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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 🙂

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I’m waiting enthusiastically for Dave Wiley’s summary of his Intro to Open Education course. Dave has given us a brief update just to remind us its coming…

I was quite inspired by the simple and familiar layout of the course outline, and the obvious and understated requirement for participants to maintain a blog in the course. I should have set my news reader onto all the participant blogs and watched the progress more closely, but hopefully Dave’s summary will represent the good bits…

Dave’s course has clearly inspired the Fins with their own course in Composing Open Educational Resources on Wikiversity – which looks to be another very useful course. And I think I’ll encourage the teachers here who are working on Wikieducator to develop their course pages in much the same way.

I know we in EDC have been needing to rejig our own wiki course outlines, and I’ve been wanting to do something like Dave’s design since I saw it. We are also requiring participants in our course to maintain blogs while in the course, but boy it can turn into a heavy workload.

I quite like the stand off, low key, high expectation style of Dave’s approach and am hoping to learn ways to better manage my time coordinating and facilitating our courses that use blogs and wikis… so, waiting for Dave’s summary 🙂

There is a pretty awesome discussion going on over at Wikiversity called Wikiversity is dead, long live Wikieducator. Needless to say, such a statement would raise the emotions of anyone involved in either of the projects, but thanks to the rational tone set early by JWS the discussion has been very productive. I’m just posting my response here for my own record, but I highly recommend anyone who is interested in the two projects should check it out…

What an excellent discussion! —Leighblackall 21:42, 13 December 2007 (UTC) Thanks to CountryMike (Brent) for pointing me into it. And thanks Cormaggio for mentioning the post and discussion from my blog. I’m someone who works in an educational institution and am trying to build a critical awareness of FOS software, content and practices. It is a bit of a hell ride and I sometimes long for the freedom of freelance. In 2006 I started using Wikiversity to build content for the teacher training we do. Pages for blogging, RSS, wikis, podcasting, video, tagging etc. Almost all these things are very foreign ideas to the teachers I work for 😦 I started adding links to our institution’s support, formal courses and qualifications and started to get a little flack from a Wikiversity user. At the time I was feeling very sensitive to criticism because I get it daily from people in my institution who are reluctant to consider FOS software, content and practices in their teaching. I constantly need to demonstrate worth and prove it. When criticism started coming in from Wikiversity I saw the writing on the wall.. this was not going to be sustainable. So I needed a space that would be supportive in every way of an institution trying to make steps towards FOS ethics and exchange. Wikieducator became that space. But all along I wish to be part of the Wikiversity project, and the Wikimedia foundation. I posted to my blog the desire for WV and WE to merge and form Wikilearner, but I think I’d like to retract that. I agree with CountryMike and Teemu that WV should focus on building online learning communities as I believe that this will become the most important feature in online learning as content continues to grow in every quarter. Content will also grow out of such communities and that may serve Cormaggio’s concerns for the need for content of WV. So, learning communities should be the focus and the university metaphor (schools, topics etc) should recede. Let Wikiversity become Wikilearner. But what is to happen to Wikieducator? As the stats suggest, it will putter along while the majority gravitate to WV. Wikieducator plays an important role to the Institutions. It offers support for the Institutional culture, but more importantly it facilitates Institutional people into the more free and freelance world of WV – and that’s a good thing. Eventually, I hope to be working a lot more in WV (that will hopefully become more of a Wikilearner) but I can’t do that until the people I work for are ready to see that their content is not as important as their network and the learning communities that may become resources for their students to tap into. So Wikieducator is the interim (and it is already radical enough). As the people I work for become more comfortable with MediaWiki technology, they will start to engage with Wikimedia Foundation projects more. We already have 3 staff members who are writing the Anatomy and Physiology of Animals text book in Wikibooks! You see, as our teachers become as familiar and enthusiastic for the free world as you already are, you will see that free content will become an everyday thing and you will have lost your competitive edge.. we will start to need learning communities a whole lot more. I only hope that the freedom politics that is the more ugly side of the Wikimedia foundation generally will not stifle the growth of community. Many thanks for your thought provoking discussion, I hope I have added something of worth, and I look forward to the day when this institutionalised man may be free with the rest of you. —Leighblackall 21:42, 13 December 2007 (UTC)

I finally made it up to Dave Wiley in my terribly over crowded news reader… only to be let down by him 😦 I found a volley of blogged considerations and thoughts going on over at Dave’s blog (all these links so far) about the very same issues with Share Alike restrictions that I attempted to raise with the same network more than 2 months ago.

