Universities have a poor record of creating a technologically-sustainable open environment, where students are empowered to take the full advantage of Wiki to work on projects with a real-life impact. When coupled by a “Student as Producer” pedagogical model both Wiki technology and Open become much more meaningful than when adopted separately.
Student as Producer
Student as Producer pedagogical model, which while similar to community-based or experiential learning, it is also rooted in Marx’s theory of alienation and applied to learning. The University of Lincoln’s Mike Neary (2012) states that Student as Producer “emphasises the role of the student as collaborators in the production of knowledge. The capacity for Student as Producer is grounded in the human attributes of creativity and desire, so that students can recognise themselves in a world of their own design”. Another way to look at its foundation comes from Freire (1968): “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world”. In North America, Student as Producer is introduced by Vanderbilt University’s Derek Bruff (2011) without much socio-political connotation found in the European predecessor:
- Students are asked to work on problems that haven’t been fully solved or questions that haven’t been fully answered.
- Students are asked to share their work with others, not just their instructor.
- Students are given a degree of autonomy in their work.
At UBC, meaningful and open students' contributions to public domain are sparce: this wiki is a good but rare example of saving students' generated content from inevitable death within LMS. These ETEC510 wiki pages are on permanent display, promoting student-producers as well as UBC. They can also be further improved by new generations of students. Jon Beasley-Murray took this approach to the next level by asking his students to contribute where it is the most visible, most usable but also most challenging: directly in Wikipedia.
Like many public university, UBC commits to “Open” and two values from UBC’s Strategic Plan (2011) communicate this commitment:
- Public Interest: “The University embodies the highest standards of service and stewardship of resources and works within the wider community to enhance societal good.”
- Advancing and Sharing Knowledge: “The University supports scholarly pursuits that contribute to knowledge and understanding within and across disciplines, and seeks every opportunity to share them broadly.”
In practice, there is not much evidence for this, and outside of the domain of “proper” research there is very is minimal and accidental contribution: In my professional experience, I have noticed that ever since my group of developers, in UBC’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, started putting our code into open repositories, such as WordPress plugin repository or GitHub, the quality of the code, its significance reflected through adoption across other institutions or external users (over 300,000 downloads!) as well as developers’ enthusiasm, all went up. This finding is aligned with similar outcomes realized by Judy Chan (2013), who teaches in UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems, of increased quality of student work when they started creating content in an open environment. I will cover this in more detail in my case study. UBC’s Jon Beasley-Murray, pioneer of using Wikipedia in Academia, gives a good overview of what seems to be wrong with work created using common, closed practices: “In the end, an essay or an exam is an instance of busywork: usually written in haste; for one particular reader, the professor; and thereafter discarded.” It seems obvious that students will be more motivated, eager to create quality work when knowing that it will stay on permanent display, potentially linked to their portfolio and visible to large community. While there are many forms of “Open” that have been embraced by the academic institutions, I find the “5 Rs”, as defined by David Wiley, the most fitting for higher-ed educational environment: The term "open content" describes any copyrightable work (traditionally excluding software, which is described by other terms like "open source") that is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:
- Retain - the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
- Reuse - the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
- Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
- Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
- Redistribute - the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend) (2011)
The Role of Wiki
In addition to being a proven collaborative tool, wikis are the only web technology that enable all of Wiley’s five Rs of open content, specifically revising, remixing and redistributing. Wikis also provide easy to use interfaces for student contributions making it a good tool for Student as Producer model. Content stored in a wiki based on MediaWiki (the platform powering both Wikipedia and UBC Wiki) can be embedded anywhere online in a way that allows for seamless syncing of the original content with its all web incarnations.
For example, here is a case of UBC Wiki course (LFS200 - SoilWeb) content page: Soil Organisms. And here is the same page embedded in the SoilWeb course website . Each time the original wiki content changes, all of the websites where that content is embedded will automatically benefit from instantly updated content. On the other hand, it is equally easy to feature a date-stamped version of the content, if that is the requirement for pedagogical or legal reasons. This capability, aligned with the inherited wiki’s ease of editing, creates a perfect platform for not only content creation but also for assuring its continual improvement and ability to distribute it and remix it across the Internet. Wikis are radically open and easy to use. Lamb (2004) writes: “Anyone can change anything. Wikis are quick because the processes of reading and editing are combined. Content is ego-less, time-less, and never finished. Anonymity is not required but is common. With open editing, a page can have multiple contributors, and notions of page ‘authorship’ and ‘ownership’ can be radically altered.”
