Twofish's Blog

August 5, 2006

Fifteen minutes of fame

Filed under: academia, wikipedia — twofish @ 5:20 pm

Got interviewed by a report from ABC when I went into my rant.  I hope I didn’t say anything too stupid, but its hard to keep control when you have an opportunity to release about a decade of frustration.

The two main points I wanted to make were that the non-commercial tag is just killing cooperation with Wikiversity.  Without the NC tag, we would immediately have an entire set of lesson plans and problem sets free for development.

The other point I made is that the mistake in looking at the university is that all the focus is on the education and none of it is on the education administration and finance section.  The relatively easy part in creating Wikiversity is going to be the lesson plans and course ware, since those are already available.  The harder part in creating a university that can challenge Harvard and Yale is in the educational administration and social networks.  The power and academic reputation of Harvard and the Ivy League relies on the fact that it is sitting on a huge pile of money and it has extensive research and alumni networks.  Alumni networks get your power, money, and credibility (and credibility gets you more power and money).  The problem with Harvard is that Harvard is not scalable.  You can only educate tens of thousands of undergraduates instead of hundreds of millions.  Wikis are more scalable.

About accreditation.  Accreditation is a lot easier than one can imagine.  The main thing that accreditors look for is organizational stability and process.  Does the institution have clear goals, and does the institution have processes and funding to meet those goals?   It’s not particularly expensive for a university to start granting accredited degrees (maybe US$10 million and five years).  But there is no reason that wikiversity has to reinvent the wheel.  There are a number of ways to turn non-traditional learning into accreditable degrees (there are a set of brokerage schools).  If wikiversity can take the MIT OCW curriculum and reformat it to fit into the requirements for Thomas Edison State College, and then add in career and academic services, then you got something here.



  1. These lesson plans can be improved upon surely. One of the great things about online learning is that it is not time bound the way the semester system is (with the assumption that students take 4-5 classes at a time). This permits breaking the learning into chunks that respect the material more, whether they be smaller or larger chunks, and for greater modularity with possibly different organization than the standard ones popular in schools now.

    Also, once something better than Yale or Harvard comes on the scene, it won’t be long until these networks, accreditation take care of themselves.

    Comment by Anonymous — August 8, 2006 @ 11:29 pm

  2. True enough, but in the talk about online learning and student centered learning you have to keep something very important in mind. Students generally don’t learn from the text or from the teacher, most of what they learn, they learn from each other. What this means is that if you have a hundred people reading the same text and doing the same problems at the same time, you form a learning community, and social support group.

    The problem with a lot of e-learning is that they desynchronize things to the point where there is no learning community. This is because a lot of e-learning is based on the incorrect idea that students are learning from the text, when in fact that text is simply a scaffold that students can learn from each other.

    There are lots of ways around this problem. One good thing about the University of Phoenix model is that it fixes this by having one month courses. Within each course, things are run lock-step, but students have the flexibility to move courses around.

    The other thing is that if you have 70,0000 students rather than 70 students, you can be reasonably sure that at any one given time, someone is working on the same problems you are. The hard part then is to get in touch with them, which is where the wiki comes in.

    Comment by twofish — August 9, 2006 @ 12:12 am

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