Posts Tagged ‘social learning’

Don’t do more

August 5, 2010
Sue Gardner

Sue Gardner

Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, recently blogged about Wikimedia as “a sort of social movement“. Gardner asked why it is that Wikimedians don’t do more to encourage internal solidarity and support kindness, understanding, generosity and a sense of common purpose. Interesting question.

What sort of social movement is Wikimedia? If you read the Wikimedia Foundation’s statements on Mission, Values, Vision and Bylaws you find no description of Wikimedia as a social movement. If you search the Foundation’s website you can find this quote from Wikimedia Foundation Trustee, Matt Halprin: “The Wikimedia Foundation is a critical player in the growing social movement toward greater transparency and openness.”

Gardner wrote, “Our goal is to make information easily available for people everywhere around the world – free of commercialism, free of charge, free of bias.” If you read the Wikimedia Foundation’s statements on Mission, Values, Vision and Bylaws you find no description of Wikimedia bias. If you search the Wikimedia Foundation’s website you can find this quote from Doron Weber, Director of the Sloan Foundation’s Program for Universal Access to Recorded Knowledge about Wikipedia: “…Wikipedia represents a quantum leap in collecting human knowledge from diverse sources, organizing it without commercial or other bias…..”

How does the Wikimedia Foundation measure up for transparency and what about bias in Wikipedia? Wikipedia allows anonymous editors to publish biased information about living people. For example, on March 8, 2006, an anonymous Wikipedia editor created a Wikipedia biography article about a university professor. That anonymous Wikipedia editor violated Wikipedia’s rules that are designed to keep Wikipedia free of biased biographies of living people. When a colleague of the university professor sought to correct the biased Wikipedia biography, he was blocked from editing Wikipedia and his user page was defaced and locked. Rather than follow Wikipedia policy and correct the biased biography, a gang of Wikipedians attacked and harassed the person who tried to correct the bias.

The gang of policy-violating Wikipedians, not content to simply block their fellow Wikipedian who had tried to keep Wikipedia free of bias, stalked him to his personal blog and subjected him to vile online harassment. The gang of policy-violating Wikipedians also followed Moulton to Wikiversity and harassed him there, with the stated objective of getting Moulton banned from participation at Wikiversity. The gang of policy-violating Wikipedians was successful by gaming Wikimedia Foundation Board member Jimbo Wales into violating Wikiversity policy and imposing an infinite duration block on Moulton, a block imposed against consensus and with no public discussion of the block. The decision to impose this policy-violating  block on Moulton was made by a few Wikipedians acting in secret. So much for the “transparency and openness” of the Wikimedia Foundation. Moulton, who only tried to help Wikimedia, is still subjected to continuing harassment by Wikimedia functionaries. Why are a few “special” Wikipedians and anonymous editors still allowed to force their personal biases on the world by using Wikipedia as their publishing platform? What is the ethical nature of an organization that allows anonymous editors to publish false claims about living people? Why are honest Wikimedians like Moulton harassed and driven away when they try to remove bias from Wikimedia? Should anyone take Sue Gardner seriously when she talks about the Wikimedia Foundation having a goal of being free from bias? (related blog post)

In 2010, a Wikiversity community member created a learning project aimed at finding an ethical means to improve Wikimedia projects. The Ethical Breaching Experiments learning project was deleted by Jimbo Wales, without community discussion, in violation of Wikiversity policy and against community consensus. The creator of the learning project was blocked from editing by Jimbo Wales, in violation of Wikiversity policy. In an effort to impose his misguided disruption of Wikiversity on the community, Jimbo Wales threatened Wikiversity with closure. Sue Gardner threw her support behind the misguided actions of Jimbo Wales.

Sue Gardner asked why it is that Wikimedians don’t do more to encourage internal solidarity and support kindness, understanding, generosity and a sense of common purpose. Yes, Sue, why don’t you? Why did you support Jimbo Wales in his misguided disruption of Wikiversity?


Great moments in online learning. Part I.

March 17, 2010

This is the first in a series of reflective blog posts about online learning at Wikiversity. In Part I want to discuss the topic of censorship at Wikiversity and its impact on learning. Part II is about bad blocks imposed on Wikiversity participants who never violated any Wikiversity policy. The following screenshot provides a convenient starting point:

censorship at Wikiversity

Censorship at Wikiversity

The image above shows that the Wikiversity page about censorship at Wikiversity was deleted at 5:32 on 16 October, 2009. This was a great moment in online learning. Why is discussion of censorship censored at Wikiversity?