I blogged about it, I argued til blue in the face with the Wikiversity, Wikieducator and TALO crowd, I emailed and commented in on Dave asking for his thoughts on the issue as I prepared the article, I even spoke about these concerns at the same conference on the same day as David. But somehow all this has missed his valuable commentary, nor have any of the comments to David’s recently expressed concerns about the Share Alike license referred to my work on the issue… these are my peers, the ones I like to think I am connected to in some way, clearly the issue interests them – just not when they are raised by me…  its about now that I sink into a state of pathetic, self loathing depression as I realise I truly am just a raving ozzy living with a bunch of non plussed kiwis, and that I’m doomed to talk to myself and go crazy hermit doing so.

I’m an outsider, alienated, incomprehensible, irrelevant and dismissed by the ones I respect the most, and remembered for the contributions I like least.

A group of Otago Polytechnic teachers who have been exploring wikieducator met today.

  1. Helen
  2. William
  3. Phil
  4. Wendy
  5. Kim
  6. Hillary
  7. James
  8. Tony
  9. Thanasi

and myself… did I miss anyone.

Here’s a central record of work done by this group so far…

Helen initiated the meeting through the email list and was hoping to get more coordination among staff who are exploring the platform. For most it is very early days in their look at wikieducator, and many had not met before. We spent a little while looking at Helen’s start with her Peer Tutoring resource. We wondered if it was tending to more like a Wikibook which would means it would be considered more like an item listed in a resource page… I showed the structure I am proposing we use. There was some talk around this, especially the idea that students will likely only interface with the learning activity sheets, and the content of these sheets might not even be viewed on the wiki! Instead they may be viewed through a blog, an email, a PDF print out or what ever communication context is suitable. The wiki is the development platform in other words… This idea arose out of concerns that the wiki was very text heavy and not all that stimulating. I wrote something along the lines of re-contextualising wiki content in my “wish list” to wikieducator… namely the ability to embed content from the wiki into say, a blog.. The Print to PDF button could be a very handy feature to explore (see the bottom of the left navigation menu on Wikieducator)…

We then talked a bit about the use of blogs in courses and specifically Tony’s use of a blog with embedded media to support his face to face classes. We discussed the possibilities of this and how it could go further.

Phil brought up concerns of creating content in the wiki and then having difficulties within the institution with others that may not yet appreciate the value of open resources. This is a concern, but we do have the endorsement from senior management at least to be exploring this platform. Hopefully this will be enough to ward off any troubles with middle managers reacting to something that is not yet fully understood.

Thanks to Helen for calling the meeting, and to everyone who made it. I hope we can all make good progress and that others will organise little meetings like this so we can ideas and actions flowing together.

People who know me, know I am loathed to use self hosted services. Apart from myself forgetting to pay the bill for domain names and poor-service hosting servers, and so losing webpages and files that I didn’t backup, I think it is important for education to be as in touch with popular media and platforms as it can be. Setting up your own, at-times-monolithic systems, entrenching work practices around them, and giving teachers a route that leads to disconnection, dependence and non transferable skills is something to avoid as much as possible.

In saying that though, I remain all on my lonesome and am yet to hear of an educational organisation in (Australia or New Zealand at least) taking advantage of the storage and services on offer at OurMedia and Internet Archive, or using socially networked platforms to any formal status, taking advantage of Blip.tv services and saving 10s if not hundreds, maybe even millions of dollars on their own yet to work alternatives.

