Learning in and with an open wiki project
First Monday

Learning in and with an open wiki project: Wikiversity’s potential in global capacity building by Teemu Leinonen, Tere Vadén, and Juha Suoranta

There is a chance that Wikiversity will become the Internet’s free university just as Wikipedia is the free encyclopedia on the Internet. The building of an educational entity demands considering a number of philosophical and practical questions such as pedagogy and organization. In this paper we will address some of these, starting by introducing several earlier approaches and ideas related to wikis’ potential for education. We continue by presenting three commonly used metaphors of learning: acquisition, participation and knowledge creation. Then we will present the main principles of two existing alternative educational approaches: free adult education and free school movement. To test these educational approaches and practices on Wikiversity and increase our understanding of the possibilities of this initiative, in the spring of 2008 we implemented an experimental course in Wikiversity. We conclude with several recommendations essentially advocating for Wikiversity and the use of wikis in education. However, more than just presenting our opinions, as authors we aim to make an educated — traditionally and in the wiki way — contribution to the international discussion about the future of education for all in the digital era.


The potential of wikis for education
Metaphors of learning
Free and liberal education and wikis
Case study: Experimental course on Wikiversity
Discussion and conclusion




Wikiversity is a project of the Wikimedia community and a sister project of the Wikipedia project. The Wikimedia community is an international online community born and expanding around Wikipedia. Wikiversity was launched in June 2006 after an extensive online discussion on the mission, vision and objectives of the project. According to the approved project proposal Wikiversity is: “a repository of free, multilingual educational resources; a network of communities to create and use these resources; and group effort to learn, which may or may not be led by an instructor, who may or may not be an expert on the topic.” Furthermore, the Wikiversity community has defined Wikiversity to be “a centre for the creation and use of free learning materials and activities.” Its priorities and goals are to: “Create and host a range of free–content, multilingual learning materials/resources, for all age groups in all languages; Host scholarly/learning projects and communities that support these materials; and Complement and develop existing Wikimedia projects (e.g., a project devoted to finding good sources for Wikipedia articles)” (Wikiversity, 2007)

Open wiki projects, such as Wikipedia and Wikiversity, take their form over time. They are, first of all, online communities that are responsible of building their own culture and way of operating. Because of this, when an open wiki project is started, it is hard to know what it will finally become. Still, open wiki projects do not develop independently because they are embedded in specific socio–cultural contexts. Because of their free and open nature — anyone may join — their context changes over time depending on the socio–cultural demographics of active community members.

At the time we write this, Wikiversity is still developing. It looks like the community is not yet exactly sure about its identity. At one level, Wikiversity is already a Web site for real online learning communities — kinds of educational entities. One may even see some signs of it becoming an educational institution. The slogans used within the Wikiversity project promise a great deal: “Free learning community” and “set learning free”.

There is a chance that Wikiversity will become one of the most important online education sites on the Internet with a great impact on global capacity building. But it is possible that Wikiversity will slowly vanish when the first pioneering volunteers realize that running an online education site requires more than masses of editors of wiki pages.

As Wikiversity evolves, one must consider what will be the underlying educational ideologies driving its development. From the history of education we know that some radical approaches to education, especially the ideas surrounding free and liberal education, have played an important role in capacity building in many societies around the world. We argue that by learning from the free and liberal educational tradition, Wikiversity could become an entity with a great impact on human capacity building on a global scale.

In this paper, we first present several different approaches to evaluate the potential of wikis for education. Then we will introduce three metaphors of learning that are common in the West. These are: acquisition, participation and knowledge creation (Paavola, et al., 2004). These metaphors strongly affect the ways we organize education today. We will then present the history and practical implementation of free and liberal education, more precisely focusing on free adult education and the free school movement. Free adult education will be discussed in the Scandinavian tradition. The ideas of empowering education and implementations of the free school are based on number of pedagogical thinkers around the world such as Paulo Freire (1993), Henry Giroux (2007), bell hooks (1994), Ivan Illich (1971) and Peter McLaren (2004). To test educational approaches presented in this article, we organized and facilitated in late 2007 and early 2008 an open and free class. This ten–week interactive course with more than 70 students was used to gather data and test the idea of making Wikiversity an open and free platform for education in the tradition of free adult education and the free school movement.