Related reading: “Identifying and understanding the problems of Wikipedia’s peer governance: The case of inclusionists versus deletionists” by Vasilis Kostakis.

Vasilis Kostakis mentioned the fact that decisions about wiki page deletion at Wikipedia are often swayed by notability concerns. We can ask: Is notability important for decisions about content deletion at Wikiversity? Interestingly, almost four years after its inception, the Wikiversity community still does not have official guidelines for making content deletion decisions. If a Wikiversity participant is interested in learning about a topic, should it matter if the topic is “notable”? Would it be unwelcome if someone had a novel idea and wanted to explore it at Wikiversity? No. Wikiversity even allows original research.

However, some Wikimedians have never been comfortable with the inclusion of original thinking at Wikiversity and some Wikiversity project participants have even suggested banning from Wikiversity any topic not found in the curriculum of conventional educational institutions. Other Wikiversity participants think that Wikiversity’s scope should be broad and defined by the interests of its participants: if you are interested in learning about a topic then you should be able to explore that topic at Wikiversity. Such differences in opinion about desirable content at Wikiversity lead to conflict and have contributed to paralysis in the Wikiversity self-government process. Is free and open learning too dangerous, is free thinking too radical of an idea to find a place inside the Wikimedia Foundation?


The Wikiversity:Censorship page was not in the main namespace, it was in the “project namespace”. The “project namespace” at Wikiversity is named after the Wikiversity wiki project, so it is called the “Wikivesity namespace” and the names for all of its wiki pages begin the “Wikiversity:” prefix.  The project namespace is a collection of “meta” pages: “The Wikiversity namespace is a namespace containing pages that provide information about Wikiversity.” A typical page in Wikiversity’s project namespace is Wikiversity:Namespaces, which describes the various types of wiki pages that are grouped for convenience in the various “namespaces”.

We can ask why some Wikiversity participants found it useful to create and edit the “Wikiversity:Censorship” page and why other Wikiversity participants found it necessary to delete this particular page. The community discussion leading up to the deletion of the page can be read here. Additional discussion of censorship at Wikiversity (discussion which was itself censored)  is on this talk page. When did censorship of Wikiversity begin?

The roots of censorship at Wikiversity can be traced to the first year of Wikiversity project. The early community of learners at Wikiversity was interested in setting itself apart from Wikipedia. For example, rather than have “administrators“, Wikiversity has “custodians“. An attempt was made to use “rounded corners” for buttons in the graphical user interface of Wikiversity webpages. For example: the image near the top of this blog post shows “rounded corners” on the “create” button. A Wikipedian complained about the use of rounded corners at Wikiversity and so Wikiversity was not allowed to use rounded corners. This was an incredibly trivial example of outside influence being applied to Wikiversity, but it was a sign of things to come and it started the process of Wikiversity participants first noticing that Wikiversity was never going to be free of unwanted and disruptive interference from Wikipedia.

The conflicting points of view with respect to content removal at Wikiversity began early with the “problem” of “red links“, as mentioned in my blog post, Deletionists vs content development. In the early years of Wikipedia there were many “red links” in Wikipedia’s encyclopedia articles and they were useful for showing which new pages were needed. People saw red links and wrote the needed articles and the links turned blue. With time, Wikipedian’s came to view red links as a problem and they were banished from Wikipedia. An early symptom of “Wikipedia Disease” infecting Wikiversity was people who tried to imposed the relatively mature Wikipedia project’s dislike of red links to the brand-new Wikiversity. Thus, quite early in the existence of Wikiversity the question became: is it possible for the Wikiversity community to do what it needs to do for its mission without interference from Wikipedians imposing inappropriate and unwelcome rules from Wikipedia on Wikiversity?

This question began to grow in importance when banned Wikipdians started to participate at Wikiversity. Why can’t Wikiversity participants who follow Wikiversity rules be allowed to participate at Wikiversity? Enraged Wikipedians began to descend on Wikiversity and demand that anyone banned from participating at Wikipedia also be banned from participating Wikiversity. This kind of Wikimedia cross-project ban “policy” is still enforced today. In other words, the Wikiversity community does not control the fundamental decision of who is a welcome participant at Wikiversity. That decision is made by outsiders who impose their decisions on the Wikiversity community, without discussion (see). Similarly, decisions about page deletion have been imposed on the Wikiversity community from outside. This is unwelcome censorship.

