Posts Tagged ‘Fedwiki’

In June of this year I published a blogpost about the changing role of the online teacher, following an invitation from Lisa Lane to write a post for her open Program for Online Teaching.

In that post I included reference to Edinburgh University’s Online Teaching Manifesto, which they published in 2011.


This is an image of the 2011 Manifesto

This week the Digital Education Team have published an updated version of the manifesto and compared it to their 2011 version on their manifesto website and asked for comment.

I have not attempted to evaluate their update by comparing the 2015 version with the 2011 version, but I have found the 2015 version very interesting to read. It relates strongly to the research papers I have been reading this year and therefore would seem to reflect current issues and concerns related to online teaching, but it also leaves me with some questions – possibly related to areas of related research which I haven’t seen.

Here is the text of the manifesto ( in purple font) with my thoughts/comments.

Manifesto for teaching online: Digital Education, University of Edinburgh, 2015

Online can be the privileged mode. Distance is a positive principle, not a deficit. Comment: I can see why these sentences have been included, but do we need to oppose online and offline education. They can both be privileged and positive principles.

Update 24-10-15 I am copying Jen Ross’ comment here as it provides a useful reference for further thinking about this point and the point below about instrumentalisation of education.

I do think the field is moving towards more recognition of hybridity (I like Greenhalgh-Spencer’s take on this – http://ojs.ed.uiuc.edu/index.php/pes/article/viewFile/4022/1334 ), but there is still a need (in my view) to address assumptions about what online education is and can be.

Place is differently, not less, important online. Comment: Al Filreis’ ModPo MOOC realises this and creates a wonderful sense of place. He talks about it in his keynote for learning with MOOCs 2015 

Text has been troubled: many modes matter in representing academic knowledge. Comment: This applies both on and offline.

We should attend to the materialities of digital education. The social isn’t the whole story. Comment: A strong point and resonates with research papers that point to the tyranny of social participation online. Ferreday and Hodgson and Lesley Gourlay have written about this.

Ferreday, D., & Hodgson, V. (2010). Heterotopia in Networked Learning : Beyond the Shadow Side of Participation in Learning Communities. Retrieved from http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/49033/

Gourlay, L. (2015). “Student engagement” and the tyranny of participation. Teaching in Higher Education, (March), 1–10. doi:10.1080/13562517.2015.1020784

Openness is neither neutral nor natural: it creates and depends on closures. Comment: This echoes Edwards’ writing on how “all forms of openness entail forms of closed-ness” (p.3) and openness is under-theorised.

Edwards, R. (2015). Knowledge infrastructures and the inscrutability of openness in education. Learning, Media and Technology, (June), 1–14. doi:10.1080/17439884.2015.1006131

Update 24-10-15 Stephen Downes has challenged the ideas that ‘all forms of openness entail forms of closed-ness’ and that ‘openess is under-theorised’. See OLDaily. I should say here that I have probably done Edwards a disservice by quoting him out of context. His paper deserves reading in full.

Update 30-10-15 And here is a link to the Edinburgh Team’s response to this challenge.https://onlineteachingmanifesto.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/openness-and-the-new-manifesto/ 

Can we stop talking about digital natives? Comment: From Prensky’s work  – which has been much criticised – but has at least raised the issues.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1–6.

Digital education reshapes its subjects. The possibility of the ‘online version’ is overstated. Comment: This is not super clear to me. Does subjects mean disciplines or people? And how is the possibility of the ‘online version’ overstated?

There are many ways to get it right online. ‘Best practice’ neglects context. Comment: Another point also made by Al Filreis in his video – and others have written about this. Just this week I saw a tweet about it.

Distance is temporal, affective, political: not simply spatial. Comment: And also cultural?

Aesthetics matter: interface design shapes learning. Comment: Interface design certainly shapes learning but is that the same as saying that aesthetics matter? ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ ?

Massiveness is more than learning at scale: it also brings complexity and diversity. Comment: This has always been Stephen Downes’ point, i.e. that a purpose of massiveness is to increase diversity.

