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No to Wikiversity

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(English) This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.
See Wikiversity/Modified project proposal and Talk:Wikiversity/Modified project proposal for ideas on a Wikiversity that might interact well with other Wikimedia projects including Wikibooks.

This page documents problems with the proposal for Wikiversity as a separate Wikimedia wiki project from Wikibooks. The page will:

  1. describe how the "Wikiversity" concept came to exist on Wikibooks
  2. explain actions against the early Wikibooks:Wikiversity which led to a proposal for a separate Wikiversity project
  3. criticise the overlap between Wikibooks and Wikiversity
  4. note the lack of differences between Wikibooks and Wikiversity
  5. claim the Wikiversity mission is a mission to duplicate Wikibooks
  6. propose how "Wikiversity" can remain part of Wikibooks

Authors (add your name here if you edit this page):

  1. Kernigh, created page
  2. Chick Bowen, added section on the name "Wikiversity"

History of Wikiversity[edit]

The Wikibooks project started with the textbook-l mailing list. The idea was to create free textbooks for classrooms to use. A textbooks wiki started and its name became "Wikibooks" or "WikiBooks".

At some point Daniel Mayer (mav) sent this email proposing to change the name of the project from "WikiBooks" to "Wikiuniversity". Quote: I know that the name "Wikibooks" was thought of and promoted by me, but that was before we really knew where we wanted to go with this project (become an educational resource). Then Sanford Forte wrote a reply suggesting several other names. Though "WikiU" had some popularity, "Wikiversity" became the most common name.

However, when the project, formerly at "textbooks.wikipedia.org", obtained its own domain name, the name used was "wikibooks.org", as shown in the mail announcing the new domain name. Later, non-English content was transwikied away and the Wikibooks project now exists at http://en.wikibooks.org

Meanwhile, someone started a "Wikiversity" module at Wikibooks:Wikiversity. (You can also see the original Wikiversity front page posted by an anonymous user.) This Wikiversity started at 13 November 2004, more than a year after Wikibooks started, and at the Wikibooks wiki for textbooks.

Wikiversity divided itself into schools such as Wikibooks:Wikiversity:School of Philosophy. These schools feature:

The original goal was apparently to create a complete (accredited or not) university, though the current Wikiversity has the three features above.

Action against early Wikiversity[edit]

There were two actions against Wikiversity.

  1. Someone involved with the German branch of Wikimedia started http://de.wikiversity.org. At 29 July 2005, User:Aya made a request for "en.wikiversity.org"; at 31 July 2005 User:Anthere moved the request to Talk:Requests for new languages#Requests for new Wikiversity languages, claiming that this project is not a Wikimedia Foundation project. The Wikibooks:Wikiversity page became protected from editing. At 4 August 2005, Wikibooks:User:Angela protested at Wikibooks:Talk:Wikiversity#Protection because the protected page claimed that the Wikimedia Foundation Board approved the protection, which Angela disputed. It emerged that "protect" meant to protect from deletion, not from editing, so Aya ended the protection from editing.
  2. At 11 August 2005, Wikiversity went to Wikibooks:Wikibooks:Votes for deletion; the voting was later moved to Wikibooks:Wikibooks:Votes for deletion/Wikiversity. The argument was that Wikiversity was for original research and other non-textbook material, and should instead be a separate project like http://de.wikiversity.org ... at which point several users worried about loss of their work. Meanwhile the Wikiversity page at Meta became a proposal for a new Wikimedia project.

Wikiversity overlaps with Wikibooks[edit]

So now there was a proposal to create Wikiversity as a separate project. Wikibooks:Wikiversity started behaving as a project separate from Wikibooks. This is consistent with the idea that Wikiversity moves to a separate wiki.

In the case of a new wiki, all Wikibooks:Wikiversity pages would move away from Wikibooks. By convention, Wikimedia projects do not overlap. For example, Wikibooks does not contain a dictionary because Wiktionary has one.

However, it is difficult for one to read the current pages about Wikiversity, and then comprehend how or why Wikiversity is a separate project from Wikibooks. This page will examine quotes that describe Wikiversity, and show the problem of an overlap with Wikibooks.

First, here is how Wikibooks:Wikiversity:About describes the purpose of Wikiversity:

The main goal of Wikiversity is not just to impart knowledge but to facilitate learning.