Conflict at Wikiversity over censorship first came to a boil when Wikipedians decided to prevent Wikiversity participants from studying problems at Wikipedia.  For example, a Wikiversity study of a particular violation of Wikipedia’s policy on biographies of living persons (BLP) was attacked by Wikipedians who were responsible for that policy violation’s existence and long continuance at Wikipedia. An attempt was made to delete the entire Wikipedia Ethics project, which explored Wikipedia as an example of online media and how editors at Wikipedia publish false claims about people. A Wikimedian who participated in the “Wikipedia Ethics” project had previously tried to correct a violation of Wikipedia’s BLP policy and for his trouble he was banned from both Wikipedia and Wikiversity (more details about this are described in Part II of this series).

Emboldened by externally-imposed and out-of-process censorship of Wikiversity, the censorship of Wikiversity was soon extended to efforts by policy-violating Wikiversity sysops to prevent the policy violations of sysops from being discussed by the community. By late 2008, the “hostile take-over” of Wikiversity by participants suffering from “Wikipedia Disease” was complete. According to an odious and unwritten rule, it is now a blockable offense at Wikiversity to discuss the censorship of Wikiversity. A large number of honest Wikiversity participants were disgusted by these shenanigans and left the project, leaving it in the hands of a gang of thugs who enjoy participating in the censorship of Wikiversity and banning Wikiversity participants who dare to ask questions about the problems of Wikimedia wiki projects. When the honest scholars of Wikiversity are banned and driven away from the project, then Wikipedia Disease spreads and Wikiversity sinks to the level of Wikipedia complete with witch hunts, kangaroo courts…..use of the delete button replaces use of the “edit” button.

A collaborative online learning community such as Wikiversity must have tools to protect the community from vandals. However, the existence of such a community as an authentic learning community can easily be destroyed by abusive administrators who use the vandal-fighting tools against the honest learners and scholars of the community while letting policy violators become the police. Wikiversity needs to be returned to the custodianship of thoughtful and honest learners who think, discuss and learn. The unwelcome invaders from Wikipedia who delete, block and prevent learning must be removed.

Summary: Casual observers of Wikiversity might think that there is no censorship of Wikiversity because the wiki page for documenting censorship at Wikiversity has been deleted. The censorship  methods at Wikiversity are analogous to the methods employed by Max Amann. Censorship occurs at any institution, but at Wikiversity you are not allowed to discuss the acts of censorship that occur and the reasons for them. I think it is healthy to talk about everything taking place in a learning community. Discussion is a great way to learn. Why can’t the Wikiversity community discuss the censorship of Wikiversity?

The history of Wikiversity provides a good case study for how to censor the content of an online learning community. Wikiversity attracts thoughtful participants who want to improve Wikimedia wiki projects, but they have been prevented from participating in their studies and discussions of existing problems. Rather than discuss and improve Wikiversity learning projects and research projects, Wikipedians  have unilaterally imposed Wikipedia’s content and editing rules on Wikiversity. This has been highly disruptive to the Wikiversity community, particularly when Wikiversity participants who have never violated a Wikiversity policy are attacked, their contributions to Wikiversity deleted, and their participation at Wikiversity even blocked by invaders from outside who can’t be bothered to participate in the wiki culture where collaborators edit pages in order to improve any perceived problems at Wikiversity.

Next. Worse than the censorship of Wikiversity content is the abusive treatment of Wikiversity participants who dare to ask questions about the failings of Wikimedia wiki projects. If you look at the top of the image on this blog post you can see mention of a block of a Wikiversity participant. In my next blog post I will discuss the abusive treatment  of honest Wikiversity participants by Wikimedian’s who think that banning honest and thoughtful Wikiversity participants is the way to build an online learning community.

Additional reading: another Wikiversity deletion discussion. Another. There are many. The struggle continues.

Part II of this series.

Tools for social learners

March 4, 2010

Ross Dawson's Social Media Strategy Framework

In my last few blog posts I’ve been making mention of the need to tweak online social networking tools so as to better support learning. Learners need to be empowered to ask questions and ask for help.

