Wikiversity:Being educational

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Introduction[edit]

A comment from a Wikiversity user about the quality of Wikiversity[edit]

I hate this joke of what could have been a very valuable learning resource. I don't know enough about Neurobiology, but I know all wikiversity really needs is people arranging information that they could've gotten from anywhere, into a format that guides them through from no understanding to a full fledged comprehending individual. Both Wikipedia and currently this fail miserably at that attempt, due to their lack of a good flowing course. it's just a mess of information that is going to turn off more people than it must. --danthemango 07:55, 29 February 2008 (UTC) Originally posted at Category talk:Neurobiology.

The above comment, left by a registered user whose user page described himself as an 18-year-old highschooler, embodies in a succinct fashion both negative and positive criticisms of learning at Wikiversity which could be applied to a much wider range of resources. The comment targets in particular the lack of use of simple formal structuring of learning resources in order to make them valuable as learning resources. The comment correctly identifies a problem which has plagued many minor contributions to Wikiversity, and which Wikiversity is having a problem coping with.

This article attempts to address this problem.

Intent and audience of this article[edit]

A challenge which Wikiversity faces in coming to terms with its educational mission is that many of those (very motivated, very valuable) people who have pushed Wikiversity forward and maintain it as a website are information technology specialists of various kinds, and not necessarily educators and educationalists. An issue, to which the above user reacted, and which we all face, is that Wikiversity is constantly used for posting materials whose defining characteristic is not that they are educational in any sense, but that their author couldn't (or didn't know how to) put them anywhere else on Wikimedia projects. Wikiversity is, of course, not a dumping ground for the rest of Wikimedia, and it has a specifically educational mission, which requires sorting out educational from non-educational content.

Therefore, there is a need to define what educational content is - as distinct from non-educational content, and/or content on other Wikimedia projects. This article has the purpose of a simple how-to or FAQ for recognizing educational content and, as a side-effect of this, distinguishing Wikiversity content very clearly from the content of other Wikimedia projects.

The article is for helping contributors recognize the basic distinctions and features of learning resources. It is not an article which defines education or educational value. It simply attempts to state some superficial and helpful criteria by which one can recognize articles and pages where the educational value is or is not in doubt and which might therefore be worth tagging for further inspection by experts.

Criteria for recognition of learning resources[edit]

The points listed here must be understood as sufficient conditions, not as necessary conditions. In other words, the presence of any one may indicate a bona fide educational resource, but the lack of any particular one is unlikely to show the opposite. However the complete lack of all of the criteria below may indicate that the resource is not educational.

Formal criteria[edit]

Segmentation for intellectual digestibility[edit]

A slab of facts, such as one finds on Wikipedia, is generally not an appropriate form for education. Learning resources typically recognize that learners are human beings with learning curves and finite concentration spans. The most obvious kinds of division are “lessons”, where a page or article is divided up into segments marked with titles such as “lesson 1”, “lesson 2”, etc. The divisions may be more subtle than this, especially regarding choice of title. The principle is generally: divide up the material into chunks that a learner can manage. An article or page that shows this kind of learner-orientated division is more likely to be a learning resource.

Segmentation may involve the use of subpages (in a maturer or larger resource) or sections (in a smaller or younger one). Segmentation alone does not indicate a learning/teaching intent - the way in which the segmentation is done is important.

Sequencing by difficulty level[edit]

A Wikipedia article is not put into order of difficulty. A Wikipedia article gravitates towards a kind of expositional authoritativeness that derives its sequential order from the subject matter itself and a certain concept of what an encyclopedia article should be. A learning resource, on the other hand, will probably show sequencing of material that starts from an easier level and progresses towards a more difficult level. This is not always the case, but an article or page that shows this kind of learner-orientated sequencing by difficulty level is more likely to be a learning resource.

Repetition and redundancy[edit]

In an encyclopedic article, repetition may be seen as bad style. The ideal encyclopedia article optimizes its content and removes redundancy. Learning and teaching, on the other hand, generally require repetition and redundancy.

Repetition: learning processes work better when material recurs in a cyclical fashion. Cycles may rework the material in different ways, such as increasing the difficulty level, applying the knowledge in a new way, or presenting the knowledge from a different perspective. The manner of reworking varies, but beneath this the cyclical tendency is constant.

Some types of repetitiveness in learning resources:

  • A common kind of repetition is an introduction which seeks to establish what is already known by the reader or revise what was learnt before.
  • Another common kind of repetition is the shaping of a resource using a "presentation–practice" structural core. Material is presented for the first time in a "presentation", followed by some kind of arrangement of exercises in which the learners repeat the material for the second (and more) times.

