Meta Collab
The origins of Wikiversity

Welcome to Wikiversity at Meta Collab!

This page and its subpages are here to provide an embedded interface within Wikialand for Wikiversity outreach and feedback. Please make yourself at home!

Wikiversity is...[]

Wikiversity is a Wikimedia project currently in the beta phase to create a community of students and teachers by making use of wiki software.

723px-Plato i sin akademi, av Carl Johan Wahlbom (ur Svenska Familj-Journalen)

Collaboration between students and teachers.

Historical origins of Wikiversity[]

There is an interesting phenomenon by which new wikis are created from old ones. Often, an existing wiki serves as an incubator for new wikis. This has been the case for Wikipedia. Wikibooks started in the summer of 2003 as a daughter project of Wikipedia.

In wiki culture, there are many people who succeed by being narrow specialists. There are people who are always in a rush to narrow the focus of existing wikis and sterilize them to remove everything that does not fit a narrow definition of the purpose of the wiki. The alternative approach is to foster diversity and build resilient communities from the combined efforts of diverse members. However, it is a sociological phenomenon that those people who feel the need to narrowly specialize will focus their energies and find ways to exclude anyone/anything that does not fit a narrow definition of a wiki’s mission. The birth of Wikibooks from Wikipedia was even accompanied by gloating about how the new project was so poorly developed that in September 2003 Wikibooks did not even merit a wikipedia entry.[1] This sociological phenomenon by which wikis are driven to eat their own offspring also applies to the birth of Wikiversity from Wikibooks.

Soon after the creation of Wikibooks, there was already discussion at Wikibooks of the idea of creating a Wikiversity as part of the Wikibooks project. There was also discussion of the Wikiversity concept at the Wikimedia Meta Wiki in 2003 including the comment, “Wikibooks would be the bookstore of WikiU?”

The narrow Wikibooks mission is to use a wiki interface to produce textbooks. There have been different visions of just what a textbook is. Many people view a textbook as a collection of facts that students read and memorize so that they can pass their exams. In this model, producing a textbook is a matter of a group of wiki users collecting the facts all in one place. The easy way to do this is to simply copy the contents of an existing textbook for a particular subject.

An alternative conceptualization of a textbook is that it is a learning aid, produced by people who make use of their understanding of a subject in order to produce a guide for new-comers to a field. In this model, producing a textbook requires knowledgeable authors who know the state of mind of a target audience and how to lead that audience through a large and complex subject. If this model is valid, then textbook production in a wiki environment depends on supporting the needs of knowledgeable textbook authors. Historically, this has been accomplished by making textbook writing a recognized form of scholarly activity in universities. Thus, it makes sense to have a "Wikiversity" as part of Wikibooks. Wikiversity would attract scholars who would then write the textbooks.

However, it is easier to construct individual wiki textbooks using the Wikipedia method of "article construction". This has led to such textbooks as How to Solve the Rubik's Cube, Building a House of Cards and Bibliography of Tangut Studies but not a Neuroscience textbook.

In the absence of community support for the people who can write textbooks, Wikiversity went into a holding pattern from 2003 to 2005. Some people have argued that there needs to be special new software support for a Wikiversity. For example, some people view tests and exams as the core of a university, so they argue that Wikiversity needs online testing software before it can start. From 2003 to 2005 very little development of Wikiversity took place. A list of academic disciplines was made. A few "courses" were started, often by linking a "Wikiversity course page" to an online textbook or pages at Wikipedia.

In August of 2005, a few guardians of Wikibooks could no longer stand to have Wikiversity present within the Wikibooks project. The Wikiversity main page was listed as a candidate for deletion from Wikibooks. This led to the hasty creation of a Wikiversity project proposal at Meta. At the time of writing (October 2005) voting is taking place to decide if there is enough community support for Wikiversity to have a test-bed wiki started, after which period the Wikimedia Foundation will debate the achievements of the test run and the merits of starting Wikiversity as a true sister project.

Debate over Wikiversity as a Wikimedia project[]

During the time that Wikiversity was being removed from the Wikibooks project, there was some discussion of the pros and cons of having Wikiversity as a Wikimedia project.

The Name[]

Codex Manesse Konrad von Würzburg

Depending on their rate of cognitive development, students may be ready for Wikiversity as early as age 14.

