Collective learning

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The following resource is an essay by User:Απεργός. Please contribute your reactions, thoughts and opinions to the discussion section at the bottom.

Learning as a collective process[edit]

This is a short description of a collective model of learning for participants in Wikiversity which exploits the wiki environment and functionality in order to create a non-traditional approach to e-learning.

Characteristics of the wiki environment[edit]

As participants in Wikiversity, the main means of communication at our disposal is the pages of the wiki itself, readable by all, with the ability to refer to other materials. Anything that can be presented as text and images can constitute a part of an educational resource. Anyone who wishes to add content can write without concern for wiki syntax and can leave formatting of the text to others.

Whoever wishes is able to comment on the ideas and suggestions of others by writing their message just below the main text. Their name and date will appear in the history of the page even if they don't know the syntax to add this information directly to the page itself.

As secondary means of communication, we have: irc, skype, and virtual reality environments like Second Life. These have the advantage that they allow communication in real time, but conversations cannot be logged easily (or in some cases, at all). Consequently, the conversations cannot be used later by other students or even by the very people who participated in them.

The communities of the different Wikiversities today are relatively small: on the English language Wikiversity, there are about 70 active users that contribute at least once a week. On our site at the Greek language Wikiversity we are anywhere from 3 to 7 individuals that contribute regularly, depending on how busy we are. We also deal with the infrastructure, discussions of the nature of e-learning (such as the discussion that prompted the creation of this page), the creation and expansion of on-line resources, with translation of the interface, and with developments in the Wikimedia Foundation itself such as licensing issues. As a point of reference, the English language Wikipedia, two years ago, had more than 4300 active users who contributed over 100 times per month.

The members of our communities come from all professions, and some are still students in high school or even younger. Some have knowledge they have gained from their work, others from classes in school. They come for various reasons: to promote open access to human knowledge, to take on the role of the teach in a virtual environment, to find information in some area, to make friends, or to feel that they are doing something worthwhile with their time.

The traditional approach[edit]

In schools and other educational institutions, participants are separated into two groups, the teachers and the students. The teacher has specialized knowledge that s/he wants to pass on to his/her students. S/he accomplishes this by use of lectures, textbooks, exercises, and tests. S/he checks the progress of his/her students, determines grades, decides which answers are right and which are wrong, and so on.

The advantages of this model are obvious: one responsible person who is trained in his/her area ensures the quality of the knowledge that is transmitted. Equipped from previous experiences, s/he makes alterations to the material and his/her teaching methods as required by the level and dynamic of the individuals in his/her class, and, ideally, deals with special difficulties of students with special educational tools that facilitate the assimilation of the information that is problematic for the student. It is assumed that the knowledge that is taught is correct, useful and sufficient for the understanding of the particular area to the desired degree. The teacher gives his/her full attention to the students for the duration of the lesson and s/he is able to intervene without delay whenever it is needed.

This model has classic disadvantages, of course: the teacher who doesn't know his/her material well can transmit erroneous knowledge to hundreds of people over the years; if s/he doesn't know pedagogical methods s/he may not understand when a child cannot grasp something because it's difficult for them (instead of not applying themselves to the lesson for example), or s/he may not have the required knowledge to make use of different teaching methods for individuals who learn acoustically, visually, kinesthetically, etc. If the teacher defines what is correct and what is a mistake, the students may learn to recite back a collection of data without being in the position to analyze it or to exercise critical thinking about it.

On the wikis we have other difficulties too: the users who are interested in learning something in particular have to find educational material predeveloped for their use, to find an individual who is willing to take on the role of the teacher, writing and correcting exercises, answering questions, filling in gaps in the material, all of this in a timely fashion, and who will keep the student's interest even during the duller parts of their studies. Paradoxically, the user who wants to learn via wiki with the traditional system doesn't make use of its collaborative properties, nor of its public nature.

Collective learning[edit]

Instead of waiting for a teacher, the users could create educational materials as they learn, and they could help each other with questions, checking exercises, and similar tasks. This approach is based on the method promoted by JWSchmidt on the English language Wikiversity: "learning by doing". Applying this method, the user records his experiences and the procedure he follows in order to learn something, as well as the knowledge itself. He doesn't create a "lesson", nor is it expected that his notes will be converted into a typical lesson text.

A (hypothetical) example:

Some users decide to get involved with the localization of the MediaWiki software. None of them are professional translators. They begin with the language knowledge they have already, and they encounter various difficulties. Each translator notes the obstacles they found and how they overcame them or asks for help from others. Someone fins an analysis on Google which says something about translation memory, and writes a description. Another tries out the applications for Linux (gtranslator, poedit, emacs with po mode) and records their discoveries and impressions. Yet another notes the methods they use to find translatiosns of special terms on the Internet... All comment on the work of everyone else, and at some point they write a manual for translators based on the things they learned during the first phase of the project.

Second (hypothetical) example:

Some users want to learn to write templates for use on the wikis. One knows the basic syntax (three curly brackets for parameters, two for templates, default parameters) and describes it. Another finds the appropriate help pages on meta and from some other sources. Someone else does experiments with #if: and links, and notes down what he learned. Yet another person finds the Special:ExpandTemplate page and explains its use At some point one person organizes the notes and from them puts together a complete document on how to write templates and debug them.

In these two cases, the participants don't have need of a teacher, or of preexisting materials on the wiki. They learn by doing, and they learn collectively.

Discussion[edit]

Writing code, someone can easily figure out if it is correct or not, by doing some test runs. But if the subject being learned is something else -- a foreign language, for example -- what happens? How can the members of the group check their work, or find and correct their mistakes? Added by User:Απεργός

What happens when the learning community is only one person? Added by User:Απεργός

How many people are enough for this method to work? Added by User:Απεργός

  • A couple is good in marriage and 12 or 13 for launching a religion .. Paulmartin42 04:33, 5 June 2008 (UTC)
    • How do you arrive at the second figure? --Remi 04:51, 5 June 2008 (UTC)
      • From Wikipedia (Twelve Apostles)- Christianity has/had another apostle who globalised the message - hence the vague 12/13 Paulmartin42 10:31, 5 June 2008 (UTC)

background[edit]