But here I go, about to describe a semi in house set up that I think we need. This set up will hopefully inter-operate with the social platforms and take advantage of all the best has to offer, but for mainly internal issues and copyright concerns, we need a system that spans the divide. One that will give us a cake and let us eat it as well.. whatever that stupid saying means..?

A MediaWiki

We need a media wiki with all the coolness and functionality you can get into the thing. It has to embed youtube, google and blip movies, it has to hold widgets and iDevices, take many html tags, it has to be able to hold a Google map, it needs survey tools, flickr badges, slide show, embedded audio, RSS and all the other things I haven’t thought of.

Looking at an impressive list of MediaWiki extensions, there is potentially a lot on offer, and the work of Alex Hayes and Chris Harvey on the Learnscope wiki promises to demonstrate a lot of all this functionality. The wiki we need has to allow for quick, easy mashups, 1 hour before class, by the skin of my teeth! and we need to be able to move that mashup onto other publishing platforms and formats quickly and easily. More a more detailed wish list, see ideas for wikieducator.

Distributed upload

We need to be able to load a movie (and every other file) to our own New Zealand based file server, and have the option to load it to YouTube, Blip.tv, Archive.org and the National Library… maybe more. The first file to load in the embed frame on the wiki is the local one. If that goes missing then the next available one needs to load, and so on. If that can’t be done easily, then at least a list of alternative locations should load if the local file doesn’t. This is what I mean by distributed upload, and it was inspired by the awesome services on offer at Blip.tv. Distribution like this is not just about backup, it is also about networking and collaboration. Distributing files out gets better visibility. Better visibility may lead to more reuse. More reuse leads to attribution and recognition, that in turn leads to networks and collaboration. The Brazilian teacher who has been using your movies in her class (sourced from Youtube – not your server) calls you up to talk about a student exchange idea… you point her to wiki and things get started…

Copyrights management

Our platform will hopefully default to CC BY but enable individual resources to have any copyright license needed. MediaWiki already has good handling of multi license content, so we need data recorded on what licenses are used on how much of our own content, and in the case of external content used on the wiki, we need records of what content is used other than our own and what the copyrights are.

On the file server, we need to be able to turn on or grey out functionality depending on what license is selected for a resource. For example, if I am uploading a video to the file server:

  • I need to option to publish or private with the ability to ID users who can see it if private
  • I need to be able to set a copyright from all copyright options (most free first and default right down to restricted). If I choose a less free license I start to lose features, like the ability to distribute, the ability to embed in the wiki, the ability to have it reformatted and backed up on other servers etc.

That’s it for now.

Come on Toto… There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place…

I wonder what sort of attention that title will bring? I’m actually rephrasing other people’s dismissal of my arguments regarding Share Alike… so please read on to get a clearer picture.

I have recently discovered the seemingly incurable headache of copyright ideology within the free content circles. I have a problem with Creative Commons Share Alike – or not so much a problem with the license, but a problem with a user generated content publishing platform that uses that license as its default and practically speaking its only workable option!

I’m talking about Wikieducator in this instance, but I guess my issues will apply to any platform using a copyleft legality. Copyleft as it turns out, seems to be a type of free and open copyright license that aims to grow free content. In otherwords, as the Share Alike plain English statement goes:

  • Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same, similar or a compatible license.

So you should be able to see the intent of this. It is to stop free content becoming closed by third parties. It is a mechanism that some believe will grow free culture. But does it?

What are my issues then?

Share Alike (SA) does not work in education because:

1. Our tertiary and vocational education institution is sometimes in a
training partnership with a business or industry that may require us to mix
learning content with commercially sensitive content (such as blue prints to
machinery, patented product designs, or anything that the partner still
perceives is necessary to remain restricted in access and copy). If we were
to mix any SA content with the partner’s content and redistribute (even on a
small scale) we would be expected by the SA content provider to re-release
the derivative under the SA license, but the partner would understandably
not want to do this because they perceive (rightly or wrongly) that doing so
would result in a loss of income and competative advantage. Result? We will
not mix SA content. To keep things simple, we will use SA content at all
because we will never be able to tell at what point we may find ourselves in
this position.