Some people object to the name "Wikiversity". It has been suggested that the name "Wikiversity" is too centered on higher education and that the project should also include content that is for less advanced students. In the "learning as collaboration" model of wiki-assisted learning, each student must take responsibility for their education and utilization of available online resources. It is not clear that the youngest students can fruitfully participate in an online learning experience in a wiki environment. Developmental psychologists such as Erik Erikson have attempted to characterize stages in human cognitive development. In Piaget's theory of cognitive development, the capacity for abstract thinking and drawing conclusions from collections of information does not usually develop until after age 12. According to Erikson, children learn to interact constructively with peer groups during the period from age 12 to 18. It can also be argued that these are important social skills that need to be learned in the "real world" where all sensory modalities can be utilized, not under the restricted conditions of sensory deprivation that apply to online communities.


There is also confusion about what constitutes appropriate educational content for a university. "University" is derived from the Latin “universitas”, which is short for "universitas magistrorum et scholarium", meaning roughly "community of masters and scholars". According to David C. Lindberg in his book The Beginnings of Western Science, "guild" is a good term to use to describe such a "community of masters and scholars". The idea of teachers and students banding together was part of the movement towards trades and crafts forming what came to be known as guilds. When the first universities were formed, elementary education included language skills and basic mathematics. The entry level of university education eventually evolved into what we know as a liberal arts education. Originally, a typical age for starting participation in university education was about 14. Typical undergraduate topics were philosophy and "advanced" mathematics such as geometry. Students might typically learn astronomy and astrology according to Ptolemy. This is the level of education that is today found in American High Schools. It should be expected that as High School students mature cognitively and socially they will be able to participate in Wikiversity. Some more precocious students from pre-High School grades may also benefit from Wikiversity.

Accreditation and Degrees[]

Another issue has been the idea that it is the business of a university to be accredited to confer formal degrees. These are trappings of a modern university, but only slowly evolved as practices of established universities. From the earliest times, many university students received the education they needed without attaining a degree. High School students will use Wikiversity to prepare for Advanced Placement tests. Wikiversity will become a center for adult learning within which many adult students will not be interested in attaining degrees. Accreditation and degree conferring is certainly not needed in order to start the Wikiversity project.

Distraction from other projects[]

It has been suggested that other projects such as Wikibooks need to be given support first and that starting a new project like Wikiversity is a distraction and would result in a dilution of talent. Such zero-sum thinking assumes that the same people who are currently developing wikibooks will be the people who participate in Wikiversity. An alternative view is that the desired textbooks will only be produced after Wikiversity is established, as discussed above on this page. It has also been suggested that hardware resources are rate limiting for Wikimedia projects and that new projects would drain server resources from existing projects, crippling them. This is an unsubstantiated claim. As more people are brought into contact with Wikimedia projects, the pool of donors increases. Education is one area where people are willing to spend money. There is no reason to expect that Wikiversity could not be supported by user donations.

It has been my experience so far in beginning to frequent Wikiversity learning portals that I am contributing productively to Wikipedia and Wikibooks and occasionally using Wikitionary as a reference. We should ask intellectually honest (assuming good faith implies all) adherents to the zero sum view to participate in developing a few learning trails of their choice. Perhaps we can thus convert them into supporters. user:lazyquasar

Wiki in Education[]

You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it for himself. ―Galileo Galilei

There are many different conceptualizations of how Wikiversity can or should take form. Some people view students as empty containers to be filled with knowledge from a source (teacher, courseware). If you adopt such a traditional model of learning, then you can be tempted to try to construct a factory-like university in wiki format. In the model of learning as a collaborative effort, the student is responsible for being an active agent exploring a learning environment. Such a model leads us to take full advantage of the wiki user interface to unite students and teachers in a community that is devoted to research, information exchange and creativity.


Recreating the university in wiki format

Schools of Thought[]

In the past, an attempt has been made to organize Wikiversity around conventional academic divisions. This makes sense as a starting point for Wikiversity, but it does not mean that Wikiversity must remain trapped in conventional approaches to learning. One of the great opportunities for Wikiversity is that instructors will be free to abandon traditional categorizations of human knowledge and offer alternative ways of learning about the world. For example, a strong case can be made for placing human tool use and technology at the center of an intellectual analysis of the human condition. The true power of Wikiversity might be in the construction of "Portals" that are similar in character to the topic portals of wikipedia (example: Biology Portal). In constructing a Wikiversity portal, an instructor (or, hopefully, a cooperating group of instructors and students) will be able to provide students with a coherent strategy for making sense of the world, a launch platform that will appeal to certain students and allow them to explore the world from a certain perspective using certain organizing principles. Such portals will probably be the "schools of thought" that will attract students, particularly if they build on the best information available and point students towards viable strategies for living constructive lives in the future. A "portal" devoted to human tool use and technology might be popular with certain students and would provide one of many possible entry points to the entire storehouse of human knowledge.