The concept of redundancy is related but slightly different. Redundancy involves the idea that some kinds of approach to a topic may not suit some learners, but all learners can learn from some kind of approach, even if not the same one. If one uses multiple (and therefore redundant) approaches, one therefore maximizes the number of learners who have learnt.

If an article or page uses repetition or redundancy as methods of enhancing learning, then it is more likely to be a learning resource.

Moving from known to unknown[edit]

This is perhaps another way of stating what was stated under “sequencing by difficult level” or “repetition”, but it can overlap with these or be something slightly different. The general idea is that a learning resource starts with what is known, and moves from here to what is not yet known. To put this in the negative: learning resources do not jump in at the deep end (even if many university professors think they do). The ideal teacher establishes first what the audience knows (or makes it clear what the knowledge presuppositions are), and then moves from here in a discernible movement along a learning or teaching pathway. The pathway is not so steep that learners cannot climb it. A rather obvious, minimal and artificial way of doing this is to state: “you must have completed course ABC before coming here”, but learning resources may find more inventive or subtle ways than this. If an article or page uses this kind of movement from known to unknown, then it is more likely to be a learning resource.

A variant of this is where the author begins by establishing a relationship with the audience - in other words, making the teacher and learners "known" before starting, rather than making the subject matter "known". Related techniques include the use of drama and teasers (as introductions) to pique the interest of the learners.

Audience interaction[edit]

As a formal criterion, audience interaction means no more than an invitation or attempt to involve learners in the resources themselves (e.g. discussion of the resource, construction of more parts to the resource). However a formal invitation along to “interact” is not enough to make something an educational resource: the proof is in how this interaction is actually realized. When an educator opens a resource up to interaction, or makes its educational value contingent upon interaction, the educator is taking a risk. The risk is that the educational value may collapse completely. The success of an interaction is, however, no longer a formal criterion but a content-related criterion, and is much more difficult to define. Internet-based interactions are especially at risk of degenerating.

Criteria of context and purpose[edit]

Association with a real-world educational context[edit]

Some authors come to Wikiversity to create resources that are directly associated with their real-world teaching and intended to assist with this in some way. The form and content of these resources may not fall under any other criteria listed here, but the simple fact that a resource is (credibly and clearly) associated with a real-world educational process is, by itself, a prima facie indicator of educational intent and value.

Learning goals[edit]

The most superficial way to recognize learning goals is by the use of phrases such as "how to..." or "this lesson will teach you to/about....". A Wikipedia article tells you "all about something" (telling, all). Some kinds of learning resource (but not all) explain to you "how to do something" or set you learning goals of other kinds. Learning goals are not the same as acquiring the totality of knowledge on a subject. A learning goal is an incomplete state of knowledge acquisition, or a waypoint on a learning path.

Teacher–learner feedback-revision loops[edit]

Is there any evidence that the resource has had actual contact with learners and been revised as a result? (Note the edit history). One of the typical characteristics of learning resources, as distinct from articles, books and other text types, is that they have a history which includes modification following actual learning experiences. Despite all the formal criteria that might be applied to a learning resource (see above), and all the knowledge and training they might have in education and their field of expertise, educators typically find that their first attempts at a new piece of learning material do not pass the first contact with the actual learner, and must be modified as a result. This isn't the same as the modification of an article, which happens when authors with different perspectives arrive, or when new knowledge becomes available. The identifying characteristic here is the (visible) presence behind the resource of some kind of looping relationship between teacher and learner, in which learners have provided feedback (as learners) and the resource has been modified by the educator as a result. Modifications of this kind will typically involve changes of structure and strategy, aimed at improving the learning experience.

Content-related criteria[edit]

Content-related criteria are generally very difficult to apply. They are also what many people tend to try to think of first when talking about educational value, which is why many educational value discussions get side-tracked. Formal, contextual and stylistic features are much easier to use when spotting real learning resources.

Relation to established curricula of learning[edit]

Is it relevant to Wikiversity whether or not a resource has some relation to established real-world (or even virtual) curricula of learning?

Real-world curricula are controversial things, the reasons for which include the following:

  • Real-world curricula are strongly culture-specific.
  • Real-world curricula are defined by national and regional authorities, and may reflect political or scientific establishments (status quo) and disadvantage legitimate minority educational interests.

