Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Content-free Learning, Scale, and #fedwikihappening


Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’ve written a lot about my preference for curriculum that is not centered on content, but it rather centered on value-laden process goals that learners and teachers set together, responsively, that emerge into a curriculum as they live it. It’s also a bit like Dave Cormier’s “community as curriculum” as part of how he envisions rhizomatic learning.

I think #fedwikihappening is a perfect example of now much rich knowledge you can gain when you create a curriculum centered around people and not content. Mike sends daily emails with tasks for us to do (procedural knowledge, I guess, which at first was technical and still sometimes responds to tech issues) and sometimes philosophical points about fedwiki and what it is for and how it is being used. Often, these emails are reflective of what the rest of us have been doing the day before, whether on fedwiki itself, or on twitter or blogs or the office hour hangouts.

I don’t know how many of the issues that seemed to emerge out of our experimentation were things Mike and Ward had in mind before, and how many are actually new, or take on new proportions with people using it. But it’s building up a sort of meta-conversation about what it means to fedwiki and it’s a really enriching conversation taking many directions because of the group of people who are active on it.

And the other thing is this incidental learning: everyone is writing brief posts about what interests them, and because they are so brief, I get to read a lot of them each day, contributing here and there. Starting my own. I have learned about a lot of things in a very short time. Some programming stuff I never would have come across; some useful things relevant to me like Third Place (which I extended to compare to Bhabha’s Third Space because at first I was confused by the similar terminology) and found myself browsing the web for ideas of virtual third place (and of course there it was!). There are things I should have come across on my own but hadn’t (e.g. Dave Cormier’s post on caring) and there are things I wrote as a sort of note-taking that others have asked me to extend and made me reflect a lot more deeply (like Freire and the Egyptian Revolution).

People on my blog and twitter stream are taking notice and many are interested in trying it out. Some already have self-hosted versions. The problem is that a fedwiki is a very lonely and incomplete experience without a neighborhood. Trust me, I tried it before there were people in it. I only gained a couple days worth of tech knowledge (and maybe helped alert Mike to some newbie issues like the halos) but the beauty of it is in loose collaboration with other people.

All of this makes me wonder how it would work at scale. Wikipedia-like scale. I guess someday, if it takes off (and it should soooo take off, it’s so awesome and would be more so with notifications) it would reach that kind of scale. But at scale, I can see how the interaction will be more about content that is there than people who have written it as people start editing things by others they do not know at all and those kinds of personal relationships fade away.

I still think it has uses for more intimate communities. Like my idea for rhizo14 collaborative autoethnography (an idea seemingly reached independently by Sarah, Keith and myself). Terry Elliott also has a MOOC hostel idea which I think could fit is category. And I can also see it helping with some official work processes that involve collaborative editing but where one central common document is not the goal – e.g. Multi-section courses taught by different professors. Each could fork a copy and edit it, and others could take ideas from them if they like them (e.g. Assignments, readings, activities).

I’ll stop here coz I have to go…


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