The role of research[]

The role of research in a university is a source of endless debate. "Research" can be placed in the more general category of "scholarly activity". The members of a university community should be engaged in scholarly activities. There are many activities that are scholarly, for example, creating a textbook. This is why it is perfectly sensible for Wikiversity to exist within the Wikibooks project. Many textbooks are produced by members of a university who are performing their obligatory duty to take part in scholarly activity.

The term "research" actually gets used in two different ways. There is "original research" in which investigators try to discover something new about the world. There is also "literature research", which is fundamental to many forms of scholarly activity, including textbook writing. Wikiversity will utilize resources such as textbooks and such resources depend on scholarly "literature research". Such research involves going into the "literature" (use a broad definition of "literature") in order to learn what others have accomplished in the past. A key reason why research is central to a university is that the students get to exist within a community where the members are actively engaged in the process of doing research. This is how students learn to do research. This is how the cultural heritage of research is passed from generation to generation.

For people who imagine preventing Wikiversity from including research, two types of institutions of "higher education" come to mind. First would be some kind of technical training institute where the students do not need to learn to think, only how to put patches on flat tires. There are such institutions that pass themselves off as institutions of higher education, but it is a scam. Second, you could have an indoctrination center where students are forced to learn some corpus of propaganda and original thought is actively suppressed. Some political and religious institutions shun free enquiry and adopt the strategy of indoctrination. It is distasteful to call these "institutions of higher learning", but they do exist. Such institutions that avoid or restrain research activity within their communities are not what Wikiversity should become.

The distinction between "original research" and "literature research" is blurry and mainly a matter of emphasis. Hopefully anyone doing "literature research" is being just as creative as anyone else and making discoveries and creating new knowledge from old. That's why universities recognize activities such as textbook writing as being a valuable scholarly activity as is dicovering a new cure for some disease. Why try to exclude any form of scholarly research from Wikiversity? With respect to "original research" such as that conducted in expensive research laboratories (example: human genome project) or in the field (example:space exploration) there is no reason why Wikiversity could not host a wiki "virtual research space" that would hold information about every research project that exists in the world. Eventually, some researchers are going to open up their research laboratories to the world and put everything they do into wiki format. Wikiversity could strive to become a "host" for virtual labs through which research becomes open to the world.

Collaborative learning[]

Wikiversity could become much more than "yet another university" - it has the potential for rethinking the mode of education itself, or, at least, for furthering the model of collaborative education that is taking hold of the progressive educative community. Collaborative learning (or, variously, "cohort learning", "constructivist learning" etc.) is increasingly seen as a key factor in increasing participation and motivation in courses, both off and online. In this model, teachers are facilitators - they set up key elements of activities, courses and programs, but the content and process of these activities etc. is largely dictated by the students themselves; for example, collaboratively writing and researching a business proposal, or producing a poster of the pros and cons of GM technology. We can see collaborative work in any Wikimedia project, particularly the Wikipedias. If this is worked well (and it is all down to groupwork dynamics and constant monitoring by the facilitator), the students will take charge of the activity and it will usually have more meaning for them than something which is learned through the simple description of the field/subject/theory. This touches on the experiential element to education, requiring a reflective element on the behalf of students and teachers, which can be done through keeping a personal diary and sharing this selectively with the teacher or group, or even of writing this openly, for example in the form of a blog (or wiki-blog).[2]

In order to make such a collaborative approach central to Wikiversity, the Wikiversity main page could have a section called "The role of the student" which instructs potential students to look over the listings of "courses", but also to take an active role in creating the conditions that they need for learning. In particular, there could be a page where students can describe what they want to learn about, then facilitators could point towards available "courses" or work with the student to set up a new "course" that fits the student's needs. There are quotation marks around "courses" because it is not clear that Wikiversity can be its best by dealing with what we traditionally think of as a university course. An alternative is to create "portals" that invites students to start collaborative projects. The Wikiversity Cell Biology course is an example of such a "course".

