Wikiversity eyes strong growth over next few years

Wikiversity eyes strong growth over next few years

Dan Nystedt 8.6.2007

The online collaboration that has made Wikipedia one of the most used
sources of information on the Internet is also being used to build a
school and offer classes across the online world, and the project is
taking off.

Coordinators of Wikiversity, one of the major projects of the Wikimedia
Foundation, said the project is picking up speed and expect it to
really get going within the next two or three years. Wikiversity is a
free learning community and aims to provide free educational materials
and courses online. The most popular course currently on offer is on
filmmaking, said Cormac Lawler, a collaborative coordinator at
Wikiversity.

Lawler and Teemu Leinonen hosted a session on progress at Wikiversity
on Saturday during Wikimania, a yearly meeting to bring the
international Wikimedia community together to discuss new issues and
opportunities. This year, Taipei is hosting the event.

The Internet has long been associated with giving users opportunities
to learn new skills for free. Type just about any subject into Google’s
search engine, including how to fix a car, play guitar, do needlework,
or build a Web site, and then add the word "tutorial" and up pop
several Web sites offering guides on the subject.

The purpose of Wikiversity is to take learning a step further, by not
only providing information, but also trying out different educational
theories. "It’s an experiment to see what actually works," said Lawler.

The user community and project coordinators decide the direction of
Wikiversity. Anyone can offer courses, and anyone can take them. One
drawback so far has been that some teachers start courses, then
disappear, abandoning students, said Lawler. But as Wikiversity grows,
the group expects to find ways to alleviate such issues.

Collaboration with other Internet learning projects also appears to be
an issue. A number of universities offer course work and more over the
Internet, but they don’t necessarily conform to the Wikiversity view of
the world.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT OpenCourseWare project,
for example, offers more than 1,000 free courses as well as course work
for anyone who wants to use them, with the understanding that no degree
will come with their completion, nor will participation bring learners
in touch with MIT faculty. MIT’s free course initiative, however, is
not free enough for Wikiversity.

MIT uses the Creative Commons license, which asks users to attribute
course materials, share alike any work made using the materials, and
not use the materials for profit. Wikiversity, by contrast, uses the
GNU Free Documentation License, which allows content users to freely
copy and redistribute materials, with or without modification, for
profit or not. It does preserve the right of the author and publisher
to receive credit for their work and to not be responsible for any
modifications to the original, but it’s different enough from the
Creative Commons license to ensure Wikiversity and MIT OpenCourseWare
won’t work together.

Tutorials such as those listed above may also not be used in Wikiversity courses, depending on their stance on copyrights.

In any case, Wikiversity is growing. Lawler said that more features
will be added over time, and that increased funding would really give
the project a liftoff. Momentum is building and could make Wikiversity
a valuable learning resource for Internet users.

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