Online teaching need not be complicit with the instrumentalisation of education. Comment: Does any teaching need to be complicit with the instrumentalisation of education?

A digital assignment can live on. It can be iterative, public, risky, and multi-voiced. Comment: Again, Al Filreis in his video discusses how this happens in ModPo.

Remixing digital content redefines authorship. Comment: The issues around this have been discussed in Ward Cunningham and Mike Caulfield’s Fedwiki. Frances Bell’s blog post might help to explain this. Basically in Fedwiki it is very difficult to track the original wiki page author once a series of edits have been made.

Contact works in multiple ways. Face-time is over-valued. Comment: Face-time can be both over-valued and under-valued. Many courses recognise the importance of face-time and try to replicate it online.

Online teaching should not be downgraded into ‘facilitation’. Comment: Good to see this, i.e. the importance of ‘teaching’. I know that the Edinburgh team have been considering the role of the teacher in online learning in their recent work. See

Biesta, G. (2013). Giving teaching back to education: Responding to the disappearance of the teacher. Phenomenology & Practice, 6(2), 35–49.


Ross, J., Sinclair, C., Knox, J., Bayne, S., & Macleod, H. (2014). Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(1), 57–69.

Assessment is an act of interpretation, not just measurement. Comment: I’m not sure what assessment as an act of interpretation means. Assessment as more than just measurement, i.e. assessment for learning generates as much interest today as it did when Black and Wiliam wrote their paper Inside the Black Box

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139–148. doi:10.1002/hrm

Gibbs and Simpson’s article is also useful in this respect.

Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions Under Which Assessment Supports Students’ Learning. Learning in Teaching in Higher Education, 1(1), 3–31. doi:10.1080/07294360.2010.512631

Algorithms and analytics re-code education: pay attention! Comment: Is this a warning? What should we be doing about this?

Update 24-10-15 Thanks to Jen Ross and Sian Bayne for sending me the link to the e-book edited by Ben Williamson which provides the information relevant to this point in the manifesto. See Jen and Sian’s comments below

Williamson, B. (ed.) 2015. Coding/Learning: Software and digital data in education. Stirling: University of Stirling.

A routine of plagiarism detection structures-in distrust. Comment: Agreed – so what are the alternatives? Clearly plagiarism can’t go unchecked?

Online courses are prone to cultures of surveillance. Visibility is a pedagogical and ethical issue. Comment: Can we assume surveillance to be a bad thing? This statement implies it is, although I’m not sure that is the intention. I can think of at least one course I have attended where more surveillance would probably have been a good thing.

Automation need not impoverish education: we welcome our new robot colleagues. Comment: I suppose it depends on what the new robot colleagues do – what roles they play and how people understand and interpret those roles. Sherry Turkle’s writing about technology and human vulnerability seems relevant here.

Don’t succumb to campus envy: we are the campus. Comment: I’m not sure what this means – maybe because I’m not attached to an institution. I don’t think in terms of campuses.

Hopefully the Edinburgh Team will be expanding on this manifesto. It’s not all self-explanatory to me, but I do appreciate their focus on what it means to be a teacher in a digital age.

The role of the educator in networked learning will also be discussed in the first Hotseat for the Networked Learning Conference 2016,  which is now open and will be facilitated (is that the right word?) from October 25th by Mike Sharples.

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The Fedwiki Happening finishes today. A big thank you to Mike Caulfield, Ward Cunningham, Paul Rodwell and the Fedwiki team for the invitation to join this unique event. It has been great to end 2014 working in an environment which has made me rethink my assumptions and ways of working online.

I have written two prior posts about this Fedwiki experience: Defeated by technology and Fedwiki: further thoughts

Others have also blogged about the experience. Their posts are very informative.

Mike Caulfield appears to be delighted with the outcome – that’s good because he and his team certainly put the work in to make this Happening happen. They must be exhausted.

