Wikiversity, Wikieducator and politics?

I thought to post this as another comment to the longish list of comments in the Leigh Blackall’s blog post about Wikiversity and Wikieducator.

First at all, I highly appreciate Wayne’s, Brent’s and Leigh’s work and hope that this post is not considered as any kind of personal attack against them. I know that we have a similar thinking on many topic in the field, and hope that we will have fruitful cooperation in future.

Like Leigh, I also hope that Wikiversity and Wikieducator could join forces. I know, that in practice this is not very likely to happen, but we may dream. Both projects are based on the same idea of using wiki (Mediawiki) to facilitate collaborative authoring of free learning content. As I wrote already, in my comment, I am not sure at all if wiki is a good platform for this. However, it is an interesting hypothesis and should be tried out. Because of this I really admire both projects.

Still, I prefer Wikiversity basically because it is run by an international, non-governmental, non-profit and non-political organization, the WikiMedia foundation. By its nature and tradition – compare to Wikipedia – Wikiversity is a multi-lingual and multi-cultural project. You can’t say the same about the organization behind the Wikieducator, even that they do a lot of good things, too.

Wayne wrote: “Wikieducator does not have a political agenda – it is a website to facilitate collaborative authoring of free content. It was set up by the Commonwealth of Learning as a space for the 53 member countries of the Commonwealth to work collaboratively on learning for development. We welcome participation from anywhere in the world. English – by virtue of the Commonwealth is a common language in these countries and WikiEducator does not pretend to be anything it isn’t.

Commonwealth is an international governmental organization. Governments are political. Whatever Wikieducator would like to be non-political, it is not. The language policy – use of English – is a concrete example of the political agenda behind the Wikieducator. In the 53 member countries of the Commonwealth there are hundreds of local languages. I think that to meet the needs of the member states the Wikieducator should, first at all, emphasize development of free learning content in local languages.

I also find the development of “a free version of the entire curriculum by 2015” (Wayne) pretty scary. Is the aim to have a single curriculum for all the 53 Commonwealth member states or for the whole World? This development is very different from the decentralization of curriculum planning taking place in many wealthy nations. In number of European countries (e.g. Finland), schools are asked to plan their own curriculum, in cooperation with teachers, students, parents, local business and local Government (btw: some of them are using wikis for this). The national curriculums are becoming just checklists for the local communities to make their own curriculum based on the local needs. I wonder why Commonwealth would like to standardize the curriculums of its member states? In who’s interest is this?

In sociology of education there is a set of questions one should always ask when looking for educational systems. The questions are: Who is educating Whom? On What, Why and How?

In the case of Wikiversity it is easy to answer these questions. The members of the Wikiversity are educating each other on topics they are interested in and want to learn about. They have found collaborative learning as the most suitable method to do this. This suits me, too. In the case of Wikieducator one should also ask who, to whom, what, why and how?

Disclaimer: My research group is developing We share several objectives with the Wikiversity and the Wikieducator projects. LeMill is a web community (and open source software platform) for finding, authoring and sharing open and free learning resources. LeMill is developed in an European CALIBRATE project. Our aims are primary “scientific”, totally non-political and non-profit. We are experimenting how the optimal platform for collaborative development of free learning resources could be.

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10 Responses to “Wikiversity, Wikieducator and politics?”

  1. leighblackall says:

    Hi Teemu, thanks for keeping this going, and breaking it out of the comments.

    You said, "I think that to meet the needs of the member states the Wikieducator should, first at all, emphasize development of free learning content in local languages."

    I think that is an excellent suggestion!! If COL could negotiate international humanitarian funds into this, that would really make wikieducator great, and help undo the cultural losses of colonialism inherant in the Commonwealth.

    Yousiad, "I also find the development of “a free version of the entire curriculum by 2015” (Wayne) pretty scary." I think it is an interesting concern you have, and one I share when I see the likes of Google making tracks into education, or any US entity for that matter. We all (not just the US, have to very carefull of any cultural imperialism we may by unconciously implementing). What I would like to see is a standardised certification and qualification process that will assist international migration and skills trading. I think curriculum is a poor word to use in this context. My understanding of the term curriculum is that it means activities that support learning, and that is basically up to the individuals and/or orgainsation that organises learning. We don't so much need a standardised curriculum to achieve standardised certification. We need to be able to look into and appreciate each others curriculums more easily, and projects like open courseware through wikis make this a little more possible.

    My ideal would be a massively diverse array of curriculums, in local languages, with an orgainsation like COL helping to make sense of it all and fit it with a standardised certification and recognition process. Very difficult, and ultimately political.

    Why = to enable easier migration, measurable learning so that individuals can formalise their learning to maximum benefit.