Based on earlier attempts at using wikis in education, three metaphors of learning, two traditions of free and liberal education, and our research, we’ll present several recommendations for the possible future direction of Wikiversity. Our arguments are based on the belief that Wikiversity — as well as the other open wiki projects — should aim for the highest possible potential intrinsic in their unique combination of free content, volunteer collaboration and massive distribution of labor. Wikiversity should be build on a two–fold foundation: (1) the open wiki project forces genuinely new forms and results in education; and, (2) the tradition of free and liberal educational philosophy and practice.



The potential of wikis for education

When aiming to clarify wikis’ potential for education, we must recognize the difference between learning with the wiki platform and learning in an open wiki project. The former refers to the use of wiki engine (such as Mediawiki) in an educational situation occurring in some existing social and organizational context, such as in a school. The later discusses the educational impact of participation in open wiki projects such as Wikipedia.

In the last few years, a number of researchers and educators in various educational institutions at all levels — from primary to higher education — have experimented with wikis in many different ways. Wikis have been tested as a tool for collaborative note–taking, for making annotated bibliographies, for collaborative writing in students’ research projects, and in distance learning to publish course resources such as syllabi and handouts (e.g., Lamb, 2004; Duffy and Bruns, 2006; Grant, 2006).

Several educators and educational researchers have considered wikis as a tool to promote change in pedagogy and educational practices. For instance, Lydsay Grant (2006) has pointed out wikis’ potential to provide structures supporting community of practice (Wenger, 1998). Grant also sees wikis as one possible platform to implement collaborative knowledge–building models of learning (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1994). Experiments and research about educational wikis has mainly focused on situations where the wiki platform is used in a traditional, institutional educational context. In these cases, the wiki has been brought to the educational institution as a tool to enrich the learners’ experience.

Learning in and with an open wiki project, such as Wikipedia, is very different from the use of wikis in institutional educational settings. In an open wiki project the participants focus on building shared resources that will be available for all. To reach this, open wiki projects have positioned themselves in a digital economy of share and share–alike. This economy means that resources created together are freely available for all, as long as new contributions are also shared under the same terms.

Open wiki projects have borrowed this economic model from free/libre/open source software projects. In a manner similar to that of an open source project, open wiki projects rely a great deal on volunteers. One could argue that this form of collaboration, for open source and open wiki projects, provides new input for the Habermasian ideal of democratic communication and, on the other hand, as completely new forms of civic self–organization and self–management [1]. The nature of democratic collaboration, self–organization and self–management requires from the participants very different kinds of behavior and skills than participation in a study project using wikis inside an educational institution.

Open source and open content projects operate in a second economy [2], also called the amateur economy, sharing economy, social–production economy, non–commercial economy, p2p economy, and the gift economy. The conditions and modes of operation in the traditional commercial first economy and in the second economy differ greatly from each other. The first economy and the second economy work in symbiosis where both need each other. One may claim that the second economy, providing infrastructure, is always serving the first economy.

We may, however, see all of this in a completely different light. It makes sense to claim that the only task of the first economy is to provide individuals resources to participate in the second economy. The differences and relationship between the first and the second economies should be kept in mind when we consider the potential of wikis for education. Thus, to understand this, we should briefly examine the economy of education.

Basic education has been considered fundamental to all economies. For instance, Article 26 of the U.N. (1948) Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stage.” Hence education is defined as a human right because it affects peaceful and sustainable development. Education is seen as a vehicle to provide humankind with the tools to meet other human rights.

Locating education in the second economy becomes more obvious when we compare it to more traditional commodities, such as physical products or raw materials. In economic terms education is a service, but even as a service it is significantly different. When you educate someone you enrich your commodity instead of losing it. Every time you increase someone’s intellectual capacity you also increase your own intellectual capacity. When you give someone a physical product, you no longer possess it.

