August 2008

Wiki Educator Project, CoL

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WikiEducator is fast becoming a premiere 'New Media platform for education for development', striving to fulfil its mission to turn the digital divide into digital dividends using free content and open networks

Imagine a vast collection of pages of free educational content, consisting of tutorials, textbooks, lectures, lecture notes, and training guides.  Imagine that this collection covers all levels of education, from primary, to secondary, and even tertiary, and that there is material available for every discipline from A to Z and everything in between. This repository is the goal of the WikiEducator project, found at http://wikieducator.org

WikiEducator project 

Project WikiEducator (http://wikieducator.org) is an example of New Media,  in that it is a special kind of web site called a 'wiki' that allows anyone to edit its pages. The largest and best known wiki is Wikipedia, and while not associated with that project, WikiEducator uses the same interface, which means that anyone from Wikipedia's large community can participate in WikiEducator without any difficulty. In this way, the repository of educational materials is built one piece at a time by a community, and because all are allowed to contribute, those many hands make for light work.

WikiEducator is designed to be a work bench not just for building educational resources, but specifically for building Open Educational Resources, also known as OERs.  These materials are released under a permissive license, that allows anyone to use, copy, modify, adapt, or translate them as long as any derivative work is released under the same permissive license. OERs are a reaction to the development of content that is closed off by copyright from free use.

The project relies on individual contributions from educators to move forward. It also receives sponsorship of the Commonwealth of Learning (CoL), an international NGO funded by member states of the Commonwealth of Nations. This broad support is shown not only in the resources that the Commonwealth of Learning provides, but goes further in that WikiEducator's Patron is Sir John Daniel, current president and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning. It is from this that WikiEducator gains its focus on education specifically for development, as  the Commonwealth of Learning is foremost a development agency.

The project does not simply stand alone, however. It is meant to serve as an umbrella resource that various content development initiatives can use of. Building community is an important part of the WikiEducator concept, and in furtherance of that, it is not only initiatives sponsored by the Commonwealth of Learning that may use WikiEducator, but indeed any project with complementary goals is welcome to use WikiEducator as their platform for developing and distributing free educational content.

VUSSC & XXI Texts

Virtual University of Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC) is one among the several initiatives that is using WikiEducator. VUSSC is not actually a university itself, but rather a consortium of universities in small states, such as the University of the West Indies and the University of Mauritius. For example, VUSSC is using WikiEducator to build an undergraduate curriculum in travel and tourism that is specifically designed to address the sustainable development needs of small economies- a curriculum unavailable from large countries whose experience with economic development is contextually very different.

XXI Texts project is yet another initiative that is using WikiEducator. It seeks to find text books that have fallen into the public domain, whether from having been published sufficiently long enough ago or having not had its copyright renewed, then got revised them to be useful for twenty-first century students. It may come as a surprise how often textbooks that were published decades ago can still be sufficiently useful such that it would be much easier to adapt it for today's students than to write a new one from the start.

The project starts each textbook simply by moving those old textbooks onto WikiEducator pages as they are, then participants revise them over time so that they become more and more updated and relevant. The end result is a textbook that both has a long history yet is ready to be used, and which is free from copyright for any who might wish to use it.

From inception till now

WikiEducator was introduced in early 2006 by Wayne Mackintosh, an Education Specialist with the Commonwealth of Learning, with a three phase timeline. In the first phase, from inception to the end of last year, the focus was on establishing a democratic governance model and setting up the resources necessary so that new participants can have all of the tutorials and similar materials they need to become productive within the WikiEducator environment. While some governance issues are still being finalised by the community, this phase has been largely successful. At its inception decisions were made for WikiEducator by Wayne Mackintosh.

However, now an Interim International Advisory Board has been appointed to reflect the wishes of its growing community, and once the project has 2,500 registered users, elections will be held so that from that point a properly elected International Advisory Board is in place. Meanwhile, a selection of tutorial and style guides have been added, so that those participants who start with us during the content phase will have ready guideline on how to proceed.

At this point the second phase is in full swing. This phase is scheduled from the start to end of this year, and consists of a focus on developing as much content as possible so that there will be a strong core of free materials available on which to build on. 

The third phase will be starting from 2009 onwards, and will consist of sustainability; continuing to bring in educators to add to the collection and as importantly, to begin using those resources that are already available. The ultimate goal is to have a complete set of curricula in every discipline at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels by 2015. Clearly, this is an ambition goal, but it's one that the project believes it reach.

Multilingual and open access interfaces

It is often asked whether sponsorship by the Commonwealth of Learning means that WikiEducator is only meant for English language materials. The answer is no, not at all!  As a Commonwealth of Learning sponsored resource, English was the starting point for the project, but there is now a French-language track of WikiEducator, and the project's leaders are in dialogue with a number of Spanish speakers about a track for that language as well. The purpose of the project is to empower educators and students with as many additional choices as possible, not just ones in English.

As stated before, the educational resources that are developed on WikiEducator are called 'open' because they're released under a permissive license.  An early question is often specifically which license is used. Our community has developed around the Definition of Free Cultural Works as found at freedomdefined.org.  As such, all resources build on WikiEducator are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license or later (BY-SA). There has been discussion amongst some participants to change that so that initiatives working through WikiEducator would be able to release their materials in a manner compatible with BY-SA, which essentially means the less restrictive Attribution license or public domain dedication, but no formal agreement on that proposal has been reached.

A final frequent question concerns use of material from Wikipedia and other Wikimedia sites. Unfortunately, because of the incompatibility between the copyleft provisions of the BY-SA license and the GNU Free Document License used by Wikipedia, we are as yet not able to use material from Wikipedia when building open educational resources on WikiEducator.  However, this is a matter of great concern to both organisations, and indeed the entire open education movement, and finding a solution to allow cross-use of material is being worked on by all those concerned.

Conclusion

As with all such projects, its success can only come from participation from educators who wish to see that free educational materials become available to foster development now and in the years to come. There are a number of means by which the project seeks to attract participation from educators and to help those educators who are interested to become more familiar with the technical aspects of the platform. To do this, WikiEducator offers free online courses that teach wiki skills to educators regardless of their previous experience with technology. It also sponsors live training in locations around the world where the cost of admission to training sessions is simply an agreement to use those new skills to develop free content for all to use and share. WikiEducator is fast becoming the premiere 'New Media platform for education for development', ever striving to fulfill its mission to turn the digital divide into digital dividends using free content and open networks.

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