Wikiversity:Learning projects

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This page provides a general discussion about Wikiversity learning projects: their purpose, how to start and manage them, and how to support the learning goals of Wikiversity participants through the development of learning projects. To look over existing learning projects or start a new one please proceed to Portal:Learning Projects. For a conceptual overview of what some others believe learning projects to be please continue reading here.

What is a learning project?[edit]

A "learning project" is one of the primary units of which Wikiversity consists. Wikipedia has articles; Wikiversity has learning projects. But what is a learning project?

  • A project is a collection of pages: this is one of the fundamental differences between Wikiversity and Wikipedia. Wikipedia's articles are single-page entities. Wikiversity's learning projects are multi-page entities. There is good reason for this: we have found that when people create educational resources, a single page simply doesn't work. Wikiversity deals with multi-page entities (projects), because this is what its educational mission requires. Of course, every project starts as a simple single page. It grows into a connected collection of pages over time.
  • A learning project is a collection of pages devoted to learning which centre around some kind of topic or theme. There's nothing particularly magical or hidden to its meaning. If you are an educator, you've probably made plenty of "learning projects" before elsewhere: every time you sit down and make a small website or a sequence of web pages on an educational topic for your classes, it's a learning project. If you've set up a course on Moodle or some other Learning Management System (LMS)/Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), it could be called a learning project.
  • Beyond that, a learning project is whatever you want it to be. A learning project can be a page if you would like it to be. The "learning project" is a bottom-up concept, not a top-down concept; nobody from above imposes an idea on you of what it is you have to create; it is the ordinary users at the "bottom" who explore the possibilities of the wiki for creating educational resources the way they want them to be.

Who can participate in a learning project?[edit]

Anyone.

In practice, the participants at any one time are often members of a real-world class at a real-world educational institution. You don't have to apply or register anywhere. If you are a teacher, you can simply go ahead without any further permission and create a learning project. If you are a student, you can join any learning project without restriction.

In theory, any of the following variants might occur (or variants not listed here):

  1. Real-world classes from different institutions might join together.
  2. Distance learning might group around a learning project - the participants belong to a real-world class that has no real-world classroom.
  3. The members of the class might have met for the first time on Wikiversity. For example, educators might join together in a project to train themselves further in their professions.
  4. Guests from afar might join a project based around an already established group.
  5. One real-world class might take over and adapt a learning project which another class has finished with.
  6. You could be a lone educator with no class at all, but creating resources for posterity.
  7. You may have a specific learning goal and create a new learning project to attract participation from others with similar goals.

What is significant about this is its openness. Schools and universities often set up Learning Management Systems or Virtual Learning Environments which are restricted in their membership. For example, in a typical Moodle installation, you need a password to enter the whole system, and probably further passwords to enter any particular course. Restrictions are everywhere in these kinds of learning environment. Wikiversity does not have restrictions on participation - not even on course creation!

A note about "uninvited participants"[edit]

The principle of openness means that as a teacher, you can't actually stop anyone joining your course. In other words, there is no such thing as an uninvited participant, because everyone is invited. Normally surprise guests are unusual and everyone is very well-mannered, though, and you aren't obliged to actively teach everyone who joins. If you find you have some surprise participants, please remember the wiki-principles of assume good faith and don't bite the newcomers. If an uninvited participant becomes disruptive, you should ask a custodian to help (see request custodian action). Custodians have administrative powers that can prevent disruption, but it is rare that their action is needed.


What makes learning projects valuable?[edit]

Possible question: I've read all this stuff so far, and it seems I can just jump in here and use Wikiversity to set up some pages to organize and teach my own class. Surely this is hardly in the interest of a global project like Wikiversity? Surely there must be some kind of limitation on my exploitation of Wikiversity's resources?

Answer: of course you can jump in and do your own class stuff here!

The reason why this helps the world at large is a piece of deep, subtle and somewhat speculative wiki-wisdom, however. The theory of wiki-dom looks at the very long-term effects and fate of the learning resources you create. At first, a new resource may be so specific and particular in terms of time, place and people, that it is of absolutely no use to the wider world whatsoever. Your resource may only be used by you for a few weeks (the time); its content pretty well limits it to your own lesson planning and classroom events (place); and the people involved may not extend outside your class (and people). However, unlike a non-wiki webpage, others can come after you and find the resources you have left behind. Rather than reinventing the wheel, they may re-purpose your resources to save themselves time. During the process of repurposing, it is likely that the universality (wider usefulness) of the resource may increase by a small, perhaps almost insignificant amount. The universality will tend to increase, because the resource has now been used on two occasions in different times, places and by different people. Of course, each time the repurposing occurs, the universality may not increase much, or may even sometimes decrease. But in the long run, the resource will incrementally become more valuable and of more universal appeal. This is something which is scarcely visible at the beginning, or not at all visible. But it is the theory of the wiki.

What happens in a learning project?[edit]

Learning to edit the wiki[edit]

Funnily enough, pretty much the first thing that happens in any learning project is for the learners to learn how to edit the wiki. Whether it's a learning project on astrophysics, microbiology, principles of corporate accounting or witchcraft 101, in most real-world situations most of the class may not yet know how to edit a wiki. Don't let the necessity of this put you off as a teacher. You don't have to bring wiki-house-trained students here - you can bring entirely novice wiki-editors as well.

There are two basic approaches to teaching wiki-editing: the sandbox approach, and the task-orientated approach. Both can be applied together. The sandbox approach involves setting up a subpage where participants are free to do anything at all (see here for the general Wikiversity:Sandbox). The task-orientated approach involves giving a series of simple editing tasks, escalating in difficulty. A good idea is to reserve part of your learning project for these purposes - use one or more subpages.