Open source and open content projects base their existence in similar positions within the second economy. As a commodity, GNU/Linux does not carry a great deal of exchange value but it has tremendous value to users. Freely available Wikipedia might be difficult to sell. Still, millions find Wikipedia extremely useful every day. When we think more in terms of ‘the use value of education’ and in terms of ‘exchange value’ we start to see education in a very different light.

In order to increase use value, it becomes natural to think about students as teachers, and teachers as students. In an optimal system, everyone will learn and everyone will find results useful. The real potential of an open wiki project is support education as a form of a commons, not as isolated activities operated by experts in institutions. This type of education may also aid the growth of native skills and wisdom already possessed in communities.



Metaphors of learning

Sfard (1998) points out that there are basically two metaphors that dominate our thinking about learning — learning as acquisition and learning as participation. Paavola, et al. (2004) added a third metaphor; learning as knowledge–creation.

In the acquisition metaphor, the human mind is seen as a container of knowledge and learning is a process where the learner (or her teachers) fill the container with knowledge (Paavola, et al., 2004). The historical roots of this metaphor can be traced to a time when information was scarce — the production and reproduction of information was expensive. Recently, the trend of considering education as a for–profit activity has strengthened this metaphor. Many individuals have been taught that education has a specific cost. Implementations relying on this metaphor include standardized certification courses with standard materials and tests.

Suppose we examine a family operating a farm. The children in this family would learn from their parents through a process of acquisition. The parents might provide for their children a guidebook and a series of lectures explaining tricks and tips on how to run a farm. Then the parents would arrange a test, giving the farm to their children only when the test results reached a certain specific goal.

In the case of Wikipedia, first a person would acquire access to Wikipedia. Then she would study some parts of it carefully, and take a test to prove that she was familiar with that specific content. Finally, Wikipedia would provide a certificate stating that this individual is knowledgeable in certain, very specific topics.

The participation metaphor emphasizes involvement in various cultural practices and shared learning activities (Paavola, et al., 2004). In this metaphor knowledge and learning are situated in individual lives in specific socio–cultural contexts. In this metaphor, knowledge is accessible only by cultural mediation, such as learning by doing and dialogues within the learning community.

In the case of Wikipedia it would mean that an individual would start to edit articles and take part in discussions in talk pages. Slowly, she become familiar with the practices of the wiki community and gradually know more Wikipedians. She would learn from more experienced and mature Wikipedians, understaning eventually the culture of Wikipedia insiders. At some point she would be given administrator’s rights [3]. In sociology this process is termed cultural socialization.

The knowledge–creation metaphor (Paavola, et al., 2004) is partly based on the works of Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995), Engeström (1987) and Bereiter (2002). All emphasized the creation of conceptual and material cultural knowledge artifacts in communities. Knowledge artifacts are, at same time, part of a community’s and all of humankind’s collective knowledge. This knowledge is always situated in time and space. Because the situations and contexts of learning change, knowledge artifacts are always unique. What I learned and created today in my knowledge–creation community is different from what someone else learned and created in her community.

Scardamalia (2002) proposed some principles for knowledge–creation communities. First of all the community must focus on authentic problems and real ideas. These ideas should be considered as ideas that can be improved; the diversity of ideas should be seen as a necessity. Work around a set of ideas should be progressive so that the community should create some higher level concepts. All participants have a right to contribute; new knowledge hence is commonly owned. In knowledge–creation, participants should use a variety of information sources and understand these sources critically. In this way the knowledge–creation metaphor combines the acquisition and participation metaphors, but at the same time goes beyond them. The knowledge–creation metaphor invites individuals to participate in processes where they not only acquire knowledge, but also create new knowledge usable for a broad spectrum of people.

With the example of the farmer family, knowledge–creation would mean that children could learn farming with their family in the fields, but would also have access to different kind of materials about farming in general (theoretical information), and discussions with other farmers farming in different kind of environments and conditions. In the farming community the participants would share their unique experiences (cases) and native skills. Based on their participation when farming, their acquisition of theoretical information about farming and their participation in discussions with other farmers, the new generation would create new knowledge in the context of their own farm. They could evaluate what practices in their parents’ way of doing things were good and should be kept and what new ways of farming could be implemented. During the learning process they would also participate in the process of creating collective knowledge, presenting their case and their theories, and in this way, contribute to common knowledge.