Now that it has ended I have mixed feelings about the experience. I don’t feel quite as excited as I did at the start. It will take me a while to think through why, but here are some initial reflections.


I have written in a previous post what I really like about the technological affordances of Fedwiki, but the experience was not without difficulty.

I started off badly and wasn’t really able to get going until the third day. This was the result of a combination of something I did, and something ‘they’ did (the Fedwiki team), i.e. mistakes were made on both sides (or at least that is my understanding, but at this point I doubt my understanding of any of it).

In the wiki, someone else who arrived late wrote that he doubted that he could catch up. The response was that it should be possible to enter Fedwiki at any point and catching up isn’t really necessary or an issue. That might be true if you already know how the technology works, but trying to enter the Happening late and learn the technology was a bit of a tall order. At this point everyone else seemed to know what they were doing, or at least know more than I did. At this point I really had to force myself to keep going.

For support, I attended a Google Hangout, which was extremely helpful. Mike and Ward Cunningham ran these twice every day barring Christmas Day. This covered all the time zones, with Ward even doing one at 4.00 am for our Australian participants. That’s dedication for you! I was only able to attend two Hangouts and I needed more technical help. Although I always received a prompt answer when I asked a question, there’s a limit to how much you feel you can bother someone and take up their time. All this reminded me of how important it is get access right before starting on ‘the work’. I understand that you can learn a lot from your mistakes and by ‘doing’, but it’s very time consuming working this way and I would have liked to have had more of a sense of achievement by the end.

I still don’t know who sees what, but I know for sure that I am not seeing what others are seeing (although I also know that that’s to be expected) and they are not necessarily seeing what I have done. So I don’t know why, if I edit a page, for example a page that Frances has written, and fork it, she won’t necessarily see my changes. Must be something I am doing wrong, or have failed to understand, but I don’t know what.

And yesterday someone collated links to people’s blog posts into one page and I found that David Jones has written a number of blog posts. That was a surprise. David Jones does not even appear in my list of Happening Folks and I can’t see him anywhere on the wiki. On reading through his posts, I see that he has his own separate Fedwiki. Maybe he hasn’t yet connected with the Happening Folks, even if he can see what we are doing.

So how it all works remains a bit of a mystery to me.


Learning in the wiki

When I started what I really liked about Fedwiki was the focus on ideas rather than people and personalities, and the possibility of being really selective about which ideas to interact with. Over the past year I have become disillusioned with social media and this felt like an opportunity to get away from it.

As the Happening has rolled out, I can see that it is a really good tool for mining ideas, but from observing how it has worked it doesn’t seem possible to keep ideas separate from the people who contribute them or to keep them separate from social media. Twitter was used during the Happening and people were blogging, including me. There was quite a bit of writing in the beginning about dominant voices; and there has been writing about attribution, lack of attribution and misattribution. My conclusion is that there will always be dominant voices and personalities, and that it’s the norm for people to want to know who wrote something or contributed an idea. So ultimately there was some focus on collaboration and community, but I am not convinced that Fedwiki is the place for either.

My sense is that thinking about Fedwiki in terms of collaboration and community is confusing and possibly dilutes the philosophy behind mining ideas that I was so attracted to. Better for me would be to think of Fedwiki in terms of co-operation and networking. Stephen Downes’ words come to mind:

Collaboration belongs to groups, while cooperation is typical of a network. The significant difference is that, in the former, the individual is subsumed under the whole, and becomes a part of the whole, which is created by conjoining a collection of largely identical members, while in the latter, the individual retains his or her individuality, while the whole is an emergent property of the collection of individuals.

Fedwiki  is a wonderful tool for sharing and amplifying ideas. There have been some great contributions; in particular I have enjoyed those associated with improvisation, music and learning spaces. For example the video of Tallis’ Spem in Alium was posted as a contribution to ideas about collaboration and the chorus of voices in Fedwiki.

