Learning by Doing – interview part 5

Continuing the interview with Cormac Lawler, in which we begin to address the nature of “learning by doing” as it relates to distributed projects, and wiki in particular.

Cormac Lawler:

About changing of groups’ structure over time, I think my own domain (Wikiversity) is showing an increasingly strong tension along the lines of making Wikiversity a place of ‘blue-sky’ or experimental learning versus an alignment to known pedagogical forms. See Wikiversity_talk:Learning_resources#the_wiki_way.3F and below for some discursive material on this topic. It’s perhaps not an example of a change of guard as such (and the debate within Wikiversity’s development is not new), but I’m starting to see the tension as a pretty fundamental one for Wikiversity.

Andy Roberts asks:

Reading that discussion again on the Wikiversity page, it strikes me that both sides of the tension referred to are in fact agreed upon working within the same framework. The dispute, if I’m not mistaken is over the nature and quality of the learning resources which are to be accumulated in the Wikiversity. Neither side appears to be questioning the basic model of education based on learning from supplied content. The references to ‘experimental’ forms seem to remain within experimental forms of content provision, without questioning that preconception. Despite the claim that

“Wikiversity has adopted a “learn by doing” model for education”

the doing appears to consist entirely of editing pages to create more resources.
Do you think a bias towards conventional content based learning is built in to the wiki way?


It’s a fascinating question – and I think you’re right that it is to a large extent. However – and this is more on the basis of knowing the involved people, rather than on what is on the page I linked to previously – I think that there has always been a strong desire to take a broad look at educational activity, and what role a wiki can play in that process. For example, some of the “content” produced on a wiki can be a record of a discussion where someone asks a question, and people respond with answers, suggestions, and/or questions of their own. Some of the content on Wikiversity has been explicitly initiated and developed as a debate – eg en.wikiversity.org/wiki/War_and_Iran. I don’t know if that conforms to your view of conventional content creation?

However, this “learning by doing” is a tricky concept – and I’ve been
pushing JWSchmidt, the originator of this concept in Wikiversity, to be more
explicit in explaining to me and the community what he thinks it might mean
in practice – and in detail. So far, I’ve found the concept as applied to
Wikiversity to be infuriatingly opaque – and I can see that others do too.
It’s something that I’ve always wanted to clarify on Wikiversity – what do
we mean by learning by doing, how can someone be guided through or motivated
to begin in such a model, and what kinds of educational experiences can we
anticipate, so as to scaffold learners if, whenever, and however


How might other learning processes be facilitated through Wikiversity? I’m thinking of the newer emerging learning models such as connectivism, which would place the emphasis on the network between people and the community above content. This might require additional tools to the document based wiki, but needn’t be entirely separate.


I agree – and we’ve been discussing tools to facilitate just such initiatives on a centralised page: Wikiversity:Technical_needs including the SocialProfile extension www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Extension:SocialProfile. We already have a ‘sandbox server’ to experiment with different tools – but to actually get extensions and other innovations approved on a relatively small Wikimedia wiki is difficult when in the shadow of Wikipedia. However, with community mobilisation, and more developers’ resources at our disposal (a software developer hiring was just announced yesterday, and there may very well be more) – we should continue to build on the mediawiki platform to see what it can offer in the world of connected, collaborative learning.

I see we’ve forked into a discussion of Wikiversity – and it’s very welcome! – but I also very much wanted this discussion to focus on action research and issues that we’ve both experienced in an online AR context. I think I’ll leave this to my next mail. 😉


Earlier posts in this series:

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