  2. Kim says:

    Disclaimer: I am not an expert on any of these things but hope to raise questions and discussion to enhance my own understanding and that of anyone who is participating/lurking/listening/reading/etc.

    In 2004 I attended a conference called HighwayAfrica which brought together over 400 journalists from around Africa. I arrived with a strong bias against journalists on account of a few personal experiences and the bad impression given by some. I discovered among them, and indeed in the theme of the conference, a striving for the high ideals of responsible journalism – fulfilling their role in society.

    I came away less anti the press and more willing to talk to journalists :-) .

    I have an aversion to politics – organisational and within and across countries – and prefer to focus on science and knowing what to do towards progress and sustainability (in the sense which necessarily simultaneously considers economic, social and environmental factors). It seems libre knowledge is part of the solution: let's focus on the science, share and extend this knowledge freely. The planet needs us to do this.

    But politics often seems unavoidable. Is advocating free/libre knowledge and decentralisation political?

    I think COL is advocating libre knowledge. A free (libre) version of the curriculum is inherently meant to be translated and adapted to local needs. I suspect COL intends to provide a starting point and the tools to localise and produce new locally relevant learning resources. Perhaps, given the current technological and political situation, collaboration and sharing of experiences across those countries is most pragmatically done in English for now. Local activities can take care of localisation and production of new local resources.

    I also wonder about whether this term "imperialism" is always appropriate in these discussions. Many people now recognise the dark side of imperialism, and no doubt the term is appropriate in some discussions on globalisation. However, the analogy might be misleading in some contexts, and in some cases misused to de-rail potentially positive initiatives. Initiatives providing tools and platforms enabling individuals and communities to empower themselves with knowledge, with the freedom to produce local knowledge resources, are not (IMHO) cultural imperialism. Culture and language change, and will continue to do so.

    Create opportunities for these communities to engage with the present, a networked world, and participate in the co-creation of a better world for all (think global act local).

  3. Tleinone says:

    Thank you Kim – good thinking and happy new year!

    Note, that I didn’t call anyone imperialist. I actually do not have the term in my limited vocabulary of English language. I guess I just forgot it, because I hardly ever get a change to meet someone who is an imperialist. I do not hangout with that kind of heads of states. So, let’s not get to the discussion about imperialism (BTW: I think to Finnish Imperialism translates to something like “epäreilua touhua”).

    But, When advocating libre knowledge, I think we should not underestimate the role languages plays in knowledge. We structure and make sense of the world with language – primary with our mother tongue. If you are forced to operate knowledge, with a foreign language you are always a bit handicapped. Right to study in your mother tongue should be a human right.

    The reason of using only English, because it is “our common language” is not good, if this means that people are not empowered to use their own languages in the first place and only use English when meeting some handicapped people (from their perspective) who can’t communicate in their language.

    I myself think, play (work) and make sense of the world in my native language, but because I want to communicate with you, I use English. Same way children of my people think, play and make sense of the world around them in our native language. Why in some point in their life they should give-up and become “handicapped”? Or do someone think that they were handicapped already when they were born? I don’t think so.

  4. Kim says:

    Hi Teemu et al – and best wishes to all for 2007.

    Apologies – I was mixing conversations touching on colonialism and imperialism, and did not mean to imply that you called anyone anything (just commenting on use of terms like imperialism/colonialism in general).

    Anyway, I agree, mother tongue learning should be a human right. In fact, it is a constitutional right here in South Africa – though not easy to ensure at all levels of education. People I know here (in the current context :-) prefer to learn technical subjects in English or Afrikaans, as the terminology in the other local languages is not standardised yet and sometimes confusing. However, learners are quick to switch to the mother tongue when any detailed explanation is required :-) .

    In the spirit of freedom, how about a world in which it is possible to learn in a language of choice? Perhaps most people will choose their first language, especially in the formative years. However, increasingly there are reasons to learn (and learn in) other languages.

    It would be interesting to see research on first language only vs second language vs bi-/multi-lingual learning, etc. (any pointers?) – to inform people's decisions about when and why to learn different languages and become acquainted with different cultures.

    The challenges associated with first language learning as a human right are significant, especially where there is limited access to computers and the Internet (e.g. not enough educators for all the subjects who speak the relevant languages, costs of production of printed texts in multiple languages, etc.). The vision becomes more feasible with peer production of free/libre resources in a connected world (a likely not too distant future).

    I think Leigh's ideal expressed above is great and well articulated :-) .

  5. Erik Moeller says:

    As someone involved with both Wikimedia (as a Board member) and WikiEducator (providing hosting and project management services), let me share a few thoughts.

