[Foundation-l] Idea for New Wikimedia Project, possible adjunct to Wikiversity

Virgil Ierubino virgil.ierubino at gmail.com
Mon Aug 28 05:21:07 UTC 2006

Putting this idea through the mailing list before proposing on Meta. It
takes a bit of explaining, but don't worry it doesn't require any software
changes like most proposals with lots of explanation. I hope I've explained
it properly below because I think this idea has a lot of potential.

This idea is aimed entirely at students, primarily ones at university, but
there is no reason why it can't be for students at all levels. Because of
this, I was thinking this has potential either as an independent project, or
as a (rather large) subsection of the new Wikiversity.

The project is called Wikinotes. In short, the wiki is split into a category
for every academic course (or every classroom) at every educational
institution on the planet.

In each category, i.e. for each study course, students of that class can
write/upload/type up notes for lessons taken in that class. This helps them
share what they've learnt, fill in each other's gaps and ultimately builds
an organised set of personal revision material for use when the class is
complete (and exams loom).

The ultimate product would be a wiki where a user can browse to the category
corresponding to a certain course (maybe his/her own) and find notes or
material pertaining to it. But (and here's the crunch), the wiki is 99%
focussed on the actual typing up of/working on notes, as this is what aids
the actual students working on a course (the target userbase) - and 1% about
anyone beyond those students reading them afterwards. Rather than every page
in the wiki being useful to every person in the world (as Wikimedia is used
to), every 100 pages or so fits into a course-specific category that is
useful just for people taking that course. And the main "use" comes in the
benefits of typing up one's notes, and the benefits of a whole class doing
this in one space across a year of study, culminating effectively in a
thorough set of notes for their course.

I already have a live version of this in use, at Cambridge University, so
I've already very thoroughly thought about the problems it could face, and
worked out (I believe) viable ways around them. For now I'd like to just
discuss the basic idea. The idea is clearer with a university example:

University students go to lectures/seminars/discussion groups/classes where
the standard practise is to listen and take notes. These notes end up being
scruffy scrawlings on bits of paper - this may be the 21st Century but no
one seriously uses a laptop in a lecture hall, and even if they do they
wouldn't have the time to organise their notes as they type them. A lot of
students are thus already in the habit of typing up their notes, or in some
way reorganising them when they get back home.
It hit me that hundreds of students within one class thus go home with 100
copies of roughly the same note. Some type up their notes, meaning there are
100 copies of the same note across 100 computers. What if they could all be
brought together, to make a singular fantastic note? Seen as many are
electronic anyway, uploading to a wiki would be very easy. And seen as it's
a wiki, everyone could contribute to this note, until it has all the
relevent information from that class/lecture. The wiki is thus an "online,
shared desk".

The wiki would have to embrace and promote this work ethic of a) typing up
your notes and b) sharing them. But isn't this Wikimedia's ethic anyway? a)
Making information electronic and b) sharing it? Typing up notes is a vastly
beneficial practise for several reasons (discuss later), all of which the
project and by proxy Wikimedia would have to swear by - hopefully this
embracing of an ethic won't be a problem, if the board agree, with me, that
it is one that could be of epistemic benefit to millions of students.

Crucial to the mechanics of any wiki are its policies, and a major policy of
Wikinotes must be that there is absolutely no style guide or standard or
goal, indeed that there are absolutely no restraints on the content added to
the Main namespace (apart from legal ones, and that content be on-topic),
because it is not intended for readership beyond each classroom. The
students who type up their notes on the wiki do so for their own good, and
it's directly for them and their classmates. What they put in is what they
take out. This is a kind of sharing that Wikimedia isn't accustomed to,
because it is possible (and okay) that pages in the Main namespace won't
even be intelligible to anyone who isn't a contributor towards the category
that the pages are in (i.e. to the course they apply to).

But as a Wikimedia project, these basic ideas could be expanded so that the
site does reach out in the way we're used to. The site could have two main
aims, and this is where Wikiversity comes in. The first aim is the
"internal" one, i.e. within individual classes, as described above. The
second aim is the "external" type which is to use the class notes in each
category as base material for the formation of proper revision guides (or
learning guides) for people taking those courses (or people who want to),
where these guides do have style standards. The ultimate aim of this second
part of the site would be for each category to contain both raw notes for a
specific course, and then also a set of refined guides based on those notes.

This effectively splits the wiki into two types of users, those working on
the internal aim ("students") and those working on the external
("collators"? "copyeditors"?), but each type of user could do both. Which is
why it works neatly in the following ways:
* As a seperate wiki primarily for intra-classroom sharing of knowledge, and
secondarily for the creation and leaving-behind of up-to-date,
course-focussed revision guides and notes, which new generations of students
in the same course can make use of.
* As a seperate wiki not intended for outside viewers, just for the
students, used as base source material for copyediting, expansion and
fitting-into-guidelines, then the transfering of these revision guides to
Wikiversity. i.e. as a Wikiversity raw material resource.
* As a subsection of Wikiversity.

Running as an adjunct to Wikiversity would, I believe, heavily expand the
growth of Wikiversity. In essence Wikiversity needs to be written by
students of classes, and the Wikinotes idea is much more useful to them, as
well as easier and not requiring a user to be dedicated to the goal of a
wiki. So as well as being useful on its own, it would serve as an entry
point into Wikiversity, and would also allow any user to aid Wikiversity by
creating course-materials from the raw course-material stored at Wikinotes.

If you read this far, what do you all think?

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