In the case of Wikipedia, a person would participate in Wikipedia editing and administration of the site, but would also aim to do research with others in areas she finds interesting but in which she does not have well structured conceptions. This research would involve developing real study problems as well as hypotheses aimed at solving them, searching for evidence to support these hypotheses and eventually developing conclusions.

As a platform for learning, wikis have the potential to cover all three metaphors. When it comes to the acquisition metaphor, the free/libre nature of wiki content guarantees access and reduces scarcity. This in itself is a great benefit, and promises to equalize and democratize learning when technological and ideological barriers of access are removed. The second metaphor, participation, is the forte of wikis, and could prove to be a similar boon for education and capacity building as it has been for building online encyclopedias. The knowledge creation metaphor is also present in wikis. However in Wikipedia the focus is on encyclopedic knowledge — to document and to create content from already existing sources [4].



Free and liberal education and wikis

The participation metaphor of learning captures some of the essential parts of free and liberal education. For instance, free and liberal adult education is first and foremost a participatory activity. It is goal oriented and collaborative, and it aims at social as well as individual transformation. For instance Raymond Williams, a British cultural theorist and adult educator, emphasized that education belongs to everyone: “that it is, before everything else, the process of giving to the ordinary members of society its full common meanings, in the light of their personal and common experience.” [5]

Free and liberal adult education is always based on and embedded in understanding social circumstances and local realities. Thus it has a direct connection to everyday lives. It stems from a need to solve practical problems by finding solutions together. Three common characteristics for free and liberal adult education are: (1) the diversity of curricula; (2) voluntary nature of participation; and, (3) learner–based study methods. Free and liberal education is often open–ended. It has no ready–made goals, only a problem–based starting point. Thus it has nothing to do with formal curricula “from above” as in formal schooling systems. The other element separating free and liberal adult education from formal schooling is voluntary participation. Individuals are not forced to join forces in adult education. Voluntary participation implies study methods which respect participants’ experience and ideas. The most common study method has been the study circle. In it, adults share their world views and experiences, building insights in dialogue.

Historically, free and liberal adult education has occurred in many places. Among these are folk high schools, workers’ educational centers and civic centers. Additionally public libraries, museums and the free press can be seen as part of a liberal adult education system. Free and liberal adult education is also often linked with social movements in their task of tackling burning social or ecological issues of the time.

In Scandinavia and the Nordic countries, free and liberal adult education has played important role in socio–economical and cultural development. The liberal adult education movement’s ideological father was N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783–1872), Danish teacher, poet and philosopher who founded the first Folk High School in Denmark in 1844. Originally Grundtvig wanted to reform existing higher education in Denmark which he saw as educating only scholars who didn’t have any connection to the everyday life of ordinary people. He claimed that the university did not serve society. In the Folk High School the aim was to educate people to actively participate in society and popular life. The focus of studies was on practical skills, history and national poetry. The studies were a combination of practical science and humanities with an emphasis on wisdom and equality. “Grundtvigian” educational thinking took over quickly in other Nordic countries where a number of Folk High Schools, “workers educational centers” and “adult education centers” were founded in late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1960s the free and liberal education’s significance for socio–economical development, cultural life and people's well–being was widely recognized and various institutions started to receive state subsidies. Today taking voluntary studies in free and liberal adult education institutions is very popular in the Nordic countries. In Finland in 2004, about one million adults (total population of 5.2 million) took some studies in one of the many liberal adult education institutions. Seventy percent of the participants were women (Toiviainen, 1997; Toiviainen, n.d.).

Besides free and liberal adult education there have been several initiatives to reformulate university studies to be more free, liberal, responsible and accessible for their surrounding community. For example, Bertell Ollman (1985) argued that the university should primarily contribute to the community. According to Ollman, the university should stay true to its critical function to do autonomous research by involving the entire university community in shared, collective, cooperative and multidisciplinary research projects. Ollman continues his idea further in the context of the City University of New York (CUNY): “Why should research be an individual and small group activity? Let 150,000 people take to their pencils and wits together about something worthwhile. Put mass scholarship into motion.”