    I think WikiEducator is generally on the right track. We have a French edition and Wayne asked me to set up Spanish and Portuguese; the project is likely to become fully multilingual in due course, thanks to the development of Multilingual MediaWiki. Wayne is also forming an international advisory group, and we've discussed governance in the long run.

    Merging with Wikiversity is a possibility, but both projects have to mature on their own for a little while. We're developing some exciting stuff for WikiEducator that we'd like to try out in a smaller environment (in a larger community like Wikimedia, every experiment needs to be justified — this can slow innovation). In the long run hopefully there will be indeed one very large online teaching and learning community using libre knowledge and libre software. For now, we are sharing ideas on the OER grapevine at – a single, neutral place to keep up to date on what we are doing. Please do post info about your project there as well.

  6. Cormac Lawler says:

    I've posted a reply to the ongoing discussion about Wikiversity and Wikieducator on my blog, as well as in the comments of Leigh's post. I'll respond to some other comments here in due course – I'm intrigued, enthused, energised… :-)

  7. Wayne Mackintosh says:

    Colleagues – Sorry that I've not been more active in these discussions. I'm on international mission – always a stark reminder of the connectivity realities in the developing world. A few thoughts and observations:

    1) The English use of the concept curriculum is far broader than the Germanic derived equivalent. It encompasses not only content related issues but also process and most importantly the learning dimensions. We we talk about a free version of the education curriculum – the concept itself recognizes the very concerns you raised in our discourse. Education is contextually bound and as such must necessarily take into account the local and cultural needs. The notion of a free education curriculum is a clear statement (and rebuttal) highlighting the concerns associated with non-free content. Sadly – the majority of educational content is locked behind copyright — a disappointing paradox because education is fundamentally concerned with sharing of knowledge.

    2) I have found the discourse on language policy and critique associated with the Commonwealth misplaced and misguided. First, COL does not own the community or its content. By virtue of the CC share alike license the copyright of the content submissions vest with the authors. We respect the freedoms of individuals to contribute or not to contribute. Second, on the question of language – there is no policy statement or intent to limit content development to English. In fact, we proactively support and promote multilingual content and currently support a French Wikieducator. As Erik has pointed out we are extending this support to languages of the Commonwealth. This week I've asked Erik to set up a Hindi Wikieducator based on requests I have received from India. I've not done any research on this – but the number of indigenous languages spoken across the Commonwealth is large. If we identify a critical mass with any indigenous language – subject to available funding, we will gladly support the institution of these wikis.

    3) Colonisation is a prime example of the abuse of indigenous freedom – its appropriate that a free content initiative, through collaboration can make a contribution to widening access to education.

    4) WikiEducator is not in opposition to Wikiversity. We are a community that have exercised our freedoms to work together. We have an unashamed commitment to the unique challenges of the developing world. 48 of the 53 states of the Commonwealth are in the developing world. We have particular requirements that Wikiversity would be unable to deliver on. For example we required a close association with the eXe project – as this is an off line tool which will enable educators who do not have connectivity to develop content offline. We can't impose this requirement on the Wikiverstiy community. We have particular needs regarding the wiki-print requirements – which are not necessarily a huge demand in the Wikiversity community. We are collaborating in areas where we add value to both projects, for example on the development of pedagogical templates. All code development that the Wikieducator community engage with – will be release back into the community. Similarly we benefit from enhancements from that the Wikiversity community are able to prioritise in the Mediawiki code development roadmap.

    5) Finally – in my view we have a far greater challenge to deal with – and that's the legal incompatibility between different copyleft licenses. I would like to see the GNU FDL and the CC-BY-SA licenses reach some form of legal compatibility so that we can truly rip-burn & play between multiple free content initiatives.

  8. Kim says:

    Re 5) one possibility is dual/multiple licensing.
    For example, GNU FDL and the CC-BY-SA are similar in intent.
    So, work may be dual licensed as shown on this page for example:

    or, a simpler approach which could cover several licenses, as implied here:

    This part of the discussion may be continued at

  9. Tleinone says:

    In my research group we decided to take the "copy left" approach – to keep it simple. We are using the Creative Commons – attribution – share alike –license in the LeMill ( This license is maximizes the possibility for the people to reuse and remix the OERs. The CC licenses are human readable; you are free to share and remix. Very simple.

    We decided that this is just very simple for people who are not really interested in the licenses, but rather want to focus on their OERs, reuse and remixing of them.

  10. Kim says:

    Yes – CC-by-sa is the best of the CC licenses for this.

    However, my understanding is that it is a problem to mix content from Wikipedia (GFDL). The dual/multiple approach is supposed to deal with this.

    PLOS, Connexions and others use CC-by which is non-free.

    Has the following been phased out for a good reason?

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