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Brian Lamb points to a very inspiring testimonial for using Wikipedia to teach – from UBC’s Prof’ Jon Beasly-Murray. I hope Brian’s post with Jon’s testimonial will become a useful resource to inspire more relevant content and teaching practices here at Otago Polytechnic.


There is something sophisticated about the various Media Wiki communities I have experienced over the past 12 months. I edit Wikipedia, Wikiversity, Wikieducator and recently Wikinews and all of them have something in them that is entirely different to the other forms of communication I have used (blogs, commercial wikis, video sharing, photo sharing etc). I will never look back to the likes of Wikispaces now, and I’m not entirely sure why..

It could be the political idealism in the communities that sustain these MediaWiki projects.. while that’s attractive to me, its certainly not the key thing in them.

It could be the editing interface that makes it just that little bit more rewarding.. but there is no shortage of people who complain about that, even in the face of the obvious fact that it doesn’t stop a great many from using MediaWiki..

It could be the sense of working with a restricted palette.. a bit like painting with only 3 colours, it can be amazing what can be achieved through simplicity.

But most of all, I think it is the strong presence of people in these projects. People I do not know, but get to know. People in every corner of the various projects. Some of them angels, some of them arse holes, but all of them people, and making it all happen.

Wikiversity user CountryMike has initiated 2 projects that I think should get more attention. They are both reading groups around influential books. The first reading group is around Ivan Illich:Deschooling Society, the second reading group is for Eric Von Hippel:Democratizing Innovation

I find Brent’s (CountryMike’s) blog post says it all, and more…

And this is also what I’m finding particularly interesting lately — how I’m starting to use Wikiversity as my predominant learning environment, call it a Personal Learning Environment if you have to … but also possibly in a form that I’ve not seen discussed in other PLE discourses. The fact that I’m creating projects that I may not at this point have time to participate in immediately, but anticipate that if others do start contributing I will be inspired to participate myself is quite unique I think; it’s as if i’m setting myself and others up a space to potentially learn. But I don’t consider myself a “teacher, i’m more a technologist, but I am a learner and I want to learn in communities where-ever possible so what better way to facilitate my own learning than by creating a space where a community can form around, in this case, a text?

I just wish sometimes that I wasn’t in the education sector, that all around me seem to struggle to appreciate the things we see in MediaWiki projects and ideas like these.. but as Brent says, in time – people will find these projects, just like I have, and in time they will gradually prove their worth.

They first have to become curious about something like Wikipedia.  Then they need to be so bold as to create or edit Wikipedia. Then they need to find and engage in discussion with other wiki authors, and then they go out with curiosity for the other MediaWiki projects, and so on. That is how it has been for me, over a course of about 2 years.

I recently explored Wikinews and wrote up the Al Upton scandal going on in South Australia this month. I have already met an administrator in Wikinews and discussed a few things, but most of all I marvel at all the quality news work going into Wikinews.. I am learning quite a bit about journalistic writing there actually, yet to put it into practice. It is by far a superior news source than edited paper/garden mulch.

I hope my experience will scale over to some of the teachers I am showing Wikieducator recently. Wikieducator is a MediaWiki like all the projects I’ve mentioned here, so the skills they learn in Wikieducator will transfer to Wikipedia etc. It would be great to see some of them branch out into the other MediaWikis and explore their voices there. It is something entirely different to blogging. Far less individualistic, much more collective and patient. I good vibe if you’re listening.

BTW, I don’t mean to suggest, by way of the image above, that Sunshine and I are vibing for polyamory. I just like the image in relation to this post 🙂

What follows are notes and to-do lists for the Travel and Tourism course developments here at Otago Polytechnic.

The course has 3 aspects to its development

  1. Content in the form of activities and lesson plans on Wikieducator
  2. Course blogs for the presentation of the activities and the communication around them
  3. Staff blogs for the establishment of online communication skills and industry expertise

Progress on Wiki

The structural design for the wiki is near complete, with usability and visual design commencing this week. Usability and visual design will include:

  • Course pages will simplify navigation to resources and activities.
  • Wording will be made personalised
  • Graphics to enhance attractiveness and offer visual ques for quick reference

To do

  • LB: Learning Objective, Resource and Activity subpages need to be created for a number of new course pages.
  • HJ: Start writing activity pages for all of the learning objectives. Include aim, activity, resources.
  • SC: Conceptualise visual style and graphics for the wiki
  • HJ, SC and LB: Wiki pages for courses starting in February must be completed by mid January ready for use in staff training


Progress on course blogs

All course blogs have been set up on using the courses listed on the Travel and Tourism main wiki page. Graphics and banners are currently being developed for each. Course blogs must be ready to use before start of Febuary.

