Friday, August 22, 2008

Wikiversity needs more wiki and less versity

One of the interesting spinoffs of the Wikipedia online encyclopaedia is the Wikiversity learning community. This doesn't pretend to replace a university, but provides educational content which could be useful within and outside formal learning. Like the Wikipedia, the content is written by volunteers, so the coverage, style and quality can be uneven. Also the contributors may in places be trying a bit too hard to be like a traditional academics for their own good, or that of the learners. Simply translating unexciting, hard to read material from paper to electronic form is not going to work.

As an example, Lecture 2.0, is an item on how traditional lectures could be improved with Web 2.0 techniques. That is a useful idea, but the item is written in a ponderous academic style and structured in a way which makes it hard to read. Thus it exhibits the problems of the traditional academic style it is supposed to be trying to fix.

The real useful content of the item is in "Alternatives to the lecture", in the last one quarter of the article, which few readers will ever scroll down to. Most of the introductory paragraph is taken up saying what it isn't about and many people would not get past this, even to read about Lecture 1.0 and Lecture 1.5. The section on Lecture 2.0 which is about the new techniques starts off talking about what is wrong with old fashioned lectures, not what the new ones should be.

Also by pandering to the marketing Web 2.0 hype, with terms like "Lecture 2.0" the article lowers its academic credibility. The Wikicians might do better by starting with the Wikipedia entry for " Lecture" and working from there. The Wikipedia has a dry, but readable style for most of its entries. They are structured in a way which is easy to read online, but authoritative looking.

ps: One external link in the Lecture 2.0 item I was surprised by was to my own "My last lecture": Tom Worthington from the Australian National University explains why he's given up lecturing in favour of blended learning, 20 August, 2008. That shows the positive side of the Wikiversity, with new material being able to be incorporated quickly.

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