20 January 2017

Using Wikipedia as a MOOC

Your prevailing experience of online education, for better and worse, is currently Google, Wikipedia and Youtube  (Alexa 2017, Me 2008, Head 2010Hrastinski et al 2012). So why do educational institutions spend so much time and resources developing MOOCs, and why do they predominantly do so in iTunesU, FutureLearn, Coursera or similar such way? Hiding teaching away like this makes it difficult for people to learn and to relate what is being taught into their everyday lives? (Caruana 2006Wesch 2007, Me 2016)

Consider this common scenario:
If you need to know something, chances are you'll Google search it. You might get a summary answer right there in the Google search result, or you might take a look at those results in Images, News, Maps, Scholar, Books etc.
Chances are a Wikipedia article was high up in that list of search results too, and you probably clicked into that Wikipedia article to skim read, maybe even another.
Not quite satisfied with the text and image based results so far, you might have committed to watching 2 minutes or so of a Youtube video you thought was relevant.

The outcomes of learning in that 5 minutes were probably as such:

  1. a correction or expansion on the keywords you were using in your research. 
  2. A realisation that the thing you were wanting to know about happens to connect with one or two things you already know a bit about. 
  3. A better idea of what you might be up for if you want to go deeper in your learning of that particular thing. 

The third outcome is of most interest to me. That range of emotions and motivations that people can feel at the end of their five minute inquiry. Did they feel frustrated or daunted? Where they inspired and impressed? Perhaps they were even semi consciously being sucked into a vortex of information, with a feeling of elation at so much at their fingertips.

It's in this third area that I think an opportunity is afforded teachers and educational designers who want to make information as useful and effective to learning as possible. But its equally here that the darker arts of marketeers and hucksters dwell and compete. (Sierra 2007, Me 2010Me again 2011)

You might have seen, in those 5 minutes of microlearning, that the Wikipedia article for the thing you were inquiring on was expansive and hyperlinked in all sorts of directions. You might have noticed that there were a series of videos on Youtube that you thought looked useful. You might have noticed a range of in depth publications listed in the Wikipedia article's references, or in the results on Google Scholar and Books. You might have even noticed links into forums where people who share an interest in the field have been discussing and answering questions for several years now.

But what if, say, back in the Wikipedia article you noticed in the "See Also" section links to courses and other curricula espousing to better guide your learning? Alongside Wikipedia are projects like Wikiversity and Wikibooks for example. If you curiously chose to look at those links, you might've found your topic of interest was included in a range of curricula including courses, study groups, projects and events. On Wikibooks you found a range of textbooks, some of which were being used in the Wikiversity courses that offer teaching around the thing your interested in learning.

But reading and navigating these wikis is labor intensive and tiresome. At the bottom of each of those courses or textbooks you noticed links to websites that brought it all into a nicely presented, up to the minute space. These sites make it apparent that people from a number of educational institutions are involved. You discovered that these people are pooling their resources to produce and maintain these sites, and their work on the wikis is their process space. The websites offer further connection to their Youtube channels, Facebook Groups, Wordpress sites, Wikipedia projects, Twitter handles, hashtags, events and meetups. Most of it was exposed to Google search, many commanding the first results in topical keyword searches - closing the loop on this scenario of access to information and learning.

Unfortunately, I've not come across many examples of this in my line of work. For what appear to be entirely similar motivations (exposure and promotion), educational institutions and their people have instead partnered up with much lessor known online learning initiatives, delivering resources to the competing commercial interests of iTunesU, FutureLearn, Udacity, Coursera, etc. As we realise, none of it enters the above scenario of prevailing online learning.

Here are some examples that almost get there:

Wiki Project Med is an impressive campaign to improve Wikipedia coverage on all medicine related articles in all languages.
the Wikipedia Education Program offers support for people interested in using Wikipedia in their teaching and learning.
The State Library of Queensland uploaded 50000 out-of-copyright images to Wikimedia Commons for people to use in Wikipedia editing and the like.
WikiJournal of Medicine is an impressive initiative establishing a peer reviewed open medical journal on Wikiversity, integrated to Wikipedia. Good to see La Trobe University is involved. I doubt it has anything to do with my efforts.
The History of the Australian Paralympic Movement in Australia was an initiative out of the University of Canberra. It focuses on getting quality images of athletes on Wikimedia Commons, and creating articles on Wikipedia.
Business Politics and Sport is a course at the University of Canberra that became publicly available on Wikiversity in 2010. It set up its own website and asked students to write, review and publish their essays into a sport research journal on Wikiversity as well.
Motivation and Emotion is another course at the University of Canberra, publicly available on Wikiversity. It asks students to write or edit chapters in the course's student written open textbook.
Oral Health is a program at La Trobe University. It asks students to edit Wikipedia articles to demonstrate their critical reasoning.
Investigative Journalism is a course at the University of Wollongong. It asks students to write stories for Wikinews.
Health Informatics - Electronic Health Records is a course at La Trobe University, and in 2013 the coordinator Dennis Wollersheim asked students to collaborate in Wikipedia for their assignment. Dennis offers an exceptional example for how to draw resources together and create a project space inside Wikipedia.


Alexa, Top Sites. (2017). Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://www.alexa.com/topsites
Caruana, R. & Niculescu-mizil, A (2006) An Empirical Comparison of Supervised Learning Algorithms. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=

Blackall, L. (2008). The Disconnect Between Learning And Education - SlideShare. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://www.slideshare.net/leighblackall/the-disconnect-between-learning-and-education-429513

Blackall, L. (2010). A crisis for institutions, opportunities for teachers. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://leighblackall.blogspot.com/2010/10/crisis-for-institutions-opportunities.html

Blackall, L. (2011). Lucrative teaching? A quick look at Josh Kaufman's .... Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://leighblackall.blogspot.com/2011/01/lucrative-teaching-quick-look-at-josh.html

Blackall, L. (2016). Can we teach the machine to teach?. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://leighblackall.blogspot.co.nz/2016/06/can-we-teach-machine-to-teach.html

Head, A. & Eisenberg, M. (2010). How today's college students use Wikipedia for course related-research - First Monday. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://firstmonday.org/article/view/2830/2476

Hrastinski, S. & Aghaee, N.M (2012). How are campus students using social media to support their studies? An explorative interview study - Springer. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10639-011-9169-5

Wesch, M. (2007). The Machine is Us/ing Us (Final Version) - YouTube. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlGopyXT_g

Sierra, K. (2007). Creating Passionate Users: Marketing should be education, education .... Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/02/marketing_shoul.html

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