To do

  • LB: Give Hillary admin access to all blogs
  • LB and SC: When course pages on wiki are finished (check with HJ) copy content onto course blog about pages
  • HJ: Focus on finishing the course pages in wiki
  • SC: To develop a number of banners for each blog for consideration by staff


Progress on staff blogs

4 staff have set up blogs on wordpress and are currently exploring the features and learning how to use them effectively. Some of the staff have set up RSS readers and are starting to check each others blogs and comment in. When blogs start to reach a competent standard, active networking will begin.

To do

  • LB: Check in on blogs and offer support
  • HJ: Provide incentives to staff blogging
  • SE: Continue to support learning
  • HJ: Coordinate intensive learning sessions throughouut January and February


We have a project brewing here to create an image database for the Art School. Logically this project needs to eventually scale to other departments as well. Apart from the technicalities of meta data, resources such as storage, and sustainability such as who maintains and backs it up – as always, copyright is a problem. The Art School has thousands of slides they want to scan in and make available to their staff and students digitally, and questions arise on the effects a closed or open database would have on the copyrights of third party (stuff we don’t own).

Funnily enough, it seems to me that the solution to the problem is not to create our own image data base, but to use an already existing database such as Wikimedia Commons. Apparently up to half of the images that we might need to use in the Art School are already available on Wikimedia Commons, including some images that are copyrighted, and the InstantCommons project looks set to increase that number of resources like images. Interestingly it seems that Wikimedia Commons is accepting copyrighted works under USA legislation of Fair Use – which from what I can tell is a bit easier to use educationally than our own legislation here in NZ.

Based on a statement included with a copyrighted image on Wikipedia, perhaps it is felt that if the copy is low enough in resolution to not warrant a faithfully replicable copy, or if a copy that could not effectively reproduce in original scale and in detail, or a copy that could not be used commercially to any great degree, is potentially OK to exist on a Wikimedia project based on the US’ fair use. Interesting example based on a low rez copy of a Clyford Still painting

Also of interest is the Bridgeman vs Corel which a staff member on our image database project has pointed to. In this case, a court has found in favour of a corporation that made copys of a museum’s images of Public Domain works. The Museum claimed that they had put a lot of work into their scans to ensure acuracy, but that claim worked against them because their scans therefore lacked originality and so they couldn’t claim copyright… how would this play out in NZ we wonder? Does it need to play out in NZ if the image is hosted on Wikimedia Commons? Could this extend to copyrighted images we wonder…

I called my mate Stewart Cheifet at for his take on it all, and through a bit of discussion put it down to this, low resolution, not making money (or fair use), all reasonable steps, no worries [my wording]. I like the refreshing clarity. I would worry more if we had our own database to maintain, but perhaps Wikimedia commons is more clearly these fair use things and so we have a better bet there…

So, what of our image database project? I reckon we should work towards the bigger projects like Wikimedia Commons and help improve that open and very usable database. We should be able to load high rez jpg to the commons for works that we have copyright clearance for – we may even find that a large percentage of the images that we need are already there! As for images that we don’t have clearance on, it seems that being an educational institution we can claim fair use under US law if we load low rez versions and details, the question is do we fall under US or NZ law if we use US services? [I think it is US law regardless – they do after all have the bigger guns and trade “agreements”]. Seeing as we only intend to use these images in research and learning – we probably don’t have a lot of need for high rez images – especially if we include detail images for close ups and the like when we need them (instead of high rez full works). Wikimedia Commons uses a MediaWiki platform which has an excellent range of metadata fields not to mention a proven ability to maintain itself through collaborative editing. Use of Wikimedia Commons dramatically reduces our costs of installing, running and maintaining our own system. Does this stack up?

Of course we would still need to set up a basic internal system for original scans etc. Like a library back up in case we lose access to Wikimedia Commons. Hopefully we would also use a MediaWiki internally so as to remain compatible with the likes of the Commons. But we should ensure flexibility in what database we primarily use, we might want to use later down the track if they get a good image database engine up and running, and so the openness of the commons gives us a fair amount of that flexibility for the meantime.

So as always it seems to make more sense to work in with existing projects rather than “reinvent the wheel” as the saying goes. Trouble is that in education, that saying seems to only extend as far as what your neighbour department is doing and not to a more national or even global scale… building our own is reinventing the wheel I reckon.

Wara points out another useful little tool.


Insert your search term or topic, select the Wikipedia language, see the results in a clean interactive mind map.


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