The free school movement is a “second cousin” of free and liberal adult education, for they share many, if not all, of their characteristics such as open–ended curriculum, contextualization in everyday life and problem–based and dialogical study methods. The free school movement has its roots in the critique of national, “closed” schooling systems. These closed systems were seen as central “ideological state apparatuses” with national political bias and direction, and sometimes, as in the Nordic countries, a comprehensive national curriculum. In other words schooling was defined as politically directed with a Western emphasis. According to critics, like Ivan Illich (1971), schooling is harnessed on the wagons of economical utility, and it is directed by the control of content. This control is identified in national and supranational educational policies. In the era of economic globalization, it has been claimed that the main aim has been the production of prolonged exchange value of well–educated citizens. Teachers and students are defined as state subjects and their learning means merely “having” more knowledge and more production and consumption power (Suoranta and Vadén, 2008).

On the contrary, in the free school movement education was not defined as a state–governed “thing” located in institutions like schools. Instead, it was maintained that education was a naturally evolving activity, belonging to people, not to governments. Furthermore education’s main aim was to enhance individual, social and spiritual faculties, as well as increase capabilities for self–direction and self–government. One of the early critics of the state–led schooling system, Ivan Illich (1971), examined the ways in which learning was expanding across everyday lives: to the streets and small study corners where one could watch a film or listen a record, and have an educative discussion about it with others. This idea breaks the old dichotomy between masters and students and creates a space where former teachers become students and former students as teachers. No one is seen as a passive, empty vessel. Instead individuals are seen as active creators capable of sharing and absorbing their experiences as well as gradually learning how to assess external information.

It is interesting that already in 1971 llich talks about “learning webs”, where people are exchanging teaching and learning based on their needs. In Illich’s own words: “The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing and caring.”

Furthermore, Illich defines the good educational system in this fashion:

“A good education system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and finally furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.”

From Illich’s dream, access to resources at any time is becoming real thanks to the Internet, Wikimedia community and other online free/libre content initiatives. In a few years, learning materials in most basic study subjects, in a number of language, will be available online for all for free. At the same time, blogs and other tools provide the means to present issues to the public, just like in Illich’s third purpose of a good educational system. The Illich’s notion of a free and open “marketplace” has not yet materialized online. However, certain conventions — such as the wiki way of doing things — can be seen as initial steps in that direction.



Case study: Experimental course on Wikiversity

To study how Wikiversity works and to test the educational approaches presented earlier in this paper we implemented a design experiment in the spirit of Lewinian action research. Action research is relatively commonly used method in social sciences and educational research. An action research starts with fact–finding and planning an intervention in a community, such as a workplace or classroom. Once the intervention is implemented, data is collected, analyzed and discussed with those involved in the experiment.

Design experiments test new ways of teaching or learning in authentic learning environments. The aim is not only to find out what teaching arrangements are most functional or feasible but also to guide theory building on learning. This way design experiments are pragmatic as well as theoretical.

The experiment on Wikiversity was started in November 2007 by setting up in the English Wikiversity a draft plan for a course described as “Composing Free and open online educational resources”. The experiment was designed so that the course could model teaching and learning — that is, combining elements from acquisition, participation and knowledge–building metaphors of learning. From the organizational perspective, the course relied in many ways on conventions common in free adult education.

During the experiment we collected quantitative data from the server logs of the wiki server and qualitative research data from participants. The emphasis was on qualitative data gathered by close contacts with those participating in the experiment. The data collection methods included observations with detailed note–taking, and structured feedback discussion on a wiki page and in a videoconference session.

On 10 December 2007 the first course schedule for nine weeks was released with a start for class on 3 March 2008. This schedule included an introduction to the course, an explanation of target groups, objectives, and information about class meetings, assignments and a draft weekly program with titles. Also, the names of class facilitators and their blogs were included.


Figure 1: Experimental course on Wikiversity
Figure 1: Experimental course on Wikiversity.


