Wikiversity; or education meets the free culture movement: An ethnographic investigation


  • Norm Friesen
  • Janet Hopkins



online learning, open educational resources, free culture movement


Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, has challenged the way that reference works are used and understood, and even the way that the collective enterprise of knowledge construction and circulation is itself conceptualized. The article presents an ethnographic study of Wikiversity, an educationally-oriented sister project to Wikipedia. It begins by providing an overview of the orientations and aims of Wikiversity, which seeks to provide for participants both open educational contents and an open educational community. It then undertakes a detailed examination of this project's emerging, overlapping communities and cultures by providing descriptions produced through a combination of ethnographic techniques. These descriptions focus on the experiences of a participant-observer in the context of a eleven-week course developed and delivered via Wikiversity, titled Composing Free and Open Online Educational Resources. These descriptions are discussed and interpreted through reference to qualitative studies of the more developed dynamics of the Wikipedia effort --allowing this study to trace the possible trajectories for the future development of the fledgling Wikiversity project. In this way, this paper investigates the communal and cultural dynamics of an undertaking that --should it meet only with a fraction of Wikipedia's success-- will be of obvious significance to education generally.

Author Biographies

Norm Friesen

Dr. Norm Friesen is Canada Research Chair in E-Learning Practices at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. Dr. Friesen has been developing and studying Web technologies in educational contexts since 1995, and is the author of several editions of books on the effective use of instructional software and on the implementation of technical standards for learning object projects.

Janet Hopkins

Janet Hopkins is a British Columbia secondary school teacher and the author of Assistive Technology: An Introductory Guide for K-12 Library Media Specialists (Linworth, 2004).




How to Cite

Friesen, N., & Hopkins, J. (2008). Wikiversity; or education meets the free culture movement: An ethnographic investigation. First Monday, 13(10).