Borrowing from other projects: as almost all learning projects have to face this same challenge, it's worth scouting out other learning projects to see how they do it. Borrow and modify their resources freely to save time creating your own.

Custodians and the wiki-illiterate: if you're planning on bringing dozens of completely uninitiated students onto Wikiversity for their first editing lesson, you don't need to ask anyone! You can go ahead just like that. On the other hand, it's advisable to find and tell some custodians what's going on. Custodians are like your local IT department handymen, who try to keep things vaguely shipshape. They wander around Wikiversity, helping or tidying up messes. A custodian who finds a bunch of clueless and rather randomly editing students will always try to be helpful, but may help wrongly if s/he doesn't know what you're planning. It's a good idea, as a teacher, to create an account for yourself at Wikiversity, and then contact some active custodians in advance of your first and most chaotic lessons. They can then help your students find the right "room" (pages) and even help when they make their first mistakes. See: custodians.

Other things that can happen[edit]

Once your students know what they're doing, it's mainly a matter of your imagination how you adapt the MediaWiki editing environment to your teaching needs. Experimentation is positively encouraged.

A non-exhaustive list of standard ideas: discussions, reports, resource preparation, web research and link hunting; formal learning from text segments (reading tasks); listening and video tasks (both creation and reception). In the area of interactive learning, Wikiversity has a quiz extension for you to make a large variety of quizzes from.

Things that don't happen[edit]

Wikiversity doesn't track learner progress or performance in the same way that a full-blown Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) does. Nor does Wikiversity formally or programmatically distinguish roles such as "teacher" or "student". In a VLE you may be able to see which resources a student has used, how often they were present, what grades they achieved on interactive tasks, and combine all this together into a grade. None of this currently exists on Wikiversity. Even quiz results are only viewable temporarily on the user's screen.

Where can I find existing learning projects?[edit]

Related learning projects are grouped into Schools and Portals. There are major Wikiversity portals that provide user-friendly introductions to groups of Wikiversity schools that are related by their common subjects of study. There is also a guide to existing learning projects at the learning project portal.

How to start a learning project[edit]

The main requirement for starting a learning project is a sense of adventure and boldness.

Finding a title and parent page[edit]

One of the more difficult things you have to do at the start will be to think of an appropriate title, and then fasten the new project into Wikiversity's existing hierarchy of schools and departments.

  • Titles should generally be in English; avoid acronyms; avoid references to specific times and places; try to find a title which correctly and dutifully describes what you are doing. If you mess up, a custodian can rename or move a project for you.
  • Browse through the schools and departments until you find somewhere to "hang" or "announce" the project. If the project extends across more than one discipline, then feel welcome to announce it (with a hyperlink) in more than one place.
  • Once you have a title, and that title exists in a school or department as a hyperlink, all you then need to do is click the hyperlink and start editing the new page.

See: naming conventions (out of date?)

Relation to existing projects[edit]

There is an important distinction here between Wikipedia and Wikiversity: generally, Wikipedia has only one article for any particular topic and if two articles are created by accident, they will be merged. Wikiversity, however, does not adhere to this principle of exclusivity; Wikiversity can have any number of learning projects on the same topic. Ten introductions to knitting are just as valid and acceptable as one. As a matter of good practice, looking for ways to integrate with or communicate between similarly themed learning projects would be good. If an existing learning project hasn't been edited for a long time, you could also take it over and re-purpose it, rather than creating a new one alongside. It may be a good idea to search for an existing project with a similar theme before starting a new one. There is also the practical matter that it is impossible to create two pages with the same title, so your title will have to be slightly different from any existing project.

Learning project templates[edit]

In the course of time, Wikiversity hopes to be able to offer a selection of templates or boilerplate to get you started with a learning project. So far we only have this: the only boilerplate so far, and you should feel free to do something quite different from this.

A note about project-"ownership"[edit]

In principle, no wiki page belongs to any particular user, other than your own account page and its subpages. A learning project is a public good. At Wikipedia, this community ownership concept is very obvious and visible, but at Wikiversity the practice, if not the theory, is subtly different.

In the field of open educational resources, the creation of an educational resource generally requires more time and expertise, and the result tends to be rather more personal than an encyclopedia article. In addition, because parallel projects on the same topic are permitted, there is no real pressure on anyone else to "invade" an existing project. The result of this is that as a matter of psychology of editing, or as a matter of Wikiversity culture, people tend to respect and leave alone each other's contributions much more than on Wikipedia. So on the one hand, if you are worried that others will edit your resource beyond all recognition before your class actually takes place, do not fear - it would be bad manners and rather unnecessary for someone to interfere in this way, and you can recover your original material easily from the "history" tab. On the other hand, you must nevertheless remain aware that there is no such thing as page-"ownership" on Wikiversity. If you leave your pet project alone for a long time and find that another teacher has moved in and changed it, then your choice is either to cooperate with them, or create a new parallel project and put your old material there (which you can recover from the project "history" tab).

see also: Wikiversity:Original_research#Page_protection

Learning projects, learning objects and metadata[edit]

If you're someone who's heard of open educational resources and learning objects, then you can certainly think of learning projects as the unit of organisation at Wikiversity which is the best equivalent of a learning object. One day it may be possible to define metadata for Wikiversity learning projects, so that information about these learning objects can be shared with other OER projects.

See also[edit]