In the first draft description of the course we stated that it was open for all. We emphasized that it was not self–study, like many courses in Wikiversity. Indeed this course was akin to other online classes with pre–defined weekly content and assignments. Individuals interested in the course could simply register by adding their names/nicknames, e–mail and blog addresses to the wiki page.

Releasing this course description immediately sparked some attention in the Wikiversity community and online communities at large. The news was fast replicated in several mailing lists and blogs. By 3 February 2008, a month before the course was scheduled to start, there were 17 registered participants. By 23 February, 10 days before in advance of the course, there were 51 registered participants; on 3 March, there were 72 registered participants.

All of the course pages on Wikiversity were publicly compiled and changes to the pages were made live. This public alteration of the course allowed anyone to follow the course as it evolved. The open wiki way invited individuals to contribute to course planning. However, we did not make it explicit.


Figure 2: Number of edits for different pages about the course
Figure 2: Number of edits for different pages about the course.


Data from course editing provides some insights into about the activities of participants during the planning period and the actual course. The main page was edited more than 250 times (see Figure 2). Most of the edits were done during course planning. The page with a list of participants was edited almost 200 times. The talk pages of each wiki page were not very active, though they received several comments and questions related to practicalities about the course. However, it is worth mentioning that the main social interaction in the actual course was not intended to take place in Wikiversity but on the participants’ own blogs.


Figure 3: Number of users editing different pages of the course
Figure 3: Number of users editing different pages of the course.


The main course page was edited by over 20 people (see Figure 3). Based on the revision history, most edits were small language corrections and formatting. Still, three participants, in addition to the two facilitators, contributed strongly to course content, program and assignments. In discussions with those three participants who contributed a great deal to course planning we discovered that two were contemplating a similar course, whereas one was an active Wikiversity community member.

The total number of users editing the participants’ list was more than 90 (see Figure 3). When the course started, the list contained 72 registered participants. After the first week of the course we counted 39 participants working on the course and in the end of the first week 25 participants had completed their first assignments.

Participants’ feedback regarding the course was in general positive. The original structure divided the course in two parts: 1) theoretical introduction to the topic with reading and assignments related to them; and, 2) hands–on exercises — where participants were asked to make open educational resources — was found meaningful and useful.

“I liked the mixture of theory and practice — so I not only got to know the concept of OER, I also saw some very good examples & I applied my gained knowledge.” (Participant A)

“The most satisfying experience was the ‘The learning by doing’ part of the course. I was looking forward to the following week’s assignment, as it was becoming more and more interesting, however more challenging.” (Participant B)

The communication tools used in the course — blogs and wiki — were found by most participants rather confusing and sometime frustrating. Also, the facilitators found it difficult to follow all of the different blogs. Although some participants tried to improve communication by providing guidelines on how to add all of the blogs into a single blog reader, the complexity of communicating with blogs was widely recognized as a major challenge. The use of blogs, however, supported the idea of individual learning diaries. They were easy tools to post and share assignments among participants, but did not facilitate community building. One participant noted:

“Probably the lack of class community. Most of us (all?) are still strangers, despite our use of public blogs.” (Participant C)

To improve the course, participants proposed more collaboration and live events with video or audio conferencing. Group work assignments were considered to be one way to build a community and allow participants to learn more about each other.

“The videoconference at the end of the course was nice — it personalized some of the participants and made me think that it would have been nice to have met this way in the middle of the course.” (Participant D)

“I think that a synchronous meeting in the beginning or half way through would have been awesome — I know it’s hard still I would have liked to get that feeling.” (Participant A)

As a result of this experiment, we think that an open course with a program and weekly assignments on Wikiversity is feasible. The course can be very useful to participants. The open nature of course planning allows a larger group of individuals to bring their expertise into the course.



Discussion and conclusion

The Internet is forcing educators to reconsider their thinking about education. Wiki technologies are challenging traditional metaphors of learning. Online collaboration and publishing with Web forums, blogs, and wikis seems to favor more participation and knowledge–creation metaphors than the acquisition metaphor.

Both free and liberal education and open–wiki projects emphasize community, democracy and communities’ ownership. Both see individuals as active participants in communities with responsibility to their development. In this way free and liberal education and open–wiki projects share many common values and practices.