2. Our tertiary and vocational education institution works with a local
Maori Iwi (clan) named Ngai Tahu. At times we may be working with culturally
sensitive materials that the Ngai Tahu leaders prefer to restrict access and
copyrights to only Ngai Tahu people. We may wish to mix materials in with
that, [such as generic training resources on say – chainsaw maintenance, but with local context] but cannot re-release under SA because of the valid concerns of Ngai Tahu.
Replace the Ngai Tahu example with any culturally sensitive
group or individual and (rightly or wrongly doesn’t matter) we have the same
situation. SA is not usable.

3. We have a large database of materials created long before CC or copyleft
existed. Photographs, video and audio of people demonstrating things. These
people signed release forms for using their image and recording for specific
purposes, and the release did not mention anything about the right for a 3rd
party to remix. We can’t mix SA content with these recordings, because we
don’t have the right to re-release the derivatives under anything but a C or
CC BY No Derivatives – due to the old release contracts.

I want to make a strong reinforcement of what I am trying to say here. SA doesn’t work for educational content. Software is different, encyclopedic articles are different, the needs and purpose of education are very different to the success flags of free software and free reference materials. But I don’t expect that will be clearly understood unfortunately. The problem is compounded by a majority of education and elearning developers who – despite claims otherwise – think of educational content as text books and more or less static content. The 3 examples above are only 3 of many more I can think of, but hopefully it goes some of the way towards articulating where these differences lie.

Now, if you refer to the Wikieducator debate (largely between myself and one or two others, with the odd support for me) my efforts to articulate the issues are largely dismissed as illogical rhetoric. I am at a loss at to how it is rhetoric – or why people would think that I would want to use rhetoric or even want to have this argument! The 3 scenarios above are common, almost daily concerns for me and the people I work for – so how can it be rhetoric?.. I guess I need to get the people I try to represent to speak for themselves on this rather dense issue.. but the frustrating thing is that for anyone who works in my type of environment, these situations are obvious! Why my argument is illogical is of more of a concern however. Either I am missing some very important point in the counter arguments, or I am a very poor communicator when engaged in discussion lists. Which is probably why I am writing here now, in the relative comfort of my blog.

But I feel savaged! Listen to this surprise interview sprung on me by a Wikiversity participant. I joined the audio broadcast to listen to Alex Hayes talk, but when Alex didn’t show, the host turned the recorded mic on me. I knew the host had things to say about me and my arguments against copyleft in education, so I agreed to talk and brought the SA issue up – hoping to be enlightened somehow as to why my argument may be illogical or rhetorical. I didn’t expect the savage and unethical treatment though! I truly do not think these issues are being heard or properly considered. And that is why I think some proponents of copyleft hurt free culture.

Our organisation has a draft intellectual policy that is considering the use of the Creative Commons Attribution license. No link I’m sorry – so you’ll have to take my word for it. It is going through internal consultation at the moment. It is not considering the Non Commercial restriction – nor the Share Alike at this point, as it’s intent is to limit the restrictions on as much as possible, and see that we are contributing to educational development as widely as possible. In saying that though, the draft provides a mechanism for individuals and other stakeholders to place restrictions if they wish. They would have to fill out a one page form or something to indicate restrictions on a particular resource, and so the 3 situations I use above to argue why copyleft is impossible in same instances, can be catered for. CC BY content can be sampled, remixed and the derivative even made restricted if the user wishes (with proper attribution of course) but not the other CC licenses. At this point we are not concerned by possible cases of publishers benefiting from our works without giving back, we might be pleased that someone finds a way to make financial gains from our work, but we are also confident that our work will remain ahead, and more usable than restricted derivatives.