Update: 2006[]

The discussion of Wikiversity that was given in the sections above was written in October 2005 in the middle of the vote that was held on the original Wikiversity project proposal. The vote was close, but the proposal got the required 2/3 majority approval of the community. The Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees met in November 2005 and did not approve the Wikiversity project.

The original Wikiversity proposal included the following model for E-learning: "A framework within which members of the community can actually take courses online."

As described at the modified Wikiversity proposal page, the Board of Trustees decided that the proposal should be changed, " exclude credentials, exclude online-courses and clarify the concept of elearning platform.....rewritten to exclude credentials and to clarify concept of e-learning."

From late 2005 into the Summer of 2006, online discussions were held by members of the community in an attempt to reformulate the Wikiversity E-learning model. The modified proposal does away with the idea of a conventional university approach to learning. Gone is the idea that Wikiversity should replicate conventional features of bricks-and-mortar universities such as accreditation, grades, degrees and courses.

The modified Wikiversity proposal attempts to respect the realities of learning within a wiki-based user environment. Conventional courses are replaced by the idea that Wikiversity participants should be active learners, using the wiki interface as a tool for exploration of ideas and learning by taking part in wiki-based learning projects. Support for a community of wiki-using learners is central to the modified Wikiversity proposal. Conventional approaches to online learning that do not suit the wiki user interface are rejected and replaced by the need for discovering how to use a wiki to promote learning among wiki users.

The mission for Wikiversity is now explicitly shifted into an experiment. Wikiversity participants will need to do what has never been done before and create a new system of online learning resources.

Many Wikiversity community members were upset by the project requirements that were defined by the Wikimedia Board. Some community members have trouble understanding why conventional approaches to learning are not suited to the wiki environment. It is not clear that enough dedicated community members remain to make Wikiversity a viable project.

On possible way to attract Wikiversity participants at the launch of the project will be to emphasize "service projects" that will apply Wikiversity-organized scholarship to the existing needs of Wikimedia projects such as Wikipedia. The natural synergy between Wikiversity and Wikibooks was discussed above. Wikipedia is in need of higher quality articles. More and better sources need to be cited in Wikipedia articles. Experts need to be encouraged to participate in the development of Wikipedia articles and Wikiversity should be able to work towards the goal of creating a scholarly environment where the knowledge of experts can be utilized in Wikipedia improvement projects. Wikipedia editors who argue endlessly about controversial topics can be forced to "go to school" at Wikiversity and participate in scholarly research and discussions of high quality sources that can be used to support neutral Wikipedia articles.

An easy way to launch Wikiversity would be to automatically create a Wikiversity page corresponding to every Wikipedia article. Wikiversity participants would take a scholarly approach to finding, listing and organizing references and sources that are relevant to each Wikipedia article. Sources that pass through review by the Wikiversity community could then be used at Wikipedia. Biased, unverifiable and otherwise poor sources could be flagged at Wikiversity and kept in a list of references and sources that are not suitable for use at Wikipedia.

Wikiversity could also specialize in "learning about" pages. Wimipedia articles often attempt to target an already educated audience. Each Wikipedia page could link to Wikiversity pages that guide readers into the topic. Wikipeida articles could have links to Wikiversity pages that would guide young readers in how to learn about the topic. There could also be links to Wikiversity pages for advanced exploration of topics, allowing advanced Wikipedia readers to explore topics in more depth than what is included in Wikipedia. Wikiversity could launch itself by having an emphasis on providing such scholarly and educational services to users of existing Wikimedia projects.

By starting with such "service projects", Wikiversity would attract participants from the existing Wikimedia user base while also providing real value to existing Wikimedia projects. If a community of Wikiversity participants can be established, such service projects would naturally grow in educational directions that go far beyond the scope of other projects like Wikipedia. Wikiversity should become a place where people from all over the world can come together and explore ideas. Wikiversity should be a grand adventure of discovery for its participants as they discover just what can be done with free information and the wiki interface.

As this update is being written, the Wikiversity subcommittee is seeking input from the community. Are community members happy about the modified Wikiversity project proposal? It is expected that after this "last call" for community input, the modified proposal will be submitted to the Board.


This article draws upon material at Wikibooks, the Wikimedia Meta-Wiki and Wikipedia.[3]


  1. ^  Wikipedia history page.
  2. ^  The main paragraph about Wikiversity collaboration was Wikiversity vision statement written by Cormaggio.
  3. ^  Wikiversity's vision

See also[]

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