There are, however, also areas where free and liberal education differs from existing open–wiki projects. With our experimental course we tested the open–wiki project’s ability to move from its current practices to present some of the practices of free and liberal education. We found that it can happen but may require widely accepted conceptual change in the Wikiversity community. Based on the analyses of the differences and similarities of open–wiki projects and free and liberal education as well as the results from the experiment, we conclude with the following recommendations:

People first. Probably the main difference between free and liberal education and open–wiki projects relates to focus. In classical free and liberal education, people are the center of educational efforts. The aim of the community is to have an impact on the lives of individuals. In a “classical” open–wiki project the focus is on the wiki site. The aim is to build wiki pages.

This difference is remarkable. It can be illustrated with an example. The aim of the Wikipedia community is to create the world’s best, free, multilingual encyclopedia. The focus in on content. In the case of a free school, the focus on content could mean that the school’s objective would be to create the world’s best school library. In a similar way, the free school’s objective of offering people possibilities to develop as human beings — to fulfill their psychological, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs — is not the main objective of Wikipedia, though it obviously has this effect on many lives, too. Still, the aim is to make an encyclopedia. In Wikiversity it should be different and make its community members the center of its activities in order to ultimately assist individuals to develop and grow.

Classes. Putting members of the Wikiversity community in a central role provides an opportunity to develop new options. To increase the accessibility of Wikiversity, a new option could be organize study projects or classes. The structure of a Wikiversity class could include traditional elements such as a title, introduction, list of participants, schedule, syllabus, objectives, and possible means of evaluation — if these elements are important to participants in a given class. Ultimately a given class should reflect the needs of the community since the community will propose, develop and accept classes over time.

Social interventions. The Wikiversity community should actively recognize groups that would most benefit from further developments in the diversity of offerings in Wikiversity. Indeed Wikiversity should be pro–active in reaching new audiences, such as those with reduced opportunities for education. In free and liberal education, the focus is on those who have less favorable combinations of circumstances in their lives and in society. Wikiversity can assist the disadvantaged in a variety of roles much like free and liberal education has served social change globally.

Communication tools. Wikiversity needs to diversify its suite of options for communication. Integration of free/libre VoIP online conference tools would open Wikiversity to group work, assisting a larger number of individuals in creating additional content and offerings online.

Transparency of authorship. In the case of Wikipedia the idea of developing content without visible attrbibution as a collaboratively edited system makes sense. In the case of Wikiversity this does not make sense. With classes it will be more important for participants to literally know other participants and their instructors.

Freedom of point of view, non–verifiability and original research. Crucial Wikipedia policies — neutral point of view, verifiability and non–original research — should not tie Wikiversity. In a class participants should be free to take whatever point of view and use whatever sources they need. Participants should be encouraged to use unconventional forms of communication and representations of knowledge including music, dance, paintings, and poetry. The community as a whole, however, should hold final word on the value and virtue of different sub–communities working in Wikiversity. End of article


About the authors

Teemu Leinonen is Professor of New Media Design at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, Finland.
Web: http://www2.uiah.fi/~tleinone.
E–mail: teemu [dot] leinonen [at] uiah [dot] fi

Tere Vadén is Assistant Professor for Hypermedia at University of Tampere in Finland.
Web: http://www.uta.fi/~fiteva/.

Juha Suoranta is Professor in the Faculty of Education at University of Tampere in Finland.
Web: http://suoranta.wordpress.com/.



1. For theories on hacker communities, see Castells (1996) and Himanen (2001).

2. For an overview, see Lessig (2004).

3. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_administrator.

4. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:No_original_research.

5. Williams, 1989, p. 14.



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Editorial history

Paper received 12 August 2008; accepted 10 January 2009.

Copyright © 2009, First Monday.

Copyright © 2009, Teemu Leinonen, Tere Vadén, and Juha Suoranta.

Learning in and with an open wiki project: Wikiversity’s potential in global capacity building
by Teemu Leinonen, Tere Vadén, and Juha Suoranta
First Monday, Volume 14, Number 2 - 2 February 2009

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