At this point I’d like to insert the personal belief that the legal mechanisms of Copyleft are not what grows free culture. As the All rights reserved sector experiences, there is not much that can be effectively done to prevent pirating and unsanctioned use of content, and so the same might be said for Copyleft. Dave Wiley’s story, and Steve Downes’ comment suggest that in some way too. (Certainly David’s article Why Universities Choose NC and what we can do about it shows an appreciation for the difficulties of winning institutional bye-in to free culture). I believe that free culture is growing from itself regardless of the SA and similar clauses. A quick look at Flickr’s Creative Commons database shows a preference for CC BY over CC BY SA by more than 1 million images. Of course I am guilty as always of over simplifying the issue with this little opinion, but I do think it might be an interesting consideration – that free culture is growing regardless of any legal mechanism. I wonder what other Creative Commons data bases reveal? In this age of information explosion, the competitive advantage goes to the content with less restriction. If the only restriction is the requirement for attribution, then I would bet that such a resource will be reused well before another with a restriction of some sort like share alike… and reuse brings attribution – possibly the only thing of worth with content these days.

Now if we start using the Wikieducator platform to develop resources, we have to accept the Creative Commons Share Alike license. A license that is considerably more restrictive than the Attribution license we are preferencing. For the 3 or more reasons outlines above we can not be comfortable with the Share Alike restriction, so using the Wikieducator Platform compromises the re-usability of the resources we contribute. Now, that would not be a problem for the original works, but some of us are actually thinking to use the wiki as a development platform! No more word documents, no more powerpoints, development straight into a wiki. We don’t have a wiki of our own (problems with IT on that) and one of our own doesn’t benefit from the collaborative potential of the more neutral and internationally reaching Wikieducator, Wikiversity etc. It makes more sense to join forces rather than reinvent wheels.

But the default and effectively only license option is a preventative concern. I believe that Wikieducator should use the CC BY license by default, with the option to turn something into SA if agreement can be struck by the contributors. At the moment SA is the default, with possible consideration of the idea that BY will be supported if the contributors to a particular resource agree. But that’s not workable. We need to start with a BY because BY can be turned into SA more readily – or a quick derivative made and turned into SA. This is much more difficult when going the other way. Which is precisely the intent behind Copyleft generally. To make it difficult to do anything other than share alike. And that finishes the impasse – that is not usable in many educational contexts we find ourselves in.

Unfortunately for the discussion, as evidenced by the discourse and treatment of my contributions linked above, the two perspectives don’t seem to be able to find an agreement let alone an appreciation of each other’s position. Shaggy from the TALO email list linked to some history in the debate and shows that it has been going on for longer than when I inadvertently joined the mosh. Now I want out – and will sadly have to reinvent a wheel so that it roles in a way that gets me and my organisation out of this copyright mud and into Open Educational Resources that are as reusable as WE need them to be. Hopefully the MediaWiki developers will find a way to bring the two wikis (ours and the rest 🙂 together in some way, so the shared vision of open educational resources can build and be reused quickly.

I’m on my way to Vancouver to meet with people associated with the Commonwealth of Learning’s WikiEducator initiative for the Tectonic Shift Think Tank. They’re having a gathering to discuss the possibilities and limitations of the MediaWiki platform and related free and open source software for developing free and open learning resources. Over three days people will present visions for WikiEducator and its platform and we will work towards setting goals and objectives for further development.

Extending from an earlier post My Vision for WikiEducator, where I talk about the need for the platform to be able to aggregate and embed media from other platforms and then represent that content for embedding back into other platforms… I’d like to point to other thoughts and ideas that represent a wider vision I share.

