WikiEducator Case Study
WikiEducator is an example of the type of opportunities that emerge as the web evolves from a distributed information system to a platform for free and open social networking and peer production.
WikiEducator (though this name came later) was "conceived" during two workshops in South Africa in 2005 that brought together a collection of parties interested in Free Knowledge Communities. Present were prominent members of the WikiMedia Foundation community (including Erik Möller, their Chief Research Officer) and a diversity of people representing public, private, civil and education sectors (including Dr Wayne Mackintosh, Associate Professor and founding Director of the Centre for Flexible and Distance Learning at the University of Auckland).
Inspiration and Vision
Wikipedia had already established its place as one of the foremost cultural phenomena of our time. In its first year, Wikipedia surpassed Encyclopedia Britannica in terms of volume and readership, and matched its quality in key subject areas. Several participants were advocating radical change in the education systems in line with the emerging networked knowledge society.
- What if we could enable the same type of massive peer production seen on Wikipedia in the education space?
The seeds of collaborative action were sown.
Wayne and Erik rose to the challenge.
During the first few months in 2006 technology options were explored and a prototype was set up on a desktop PC in Auckland, New Zealand.
MediaWiki was selected as the software platform for WikiEducator on account of its proven performance and scalability for Wikipedia. It also has all the other advantages of software libre including the freedom to experiment with the software and customise it (e.g.) for WikiEducator. It may be used for any purpose, and there are no license restrictions such as the number of concurrent users allowed at any time. Most importantly, there was and is a strong community of developers and users ensuring long term development and support on many levels.
The wikieducator.org .net and .com domains were registered in February 2006 in New Zealand, and became operational in April 2006 when the prototype was moved to a hosted server provided by Erik and funded by COL (Commonwealth of Learning).
In May 2006 WikiEducator was born as Wayne Mackintosh joined the Commonwealth of Learning who agreed to support the project for 3 years. In addition to supporting the technical infrastructure (servers, hosting, etc.), COL supported the most crucial activity required for the success of such an endeavour: community building.
There were early signs of exponential growth:
- An interesting way to look at WikiEducator's growth is to compare the number of days it took to reach cumulative totals in steps of a half-million hits. It took WikiEducator:
- 157 days to reach its first half-million hits;
- 102 days to reach the next half-million;
- 41 days to reach the 1.5 million mark; and
- 21 days to reach the 2.0 million threshold.
After 1 year WikiEducator reached 2.3 million hits.
Since then WikiEducator has gone from strength to strength.
- August 2006: Strategic plan for WikiEducator submitted under the eLearning for Education Sector Development initiative as part of COL's three-year plan, 2006 - 2009.
- November 2006: FLOSS4Edu project launched in Kenya
- February 2007: Newbie Tutorials completed and WikiEducator's first online training session
- April 2007: Interim International Advisory Group established
- May 2007: WikiEducator achieves 1,000 users
- October 2007: William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announce a $100,000 grant for the Learning4Content project.
- December 2007:
- January 2008: WikiEducator launches the Learning4Content project which is one of the world's largest attempts to build wiki skills in the formal education sector having registered more than 3500 participants between January 2008 and October 2009.
- May 2008: WikiEducator is the inaugural recipient of the 2008 Merlot Africa Network and eLearning Africa (MANeLA) award in the Free Software for OER Content Authoring category.
- August 2008: OER Handbook for Educators goes to print.
Currently, there are about than 11500 users and a network of teachers has been established with over 800 members from around the world.
WikiEducator is now a global OER project with close ties to the OER Foundation. It has an Open Community Governance Policy, a Community Council and an Executive Committee.
WikiEducator would not have been possible without a free/libre and open platform including:
- Free/libre software enabling the actors to experiment with options, customise, test and implement prototypes and scalable solutions
- Hierarchies of open standards which have enabled such platforms to develop through wide collaboration across the Internet
- License options which enable free sharing, remixing, co-development and sharing of learning resources.
Key success factors, in addition to a free and open platform include:
- collaboration across developer and user communities
- championship and community building among educators
- raising awareness of the benefits of collaborative production of educational resources
- a platform which enables and facilitates community innovation (in this case technical and educational innovation).
- Access: Internet encyclopaedias go head to head: Nature