Cormac interview: Wikiversity and Wikipedia

After a bit of a gap, the two-way interview between Cormac Lawler and myself continues. This post continues the discussion about distributed action research and wikiversity from previous episodes:DARnet-interview-part 1DARnet interview part twoPart 3: Questions About Wikiversity

Andy Roberts asked:

I’d be very interested to hear to what extent parts of Wikiversity have managed to break away from the idea of the “course”, the expert, and the content. If you have people transfering across from the Wikipedia culture then it’s going to cause problems, but you could always fork a minority project for the more revolutionary work if it seems to be getting defeated.

Cormac Lawler replies:

There’s a real challenge in allowing for different models of education to take place in the same space. As you point out (and as has JWSchmidt in the page I linked to), Wikipedians will inevitably bring a particular culture with them in the development of what they think Wikiversity to be. (Although I’d be hesitant to make a grand generalisation on that point.) So one of the major challenges Wikiversity faces is to allow different communities develop microcultures of learning that are appropriate for them. However this itself raises a challenge around whether a microcommunity might develop that has questionable practices (like, say, Nazi apologists – to take an extreme example) – and what then could be done in order to subject a community, resource or statement to educational critique – or indeed, whether someone could be banned or their resources deleted. This brings us to the heart of the question you asked of what this institution is and who it is intended to serve.

Some examples of ‘different’ types of learning projects/communities would include things like the reading groups and podcasting and filmmaking initiatives (both long in decline). I would also regard some of the research activities to be exploring different means of using wikis educationally – including my own, and the Bloom clock (a means of logging what plants are in bloom, but also of learning about plants). There is also a recent initiative to question ethical practices within Wikipedia, which is purportedly an action research initiative, but which seems to be running in different directions at once, including a fairly traditional one (which could well be the participants constraining themselves to conform to what *they think* Wikiversity is supposed to be, ie an educational content creation mechanism).

However, having said this, I’m still slightly disappointed in the breadth of initiatives on Wikiversity that seek to challenge, expand or break the mould of more traditional models. I still think that this process needs more time, but I had hoped for more examples of what was possible at this stage, two years into its autonomous development. However, of course, I regard myself as very much culpable in this respect!

Andy again:

Ten years ago you could find out just about anything by tracking down
the right bulletin board or newsgroup, asking a carefully explained
question, and coming back later to view responses or ask a
supplementary. Within a few days you’d have the best the net could
come up with. Now we have Google search, with all its limitations and
gaming, and google scholar for some of the hidden internet, but you
can still usually track down the author of particularly pertinent
idea, find out their online presence with a bit of luck and chance a
speculative email. So the backbone infrastructure of having
connections between devices all over the world will always find a way
to serve people who know a little bit about how to seek and connect,
no matter what infrastructure is built on top of it all, and I’m still
pretty optimistic about that regardless of whether we lose some
battles along the way such as net neutrality or the health of the
regime in charge of Wikipedia.

Yes, and for the health of the “regime”, see the ethical questioning project I linked to above (which generated quite a bit of unease and hostility in its beginning, and which may itself have ethical questions around it). I think you’re right to say that people will be able to find someone else to ask questions of – but it does seem to favour people who, as you say, already “know a little bit” about how to do so. I’d like to also help people who start from a lower base of social confidence or net-savviness – and this might partly be addressed through network, connectivist initiatives you mentioned in your subsequent mail. I think I’ll answer that one now, separately.

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