Wikiversity has set its motto and slogan to “set learning free” and “open learning community”, which among other things implies a certain independence from external educational regulation.

However we are not dealing here with a criterion for exclusion, but a criterion for acceptance: a sufficient, rather than a necessary condition. If an article or page lacks all other criteria on this page, but nevertheless actually defines itself as (and really is) an exposition of material that meets a specific section of a real-world curriculum of learning, then it is likely that there is educational value present. More than that, it is quite likely that the resource was written by an expert. On the other hand, if this criterion was lacking and (more importantly) all the other criteria on this page were lacking as well, then the resource should probably tagged for closer consideration of its educational value.

Can you actually learn something from this?[edit]

This is an example of a criterion which should not be used for establishing educational value. One can learn something from practically anything. A piece of string at the side of the road which has been ground into the dirt so often that it is hardly distinguishable from the road surface probably has multiple potentials for learning if viewed in the right way.

The fallacy of this criterion is that it is highly subjective and can always be answered "yes" if someone is prepared to argue the case hard enough. As a criterion, it reduces the idea of a criterion for educational value to the absurd. A criterion is about distinguishing - about drawing borders and lines - about defining. If Wikiversity has an educational mission, then some kind of non-absurd criterion must exist for what is considered "educational" at Wikiversity.

Does it make Wikiversity a better place?[edit]

A criterion that is often used in conflict-resolution on Wikipedia is “does it make… a better place?”. Could this be a criterion for learning resources?

  • It is a fallback principle for borderline cases.
  • It is a meta-principle from which more practical guidelines could be derived.
  • It is a principle which probably only the most experienced Wikiversitarians could meaningfully apply.
  • It is not practical for everyday tagging of questionable resources.
  • It is vulnerable to over-subjective interpretation.
  • It doesn’t really help maintenance staff understand what educational value is.

Content is on the topic of education[edit]

If an article or page is actually about education, then this doesn’t necessarily make it a learning resource, but it may provide a different kind of educational value. Wikiversity should be able to provide encyclopedic articles on educational topics (which might be more specialist than Wikipedia), as well as learning resources in the narrower sense.

Style-related criteria[edit]

Style-related criteria are neither sufficient nor necessary conditions, but they can act as indicators that something is a learning resource rather something else such as an encyclopedia article.

Addressing the reader as "you"[edit]

Learning resources often do not target themselves at empty space (cf. Wikipedia articles) but have a much more immediate and specific audience in mind (the learners). Having a specific audience in mind helps the author of a resource better direct the resource in terms of meeting learning needs. The immediacy of this audience is often conveyed by the use of a style of writing that addresses the reader directly, such as by using the word "you". Superfically: "lesson 1: how to build a space rocket; first you take... etc.". This contrasts strongly with the style that would be expected on all other Wikimedia projects. By no means will all learning resources use this style, but it may characterise some and help to distinguish them from other text types.

Note: "we" does the same thing.

Simplifying the complex[edit]

An encyclopedia article aims at efficiency. If a sentence can be rendered more efficiently with a term of art, then the term of art is used (and hyperlinked somewhere else). The educator, on the other hand, will tend to take the longer route with a larger number of simpler words. They will risk falling into explanations of the obvious in their efforts to make learning material palatable. "Simplifying the complex" sounds good - and rather obvious. The same trait can be expressed in different words, such as "a didactic style" or "talking down at people". "Talking down at people" may not be a good thing, but it can be a marker of an educational resource. Nobody said an educational resource has to be progressive, tactful or politically correct. It just has to be educational.

Revision of main points[edit]

The more of the following questions which can be answered postively of a resource, the more likely it is to be a learning resource. Bear in mind, however, that there are many teaching and learning styles, so that these features may be present in differing amounts. Feel welcome to use the talk page to discuss possible further points for inclusion.

  1. Is there segmentation in the resource which seeks to make the learning process more palatable?
  2. Is there any evidence of sequencing material by difficulty level?
  3. Does the author make use of repetition and redundancy to better convey the material to learners?
  4. Does the author move along a descernible path from known to unknown?
  5. Is there evidence of (successful) attempts to involve an audience of learners?
  6. Is there any association with a real-world educational context, such as a course or class?
  7. Does the author set explicit learning goals?
  8. Is the resource designed to fit into a recognized real-world curriculum of learning?
  9. Does the writing adopt a style which reflects the immediacy of a learning situation?
  10. Does the text adopt a didactic style or go out of its way to make complex things easier to understand?