There were many more unpredictable and surprising connections made between ideas in Fedwiki. This is the strength of Fedwiki. If I were to use Fedwiki with learners, I would use it for collating a rich bank of ideas around a given topic and enabling each participant to organise and edit the ideas as they wished. I would try to keep the focus on ideas rather than people, so I wouldn’t encourage collaboration or community although I am not anti collaboration or community in the right place.

It will be interesting to see how Fedwiki develops.

Many thanks to Mike, Ward, Paul and the team for all their efforts to make this a memorable event. A wonderful way to end 2014. I am now looking forward to having time to slowly go back through some of the fascinating ideas that have been contributed and reflect on their significance for my own work, research and practice.


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I joined Mike Caulfield’s  Federated Wiki Happening on Wednesday, along with about another 30 people. Wednesday went well. I created my bio page and contributed another page (the first assignment), had a good look round and was fairly confident that I understood the basic principles.

Since then it has all gone ‘pear shaped’. Thursday and Friday whenever I logged in I was taken to Ward Cunningham’s page, although this had my name at the bottom of it. I could not access my own pages; this meant that although I could see what everyone else was doing through Ward’s pages, I could not contribute.

Yesterday my page was reset and this morning I managed to get in to my site, although I had to start again with setting up my bio page (not a big deal). Everything was fine for about half an hour and then I found that if I clicked on my own page, I was taken to another participant’s page. I have not been able to resolve this and again it means that although I can read everything, I can’t contribute my own writing. I had forgotten how extremely frustrating, even stressful, it is to be defeated by technology.

My experience with wikis

I am not new to wikis in general. I have extensive experience with PBworks and some with Wikispaces. I have probably edited a wiki page on most days of each week for the past 6 years or more. The majority, but not all these wikis have been used to collaboratively work on research, which has involved editing each other’s writing and collaboratively sharing and building up reading and other resources. I also have a family history wiki, to which any member of my family who wishes to can add information, and I have set up, managed and contributed to a wiki for a large and complex project, which involved producing training materials for teachers working with children on the autism spectrum. Finally I have experience of working in community wikis. I have always found working in these wikis trouble free.

I was excited by the idea of Fedwiki as I thought it might add a fresh perspective to my existing practice.


There are a few things about Fedwiki, that even with my inability to work in it so far I find interesting and attractive – that’s why I’m hanging in here for now.

1. The fact that it is federated, i.e. each person has their own site, from which they can link to other people’s sites and select or reject edits of their own pages. Mike writes:

….we don’t write on each other’s pages. If you don’t like my edit, just don’t fork it back. That gives me permission to try to write the page I think is best. It gives you permission to reject my changes

2. Idea Mining. Federated wiki is not a blog. Even though there is reference to ‘collaborative journaling’ the intention is that pages will be created by participants to share a quick pass at an idea. This idea can be connected to, captured and extended by others.

We suggest a fruitful approach to journaling in wiki might be Idea Mining, the translation of things we read, see, and think into named ideas and examples that we can connect to form larger and more various thoughts. 

3. In line with the notion that Fedwiki is not a blog, we are discouraged from formatting posts – the idea being that they can then be more easily reused and repurposed. That makes sense. We are also discouraged from adding comments. Edit by adding or amending information, but don’t comment. That’s great too as it keeps the focus on the idea being considered and away from personalities and individuals.

4. I particularly like the idea that FedWiki is a neighbourhood – not a community, nor a network – but ‘The people that you meet when you are walking on the street each day’. Your neighborhood shrinks and grows based on your interaction with it, what you look at and who you read. Mike Caulfield describes it as a Sesame Street neighbourhood.

The Sesame Street neighborhood is transactional and accretionist. It’s event-driven. As you walk through the streets near your house you bump into people, and these people form your neighborhood, by virtue of you bumping into them.

So, I can see how Fedwiki could add to my existing experience of using wikis for collaborative writing. The big difference is that each person is on their own site, whereas in all the wikis I have used in the past, a group of people collaborate in one site.

All I need to do now is to be able to access my own site, without any hiccups and then I’ll be away. In the meantime, I think I’ll write here.

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