Fedwiki – further thoughts

In my last post, I wrote about what I like about Fedwiki, despite my technical difficulties. I can now access my site and am slowly finding my way around, but still have lots to learn and understand. My focus is on this at the moment, rather than on completing the tasks set by Mike Caulfield.

Alan Levine has written a great blog post, which I think closely resonates with my own thinking.

For me, as I explained in my last post, the attraction is in the mining of ideas that interest me and inform my personal practice; ideas that I can aggregate/fork into my own site to edit, amend, expand or simply store for future reference. This can challenge existing ways of working with social media, such as in Facebook or on Twitter, where the focus is on social interaction and personal connection. In Fedwiki the focus is on ideas. Someone somewhere wrote today that Fedwiki is somewhere between Facebook and Twitter in the affordances it aims to provide.

It has been interesting to see how the challenge to existing ways of working manifests itself and how we almost unconsciously try to revert to known ways of working with which we are comfortable. So there have been many posts in the style of blog posts (commentary, opinion, summaries) rather than a quickly mined idea, which can be copied/forked to your own site if you find it interesting. Of course the commentaries etc. can also be forked, but this wasn’t the original intention of Fedwiki. There have also been requests for avatars to identify people, for a comments box facility, for a ‘Likes’ tag. And there has been discussion about whether or not Fedwiki should be used for collaborating on producing documents. Personally, like Alan Levine, I think not, but I am going to test this out with another ‘happening participant’, because if Fedwiki is going to be used with groups of students, presumably this would be the purpose.

I have just noticed that on someone’s site, there is a comment about whether or not we need a common language to be able to work effectively in Fedwiki. There has already been some discussion about whether Fedwiki promotes certain cultures. For me some of the language used has been ambiguous and confusing.

For example, ‘Forking’ was a completely new term for me, which has never arisen in my previous work with wikis, or in my career in education. I do not have an edtech, nor an instructional design background. I’m still not sure that I understand ‘forking’. In a Google hangout that I attended with Mike Caulfield and Paul Rodwell (which was super helpful) it was explained to me that I could think about it in terms of keeping a notebook in which I write down my ideas. A friend also keeps a notebook in which she writes down ideas, but she lives at a distance from me, so I can’t see her notebook. Forking takes a copy of her notebook and puts it in mine. She can take a copy of what interests her from my notebook. This is a good explanation for me – so for lay people like me, couldn’t we just talk in terms of ‘copying’?

I have also been a bit confused by the use of words like community and collaboration, both of which seem to promote ‘groups’ rather than the idea of ‘neighborhood’, and joint working rather than parallel mining of ideas. It seems to me that collaboration requires a different focus and a different starting point, for example, ‘a course’ rather than ‘a happening’. A course would spend more time on ensuring that everyone gets to grips with the technology, before initiating any collaboration activities. Gilly Salmon’s 5 stage model comes to mind.

I’m happy that this is a ‘happening’ and not a course, but I think the ideas of collaboration and community have possibly set up expectations that a happening might not be able to meet. I’m not sure how much some of this confusion is down to use of language and different interpretation of words like community, happening and collaboration.

Would I use Fedwiki with a group of students? Only if the students’ focus was on the functionality of the technology itself. I think Fedwiki would need to be more user friendly for those whose first interest is not technology. That’s my thinking today. I might have changed my mind by the end of this happening on Jan 1st.

Defeated by technology

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.

Fedwiki

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.

The Direction of MOOC Research

After 2 years of MOOC mania, the time has come for increasing the output of MOOC research. But what direction is that research taking – what direction should it take?

At the beginning of the month George Siemens convened a MOOC conference – (with funding from Bill and Melinda Gates) – which was billed as the MOOC conference of all MOOC conferences – pulling together many of the big names associated with MOOCs. And, by all accounts, it was a great conference – the conversations must have been fascinating.

Given that I couldn’t attend, I have been watching the Twitter stream quite closely and am following the blog posts that are emerging now that delegates have managed to return home after being stuck in Dallas in an unexpected ice storm .

From my reading of some of the follow up tweets and posts it seems that despite the bonhomie, there were some divisions between the delegates, although they may not have been openly discussed at the time.

I was alerted to this first by a tweet from Stephen Downes who wrote:

#MRI13 – seeing more and more the gulf between my own approach to MOOCs and those from the xMOOC perspective…

And then by a blog post from Ralf St.Clair  who has suggested that there were three groups in the conference delegates and these were not necessarily compatible:

The first, and the most fun, are the techno-utopians. These folks believe that the issues of MOOCs are fundamentally technical, and once we have a better [insert tool here e.g. marking algorithm] then we really will have a widespread and powerful democratisation of knowledge.

The second group are the Educational Idealists, who fret about structure and pedagogy and rigour. That’s the group I belong to, through frankly I’d rather be in the first group. They have all the good tunes.

The third group are the Administrative Puritans, focused on return on investment, costs, and monetisation so that MOOCs can pay their (considerable) way.

Bonnie Stewart  also noted that there were groups who did not appear to know how to talk to each other and wrote in her recent blog post

I think ‘what’s next?’ is working out the conversation IN the metaphorical van. Some who see MOOCs as learning focus on the pursuit of its ever-more-finely-honed measurement. Others are more inclined to dismiss measurement as irrelevant to the networked synthesis of ideas that forms the backbone of their approach to education. A hundred more do something in between. We don’t necessarily know how to talk to each other. It became evident around the Arlington bar tables last week that the chasms between practitioners’ varying versions of learning and knowledge are so deep some aren’t even really aware that the rest of us are IN the van.

Then there have been a couple of blog posts from Martin Weller and Martin Hawksey that suggest that the emphasis on big data research might not be exactly what is needed  – It was easy to forget you were talking about learners, and not sales of baked beans. (Martin Weller).

These posts were interesting given that my own research into MOOCs has always been on the learner experience. Whilst there is a lot to learn from big data, we also need to keep the focus on the learner and try and understand the changes that are happening in learners themselves in these new open online learning environments. My experience is that it is difficult to square this interest in the unique individual experience with the massive number of MOOC participants.

There have also been interesting discussions about the role of theory in relation to MOOC research and the suggestion that we are moving from theory-led to evidence-based research – i.e. post-theory  ( See Martin Weller’s blog post and this post by Mike Caulfield). My own thinking is that perhaps we need more theory – not less – and in particular we need more discussion around the proposed theory of connectivism, which only a few researchers have, to date, been prepared to engage in.

Post conference reflections, tweets and blog posts are still coming in and the discussion remains very interesting.  Here are some of the posts that have caught my eye

Bodong Chen – Top Links from the MOOC Research Conference Twitter Backchannel (#MRI13)

Matt Crosslin – Give Me an M! Give Me a C! Blah Blah Blah To All This Theory

Keith Devlin – The MOOC Express – Less Hype, More Hope

Lori Breslow, Donald Clark, Professor Asha Kanwar, Stephen Downes – EduDebate: What Future for MOOCs

Michael Feldstein – Changing the Narrative

I picked up most of these from the conference Twitter stream  (#mri13 )