  1. Pay it Forward Learning. An idea presented to NSW TAFE Outreach coordinators in 2005 as a way to offer free, or more accessible learning opportunities through the use of wiki type technology and processes. This project sees the engagement of learners in the actual development of learning resources through a formal recognition and even payment process.
  2. Brent Simpson’s various notes. Pointing out a few shortcomings on the mediaWiki platform, some ideas for improvement, and some positive possitioning of the eXe project to support WikiEducator developments
  3. Constructivist/constructionist Learning – Wikiversity discussion. The thoughts of – the gold in a wiki is in the discussion pages – where the focus in less on the actual content, but on using the process of content creation as a structure for learning.
  4. Training Packages Unwrapped. An Australian project developed by Peter Shanks that takes Australian Training Unit Standards out of their RTF and PDF formats, and makes them available in a number of other formats, including MediWiki text. This project has generated some measure of interest in Australian eLearning innovation circles, and is already being used by a number of teachers in the development of learning resources on both WikiEducator and Wikiversity initiatives. It is a very fast way to create a basic structure for a resource based on a recognised criteria for learning the subject.
  5. Michael Nelson, Web Design – Wikiversity. Michael has been using Training Packages Unwrapped and Wikiversity to develop learning resources for Web Design. He has described compelling ideas inspired by that experience, how he can conceivably see a relationship forming between teachers, students, industry and the Australian Training Authority where openness in expressions of unit standards not only helps teachers and students to engage with and understand them, but would help to keep each unit standard up to date and relevant.

In New Zealand, Training Unit Standards have been used for longer than Australia, and in some subject areas the inustry body charged with maintaining the unit standards have allowed some units to fall out of date, to a point of not being usable. The WikiEducator initiative could help to solve this problem by negotiating with National Training Unit Standard bodies for permission and encouragement to use expressions of unit standards as a basic structure for starting a resource and to compare unit standards internationally.

Using Training Unit Standards on WikiEducator would provide vocational teachers – who’s work is largely defined by such standards – a big reason to use the platform.

Speaking from general experience, collaboration on resource development is not a primary or even secondary factor normally considered by teachers in the vocational sector. Most teachers have a hard time achieving cooperation and collaborative relationships with their immediate peers let alone students, industry and the wider community, and so it is difficult to perceive and appreciate the usefulness of learning to use a wiki (with all its limitations) and then to overcome some level of nervousness in exposing their work to audiences wider than their students. This is of course something that is changing as the successes of Wikipedia and Web2 generally become more widely appreciated, but it will be some time yet, if ever, before a wiki is considered before a photocopier, PowerPoint, basic Word handout all delivered over a legacy Learning Management System 😦

I hope this meeting will think hard about these realities in some parts of the CommonWealth at least, and that we can think of ways to improve the situation.

Like Brent, I would also like to extend an invitation to anyone else who has some ideas that could help the WikiEducator initiative.

 

 

The problem with wikis is that they require people to remember to contribute, stop what they’re doing, go to the wiki, click edit and retype what they wrote somewhere else already, such as in a blog, email, or other media upload somewhere else. I really hate it when I upload an image to my preferred image host (Flickr) then have to re-upload it if I want to use it in a wiki. And what about this blog post? As I write I’m thinking about how I might put it on the wikieducator discussion pages I’m involved in… I think I’ll just add a link there and point to this post.

George Siemens puts an interesting thought across – that wikis will get better long term use than blogs.. personally I don’t think so – I think most people find it easier to collaborate with themselves then they do with others, and the long term experience with wikis might annoy them so much that they return to blogging and rely on the network connections to aggregate some form of collaboration.

And that leads me to my vision for Wikieducator (and wikis generally) – the aggregation of individual efforts and then the collaboration.

So far wikispaces is way ahead with this idea. Long ago wikispaces made it possible to add an RSS feed to a page, to be able to add to a wiki through blogging AND to embed media like Youtube vids, Frappr maps and other services that offer embed code for redistribution. This is certainly one level of aggregation I would like to see in a media wiki platform like Wikieducator.