Hadjerrouit (2012) warns that “motivation is an essential component of collaborative writing with wikis”. Combining Open and the Student as Producer models addresses this challenge and increase students’ motivation as noticed by Judy Chan in her SOIL200 course: she noticed an increased quality of student work when students started creating content in an open environment. and visible to large community. While there are many forms of “Open” that have been embraced by the academic institutions, I find the “5 Rs”, as defined by David Wiley, the most fitting for higher-ed educational environment: The term "open content" describes any copyrightable work (traditionally excluding software, which is described by other terms like "open source") that is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities: Retain - the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage) Reuse - the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video) Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language) Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup) Redistribute - the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend) (2011)
A Case Study: FHN200
Judy Chan was teaching FNH200 (Land Food and Community) for a few years before deciding to compile the paper-based course notes (http://wiki.ubc.ca/Course:FNH200 - see “Course Lessons” in the infobox, on the right) and published them on UBC Wiki. She reasoned that this would allow for easier sharing between the other instructors as well as to facilitate better students access (responsive web-page layout, openly accessible content). After receiving good feedback to the wiki version of the course notes, she thought of an idea of using the wiki for students’ final project (groups of five or so), and to replace the practice of creating poster presentation displayed for a week in the Department’s hall. From the first year in 2011, the project was a success, with more than half of the 24 projects reaching over 10,000 unique views, two to three orders of magnitude higher than projects displayed in the faculty's physical space. The instructor also observed a significant increase in quality of the projects on the wiki as compared to the previous poster projects. The number of visits, the contribution to the public domain, and a significantly improved quality of students’ work, as observed by Chan (2013), show how much more capable web technologies are, when combined with good pedagogical practices and open approaches. The student benefits of the open, wiki based approach are obvious: they could link to their work from their resumes and portfolios and they get exposed to and part of open publishing environment, exposing themselves to both compliments and critiques and leaving their original work to future improvements and additions. It also benefits UBC as well - students’ work is now on permanent display at UBC Wiki, promoting the university and aligning with its values. This work adds to public knowledge, and increases interactions with local and global community. The wiki content can be republished and remixed the way not possible with LMS or even popular MOOC platforms that claim to be open, such as Coursera or EdX.
The Range of Applicability
In addition to the advantages listed above, this approach to using educational technology in open spaces, unlocks other benefits for students and universities:
It helps students’ “personal brand” by promoting and exposing students’ work. Being able to display and provide evidence of skills, competences and authentic contributions to public knowledge is increasingly becoming an important aspect for future employability.
By contributing to open knowledge, this approach impacts both local and global communities and helps promote the course, the department, the faculty and the university as well as showcase the work of the students. The content can be republished in other UBC’s courses or community websites as well as outside of UBC’s or Canadian boundaries.
It allows for interdisciplinary and collaborative knowledge building. For example, the FNH200 student projects could be expanded into other disciplines: how about professor from anthropology working with students to research and write about Maple Syrup significance for First Nations? Or engineering students focusing on the production side of it?
Within an institution, this approach has a potential to help create bodies of knowledge and significantly contribute to its efforts to disseminate its expertise in a more popular but also more localized and contextualized way. This approach being more widely implemented into curriculum, has a potential to respond more quickly to local community, business and educational needs as well as contribute to exposing and understanding of our local context and knowledge in the broader international context.
Another important consideration for student-producer created assets combines the good pedagogy with the need to make these resources sustainable. For example, before getting into creating their original content, the upcoming FNH200 student cohort could first be introduced to the concepts of working in open by providing a literature or critical review of existing Wiki pages done by previous generations. This will not only help student being gradually introduced to wiki editing and more broadly to working in open collaborative environment but will also assure continual development and accuracy of student created materials.
Bruff, D. (2013, January 1). Center for Teaching. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/2013/09/students-as-producers-an-introduction/
Beasley-Murray, J. (2008) User:Jbmurray/Madness. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Jbmurray/Madness
Freire, P. (1968) Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Chan, J. (2013). Judy Drops Posters, Uses Wiki. Retrieved from http://tcmt.sites.olt.ubc.ca/2013/05/06/judy-drops-posters-uses-wiki/
Hadjerrouit, S. (2012). Using wikis for collaborative learning: Critical evaluation and recommendations. International Association for Development of the Information Society (IADIS) Conference, Berlin, March.
Lamb, B. (2004). Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, Ready or Not,. EDUCAUSE Review, Vol. 39, no. 5. Page 38
Neary, M. & Winn, J. (2010) Student as Producer. Retrieved from http://studentasproducer.lincoln.ac.uk/
Wiley, D. (2013). Defining the "Open" in Open Content. Retrieved from http://opencontent.org/definition/