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I am going to use this page and related pages to make available parts of my PhD thesis, in an attempt to make my thesis more useful to the Wikiversity community. Cormaggio talk 13:24, 7 April 2010 (UTC)

Thesis title: Edit this space: conflict and collaboration in developing Wikiversity


My thesis deals with the collective, and personal, experience of participating in Wikiversity, a wiki-based project for developing learning resources and fostering learning activities and communities. Wikiversity is an attempt to further the vision of universal knowledge-sharing and knowledge-building, expanding on how its ‘sister’ project, Wikipedia, has impacted on the idea of the encyclopedia (Alevizou, 2007; Reagle, 2008). The experience of developing Wikiversity has been complex and multi-faceted – inspiring, frustrating, enriching – and this thesis is about the challenges and opportunities involved in this endeavour.

Wikis (i.e. editable websites), and particularly Wikipedia, have been characterised as emancipatory and empowering (Ebersbach & Glaser, 2004; Salz, 2005); as approximating ideal forms of rational discourse, democratic participation and decision making (Hansen, Berente & Lyytinen, 2007); and as representing a paradigm shift in the domain of knowledge (Wagner, 2004). As websites that anyone can edit, wikis are 'wide open spaces' (Lamb, 2004); however, there are inevitable limits to this openness. Recognising these limits, this thesis tells a story of how a wiki operates in practice – of its messiness and imperfections – which I use to show glimpses of, and cast light on, ideal forms of openness.

In fostering learning activities and communities, Wikiversity goes beyond the creation of a learning resource repository, entering the realm of a learning space. Part of its development as a learning space has been the question of how this space could be congruent with the wiki context and with the participatory culture of wikis, or what I am referring to as ‘the wiki way’ (Leuf & Cunningham, 2001). My aim in this thesis, therefore, is to explore the ways in which I and my fellow participants have shaped Wikiversity as a space for learning, and the evolution of this activity in light of the notion of ‘learning the wiki way’.

I describe ‘learning the wiki way’ as a set of freedoms – including to be an active participant in, and hence personalise, one’s learning – but also a set of factors which embed and mediate these freedoms within the activity of a community (see below). This raises a number of critical questions about the extent to which learning is personalisable within a community-validated context, and implications for the scope and range of possible learning activities.

Learning the wiki way[edit]

"Learning the wiki way" is a central aspect of what Wikiversity was set up to explore and define. The following is a list of key features of 'learning the wiki way':

  • to be able to participate in a collegial, collaborative space;
  • to be able to co-define how that space works;
  • to learn through interaction and collaboration with others;
  • to be able to specify what and how you want to learn;
  • to be subject to the values of the community;
  • to be subject to colleagues’ right to participate and learn.

Mutual engagement[edit]

This is a partial list of factors that help or hamper mutual engagement, or opportunities for participation.

Rationales for getting involved:
  • Working with like-minded people
  • Addressing a collectively recognised problem
  • Clear project goal, aligning with personal interest
  • Pursuing or developing a personal interest
  • Contributing to the community or society in general
Mechanisms for working together:
  • Collaborative tool (e.g. wiki)
  • Methodology for collaboration (e.g. NPOV, working or learning model)
  • Plan of action
Factors blocking or hampering mutual activity:
  • Unshared problem (e.g. rounded corners)
  • Lack of mutual alignment (e.g. to a working model, or shared vision)