick-and-mortar institutions is substantially more controversial – having been explicitly rejected by the board in their first evaluation of the Wikiversity proposal. However, there certainly remains room for imagining and defining what role Wikiversity could play in a the world of "open education" – which might involve collaborations between open content/activity sites (like Wikiversity) and accredited institutions (like traditional universities).

Wikiversity-logo-en.svg
Wikiversity Mission Statement
Wikiversity is a centre for the creation and use of free learning materials and activities.
Its primary priorities and goals are to:
  • Create and host a range of free-content, multilingual learning materials/resources, for all age groups and learner levels
  • Host learning and research projects and communities around existing and new materials

How is Wikiversity different from Wikibooks?

The singular focus of Wikibooks is to create free and up-to-date textbooks for the use of both institutional and non-institutional students and teachers. The Wikiversities differ from this in several ways, perhaps the most important being that we often focus more on participation as the end product, rather than always moving towards a goal of producing content.

Wikiversity supports online learning communities, groups of people who are trying to learn about particular topics. Wikiversity is a place where these learning groups can assemble and discover how best to learn things online. Wikiversity is also the first WikiMedia project that is open to hosting and fostering research.

Wikiversity's fundamental unit is neither a book (Wikibooks) nor an encyclopedia article (Wikipedia); it is a learning resource (see Learning Resources). A learning resource is a text or genre which can outwardly resemble a book or an article, but differs in a number of respects. While we haven't settled on a complete definition of learning resources, we can say that possible identifying characteristics may include any number of: segmentation to facilitate learning, sequencing by difficulty level, didactic use of repetition and redundancy, discernible paths from known to unknown, the involvement of an audience of learners, association with a real-world educational context, the setting of explicit learning goals, conformity with a real-world curriculum of learning, a style which reflects an immediacy of a learning situation or other stylistic criteria typical of didactic intent. In short, it's about learning rather than exposition. While it is true that a "participatory" concept has entered some of the Wikiversity planning processes, it is a subset of actual editing efforts which reflect heterogeneous educational visions and methodologies.

For more comparisons and questions, you can look at Wikiversity FAQ.

What are the main terminology differences used by Wikiversity?

Some examples are:

So I'm a newcomer to Wikiversity. What can I do?

It depends who you are and what you want to do! If you want to find content that could be useful to you in teaching a class, or helping you learn, you can browse Wikiversity's portals and categories, or search for specific content. If you want to learn about something, you can browse Wikiversity's learning projects (or simply follow the method for searching for content – often pages titled like resources are in fact more like learning projects). If you can't find anything that will help you, you can set up a page or project that frames the subject of what you want to learn, and invite people to help you or collaborate with you to learn about something that specifically interests you.

Often the best way for new contributors to become involved is to simply introduce themselves on the Colloquium. Let the community know what they're interested in, and ask for advice on how to start.

If the new vision for Wikiversity is generally accepted, newcomers will find a slightly stronger encouragement to identify with (and perhaps combine) various roles – i.e. educator, learner, researcher, maintenance. In earlier Wikipedia days, newcomer activity was naturally more strongly orientated towards productive roles, whereas the typical Wikipedia user is now primarily a consumer. Wikiversity is still in its formative phase, which means that productive roles such as educator, researcher and maintenance receive more emphasis and this is where newcomers would mostly focus their activity. This continuing emphasis on productive roles as in the early days of Wikipedia is one of the things which makes Wikiversity especially attractive for experienced editors from other Wikimedia projects.

What are some of the tasks done by administrators (custodians)?

Administration on Wikiversity is handled quite differently than it is on other projects (for one thing, they're referred to as Custodians, not "admins"). The original cohort were very concerned by the political connotations of Administratorship on other Foundation wikis (especially Wikipedia), so we decided to use a different name, and we also adopted a very different method of allocating the tools by using a "mentorship" strategy. Rather than electing Custodians before they receive the tools, we instead allow established and experienced custodians to mentor new custodians for one month, and then seek community input after that "probationary period" is over. In most cases, this has been quite effective in removing the political elements of it, which is important to us because we want to encourage all trusted users to have the tools available if and when they might need them. As far as the actual tasks go, they're no different from any other wiki. We clean up vandalism, block vandals, delete junk, etc.

Custodians also take part in tasks as applying and creating with others policies such as NPOV in the educational context.

What language projects are there in Wikiversity?

Currently there are six languages available (English, French, German, Greek, Italian and Spanish) and the Japanese Wikiversity approved but not yet created. Other languages are incubated on beta wikiversity while they build their communities. They are separated after certain criteria which include e.g. having 10 or more active editors. Wikiversity as a whole is less than 2 years old, so there simply hasn't been as much time for other-language projects to develop.

Hierarchy of Wikiversity schools and topics

I noticed some namespaces here that are not found in Wikipedia. Can you explain when and where they are used?

Part of that comes from a lot of people having a lot of ideas early in the process. Originally, there was discussion of having a somewhat hierarchical structure of Schools, Departments, and Classes, but the Foundation objected to this structure, and in general we've found ourselves doing quite well without it. The "Topic" namespace was originally somewhat of a replacement for Departments, but has since developed to become more of an organizational tool. The Schools themselves have been largely inactive lately, as community members concentrate more on the main namespace. More info can be found at Wikiversity namespaces.

Being one of the smaller sister projects, are there plans to encourage more people to register and contribute?

Outreach has been a focus since the beginning and is now also supported with the Wikiversity:Vision 2009. Contributors are attracted from our sister projects, but also from outside institutions and communities. However, our most successful recruiting has probably been passive: people come across us from one place or another and have an "aha!" experience when they recognize our scope and potential, and when they find the welcoming and supportive community which is the foundation of our efforts.

We also "recruit" people from Wikipedia pages/articles to related learning projects that we have on Wikiversity. The Ivan Illich page on Wikipedia, for example, has a template that draws people to the Wikiversity reading group for Illich's text.

Does Wikiversity host original research? How do you manage this research? What are the current research projects?

Yes, Wikiversity is a place for developing and hosting research projects. Some of the successful projects are Bloom Clock and Wikimedia Demographics. Join also the discussion about forming an academic board to oversee and manage research projects – see Wikiversity research.

What is the most pressing problem facing Wikiversity? How can we solve it?

Adaptation of MediaWiki (technical) and liason with WMF (policy) in order to provide an optimal online environment for wiki-based learning. For example, being able to embed multimedia, show rss feeds, favourite pages, use web2.0 social networking, wysiwig editing, etc. to encourage learner participation, and to help foster learning communities and powerful wikiversity-based learning experiences. One way to progress here is with the Topic:Sandbox Server 0.5.

Wikipedia maintains a set of "Featured Articles". Is there a similar scheme which showcases Wikiversity's best works?

Yes, see Wikiversity:Main Page, there are:

  • Today's featured project
  • Today's featured educational image




Also this week:

Wikiversity interview — WikiWorld — News and notes — In the news — Dispatches — Features and admins — Technology report — Arbitration report


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