A completely negative answer to all of the above questions may give strong reason for tagging a resource with a template which questions its educational value or encourages a move towards a greater educational orientation.

A question which does not help in this process is:

  • Can we learn anything from this?

This question does not help us, because reasons can always be found for a "yes", regardless of the resource.

Side-note[edit]

All of the above could also be used as points by which to distinguish Wikiversity content from that of other Wikimedia projects.

What do we do if a page's educational value is in doubt?[edit]

The possibilities for consideration are:

  • Deletionist options.
    • Speedy delete.
    • Think, ask, then delete.
    • Delete by vote.
  • Bureaucratic options.
    • Tag the resource with one of a series of templates which do any or all of: draw attention to the lacking educational value, link to this page, categorize the resource for inspection, threaten to propose deletion if improvements not made. Templates might be graded in varying levels of civility and firmness.
    • Replace content with the welcome-and-expand template, or possibly a new "content-removed-due-to-lack-of-educational-value-but-feel-welcome-to-start-writing-this-article" template (sensible where the title is of educational value but the content isn't).
  • Laissez-faire options.
    • Do nothing and hope that a subsequent user might improve the resource.

It is recommended that none of these options should be excluded. In some cases, the educational value will clearly be so absurd that the quick removal of the content is the only solution (by deletion or by welcome-and-expand template); this is particularly the case with hit-and-run edits which are not actually vandalism, but nevertheless clearly lack educational value. Where an editor has made a more substantial contribution, a template is to be preferred.

Advantages of template tagging:

  • It rescues Wikiversity's reputation. A casual visitor will no longer assume the resource is representative of Wikiversity, and they will also see that Wikiversity is sensible enough to be putting the value of the resource under consideration.
  • It draws the attention of people who might want to improve the resource.
  • It draws the attention of experts in the maintenance crew who might be needed in order to decide on more radical solutions.

Examples[edit]

Case A: Getting started with sound recording[edit]

At the time of visiting, the above page was not one of Wikiversity's best or most complete resources, but not a bad one either. The edit history shows a long history of small and occasional edits by a wide variety of users, apparently without a grand plan or common agreed purpose. It is therefore a good example for practicing recognition of learning resources. Is "getting started with sound recording" really a learning resource?

  1. Is there segmentation in the resource which seeks to make the learning process more palatable? Not really.
  2. Is there any evidence of sequencing material by difficulty level? No. The title says "getting started", but no other pages in the hoped-for sequence could be found.
  3. Does the author make use of repetition and redundancy to better convey the material to learners? No.
  4. Does the author move along a descernible path from known to unknown? No.
  5. Is there evidence of (successful) attempts to involve an audience of learners? Yes. At the end. Success is not obvious, but look at the talk page.
  6. Is there any association with a real-world educational context, such as a course or class? No.
  7. Does the author set explicit learning goals? Yes.
  8. Is the resource designed to fit into a recognized real-world curriculum of learning? No.
  9. Does the writing adopt a style which reflects the immediacy of a learning situation? Yes.
  10. Does the text adopt a didactic style or go out of its way to make complex things easier to understand? Sort of.

In summary, we can say that the resource exhibits a number of characteristics of a learning resource. An expert educator might find ground for criticism of its current educational quality, but excellence is not the issue here. Nor would the resource have to attract positive answers on all criteria to be excellent - partial affirmatives are fine. There are, beyond doubt, clear indications of it being a learning resource.

Case B: Media Planning[edit]

At the time of visiting, the above page was tagged for cleanup in various ways. A number of custodians had paid attention to it, but it had not been deleted, nor had its educational value been called into question.

  1. Is there segmentation in the resource which seeks to make the learning process more palatable? No.
  2. Is there any evidence of sequencing material by difficulty level? No.
  3. Does the author make use of repetition and redundancy to better convey the material to learners? No.
  4. Does the author move along a descernible path from known to unknown? No.
  5. Is there evidence of (successful) attempts to involve an audience of learners? No.
  6. Is there any association with a real-world educational context, such as a course or class? No.
  7. Does the author set explicit learning goals? No.
  8. Is the resource designed to fit into a recognized real-world curriculum of learning? No.
  9. Does the writing adopt a style which reflects the immediacy of a learning situation? No.
  10. Does the text adopt a didactic style or go out of its way to make complex things easier to understand? No.

The resource draws a clear negative on all points. The course of action should probably be to remove the content completely (not yet done) citing the grounds as lack of educational value. On the other hand, the title is conceivably useful, so a template on a blank article might be better than deletion.

See also[edit]