“The easier the tools make it for people to tell us what they need, the easier and more enjoyable it is to be genuinely helpful. The technology and culture of social learning can create an environment where you are enthusiastically supported, where your sense of wonder returns and creativity blossoms — where people thrive.” (source)

Sources and Citations

March 3, 2010


In my previous blog post I started making the distinction between software features that are used to
1) drive webpage clicks and generate ad revenue
2) features that support online social learning.
My first example was the “like” buttons that are found at many social networking sites. Learners need the support of other types of buttons such as “I’m confused”.

A source of frustration for online learners is that so much content on social networks if not sourced. This is true of all types of content, but it can be illustrated with images. The image shown here was found on this webpage. What is the source of this image?

The webpage that displayed the image says “photographs of Mars”. Here are some of the comments from frustrated web surfers of that webpage:

    “Is that first picture actually a photograph?”
    “What is the source of the first image?”
    “I would love to see some proof that these are from Mars, a source or similar”
    “They should have a caption of which spacecraft took these and where on Mars they are. I wonder where you can go to find the original source.”
    “source of this should be praised”

The source of anything should be cited and doing so would facilitate praise for the creator and aid online learners. I’d like to see a code of ethics for social networking websites. Any website that allows people to upload content should have a policy that encourages the citation of sources for content. For websites that allow the posting of content, it would be trivial to add input fields for use in citation of sources. It would also be useful to have buttons that allow readers to flag content as unsourced.

Emergence of what?

March 1, 2010

"Your social dynamics suck."

“although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not” – Isaac Asimov

In my last blog post I mentioned SpaceCollective as a learning community that did not adopt the “open to all” community structure that has been adopted by other learning communities such as Wikiversity. In Fiction and Learning, I mentioned Isaac Asimov’s imagined planet of the future, Solaria, where advanced technology and a global communications system did not result in people cooperating with others, rather, each individual pursued their individual creative endeavor. I asked, “Will the internet bring humanity together or will we all self-segregate into warring internet tribes?”

In an essay called The Natural Asymmetry of Infocologies, there is discussion of the idea that within our expanding internet-driven infosphere the relationships between individual learners, “are fundamentally and increasingly becoming more and more asymmetrical.” These “asymmetries” among social learners take many forms including the fundamental fact that, “not all aspects of my infocology are of relevance and of interest to another mind”.

Here is an analogy for the natural asymmetries of social interactions in the infosphere: Several tens of thousands of years ago modern humans spread outward from Africa. Human languages and other cultural features diverged and we are still reaping the “rewards” of cultural incompatibility and tribal warfare.

In this analogy, I’m comparing the spread of human cultural groups over the surface of our planet to the proliferation of divergent information ecologies across the infosphere. My intuition suggests that the infosphere is vastly wider than the surface of Earth. The question becomes, will we find social networking tools that keep us all together as collaborators within the infosphere or will the distances between us grow, resulting in a new era of mutually incomprehensible tribes?

I’m not happy with the idea that, with time, the infosphere will spontaneously develop the technologies that are needed to keep us unified. It seems a leap of faith to say, “the optimal distance is an emergent property of innovative infocologies“. Faith in emergence of a happy outcome sounds like saying we could have prevented tribal warfare if our ancestors had better used smoke signal technology to communicate about their common interests.

Clubs and Scale

February 26, 2010

Chess Club

In my last blog post I made a distinction between specialty learning communities and Wikiversity. Wikiversity uses the same community strategy as Wikipedia: everyone is invited to participate. At Wikiversity, the fundamental unit of social learning is the “learning project” and participants (editors) are free to create and participate in learning projects for any topic.

In contrast to the “open to all” community structure of Wikiversity, many online learning communities have a narrow focus and some are like learning clubs where you need to either be invited or pay for your chance to participate. For example, participation at SpaceCollective requires an invitation and some of the projects are not even open to all SpaceCollective members.

When a community of internet users forms and begins to explore shared learning goals and common interests, what are the natural limits to the size of the community? Does it make sense to impose artificial restrictions on participation or should our software tools allow for flexible modification of community structure according to the whims of each participant? Right now, the internet is being populated by many different types of learning communities. Since there is variation in learning styles and learning goals, I do not expect there to be a single “best” format for online learning communities. It will be interesting to watch and observe the “survival of the fittest”…which tools for building online learning communities will survive and which ones will fade away?

Screenshot of the projects page for SpaceCollective:


Learning projects at SpaceCollective.

Upper Image. Chess Club by AskJoanne