Imagine, you’re starting from scratch with a blank page in wikieducator.. your topic is.. oh, I dunno – the weather… instead of having to enter in text, upload images, rejig the structure and even break out new pages as the first page gets too huge.. instead of that (or as well as) you could add an RSS feed, such as a Del.icio.us tag, or a YahooPipe feed, or a Technorati search result, or the weather reports from 5 capital cities… imagine you could also embed a documentary video from GoogleVids, a popular tsunami video from youtube, a preview of An Inconvenient Truth, and even an old 1950’s B&W weather report from Internet Archive. Imagine that after embedding that media you managed to organise text based transcripts to be loaded in for the dial up users who can’t watch this broadband media. Now you’ve peppered the text and media with a few FlickrCC images and your page is about ready. It took you less then an hour, you have an incredibly rich page, you’re ready for ‘class’, and ready for further collaboration from all the people who’s media you just sampled – remember, its a wiki 😉

All of this is possible with Wikispaces already, but as much as I like wikispaces – I want to get into mediawiki and Wikieducator. Why? well there’s a few reasons – one is so the wikitext I/we create is reusable across other mediawiki installs such as our own if we ever install one. Another reason is because I am interested in the Commonwealth of Learning and the services they can offer in facilitating links across many national borders. The other is because wikieducator is focusing NOT just on educational content, but on improved communication channels to support the use of that content… Apart from those very brain centred reasons, its a gut instinct.

But my vision goes further than just getting Wikieducator’s mediawiki platform up to speed with the likes of wikispaces and content aggregation and media embeding.

Take Shaggy’s Training Packages Unwrapped (TPU) project. An incredible solution to the unusable formats that the Australian National Training Information Services (NTIS) uses to express Australian training unit standards. If you take a look at the TPU proof of concept you will see that TPU extracts key content out of NTIS unit standards and displays them in HTML with the option to extract in a number of other formats – including mediawiki text!! So take this project and apply it to many other forms of syllabus documents that almost always come in .doc, .pdf or .rtf formats and never in wikitext! and we have a short cut way of getting skeletal content like learning objectives and the like into a place like Wikieducator.

Now take a New Zealand project like eXe. eXe was formally a tool for creating SCORM compliant and XML content for reuse in Learning Management Systems and the like. It was probably designed for more than that, but when I first saw eXe back in 2005 I saw LMS tool and looked the other way. Now the project is aligning with the Wikieducator project and could conceivably be used to extract content from the wiki and reformat it ready for print. It could do the reverse as well, reformatting word processor files into wikitext ready for upload into Wikieducator as well, just like TPU can do.

Back to the aggregation inside a media wiki.. one-way aggregation is only half useful. Being able to quickly and easily compile an information piece on a wiki page from a variety of already existing information and media is great, being able to then quickly edit and add your own information around that media is even better, but to be able to dynamically export that page in true Web2 fashion would be the bomb! If each page had some form of XML with a simple step of copying a line of code and pasting it in another context so that the wikipage would redisplay on a blog, an LMS (gawd help us!) a straight website, a start page or even another wiki.. well, that would just be tops! Not just a snap shot of the wiki (we could just use eXe export features for that, but an always up to date version dynamically updating itself via RSS or something. What this would enable would be amazing. Similar to being able to display youtube vids in different contexts, but we are enabling the display of aggregated and wikified content in other contexts, where that context’s style sheet and presentation can lay over the content and make it appear native! So not only do we have open content (as in free access) but we have multiple pathways to the source as well! free and open source content on every level.

As I’ve pointed out before, Wikieducator are proactive on these things. They saw the need for better communication channels to support the content, so they introduced Instant Messaging channels. I’m informed that their IM works fine with Skype, hopefully it works with GizmoProject as well. So we potentially have VOIP in their too. Content alone is not much help to those who are trying to learn. Access to communication with others is what counts, so the provision of Instant Messaging and even Voice over IP channels for every page or content type would really kick arse. Volunteers like me who have a stake in a number of pages could list their preferred live communication channel, and the wikieducator page would be able to show whether that person was online and available, and facilitate messages between people through that page. Still on improving communication around specific content, Wikieducator has also recognised the cumbersome discussion platform of mediwiki and should be implementing threaded and slightly more graphically enhanced discussion soon as well, based on the Liquid Threads development.

So that about somes up my vision/wish list for Wikieducator.

  1. Two way aggregation and re-contextualisation
  2. Embedded media of all types
  3. Download and upload to and from static formats like word processor documents, PDFs and other text files.
  4. Good synchronous and asynchronous communication channels with every page