However, is is not already what Wikibooks does? Textbooks at Wikibooks "impart knowledge" and also "facilitate learning". However, the Wikiversity:About page explains that Wikiversity will help students learn, and concludes its "Goals" section by stating:

Our goal, therefore, is to teach the material to whomever wants to learn it, to the best of our ability and theirs. We set out the materials needed to learn, and set up a framework for collaborative learning and teaching. It is the task of the self selected participants to work towards actual mastery of desired skills sufficient and necessary to pursue personal goals.

Wikibooks can already reach the goal in two ways:

  1. Textbook modules have talk pages. A reader, unable to master a text, can use the talk page. The purpose of the talk page is exclusively to improve the text of each module, but any good answer to the reader's question would help improve the text.
  2. The Wikibooks:Wikibooks:Forking policy allows forks of books for "different approaches". So if some students need a different approach, this can be handled by creating a separate book for that approach, or even by explaining multiple approaches in the same book. For example in calculus, some students might learn differentiation before integration while some learn integration before differentiation.

Thus, goal of Wikiversity seems to overlap much with Wikibooks. However, the next section on "Differences between Wikiversity and Wikibooks" attempts to resolve the problem of the overlap:

The major difference between the two is the difference between a course and a book. A course combines multiple methods of learning, to increase the chance of a student learning. These methods can include but are not limited to- wikiforums, lectures, homework, collaborative projects, discussions, student journals, etc. A book can be one part of a course. If all you want to do is write a long discourse on the subject matter, that is a book, and belongs on wikibooks. If you wish to do that and provide other methods of learning - that is a course. The book should *still* go on wikibooks, but the rest of the material and the framework for using the wikibook belongs on Wikiversity.

The next section argues that this is insufficient, that in most cases Wikibooks can already host "multiple methods of learning" as textbooks.

Few differences between Wikibooks and Wikiversity[edit]

Consider the list of potential Wikiversity content from Wikibooks:Wikiversity:About:

  • Wikiforums/discussions - Wikibooks already allows discussions, but only if they potentially improve the text of the book. (This is a significant limitation.)
  • Homework - Not only can textbooks include homework problems and answers, they can include other features like syllabi. There is no need to start a "Wikiversity" to host homework.
  • Collaborative projects - The textbooks themselves are collaborative projects. Consider though, that some assigns a project, like "prove some theorem through induction", if everyone worked on this then it would be a textbook module. Whereas if the project was to provide an opinion to "support or refute this statement", the result would conflict with a common Wikimedia policy: "neutral point of view." You can see Jimbo Wales add a reference to "Wikimedia-wide" policy in a Wikibooks policy.
  • Lectures - Because the lectures are uploaded to a wiki as text, they resemble textbook modules. Wikibooks:Wikiversity:Logic reads like a textbook module; in some lectures the only unique feature is the use of the word "I". Considering that anyone can edit any page, "I" is only an abstract term for all authors of that page. In short, lectures on a wiki are actually textbook material for Wikibooks.
  • Student journals - If a reader of a book, for example Wikibooks:How To Assemble A Desktop PC, wants to comment on their experience, they can post to talk pages, or link to subpages of their user page (like Wikibooks:User:Kernigh/pound). (However, user pages should not be personal web pages or journals. Some Wikibookians want to limit the size of user pages.)

So the difference between a "course" at Wikiversity and a "book" at Wikibooks consists only of forums not for improving a book, and maybe projects which are non-neutral point of view. These are the differences that should be discussed when discussing whether to create a wiki separate from Wikibooks.

The Wikibooks:Wikiversity:About pages does mention a second difference from Wikibooks:

The other major difference is length. On Wikibooks, a how-to on a video game is acceptable material- the walkthrough of GTA:SA is fairly popular. That works as a book. It does not work as a course- there just isn't enough material in any one game to run a course.

At first, the "length" requirement seems arbitrary. Yes, there is a Wikibooks:Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas book. What if someone wanted to discuss the game (without improving the book)? What if someone wants to create an essay osupporting or refuting an argument about this game? Wikiversity, with its "forums" and "collaborative projects", could provide both. If Wikiversity actually requires GTA:SA to be part of a larger "course", then that is actually only a minor difference from Wikibooks.

However, perhaps this paragraph was more revealing. There is currently a debate at Wikibooks:Wikibooks:Game manual guidelines over whether books for games, including video games, are acceptable at Wikibooks. An argument against books like the GTA:SA book is that these books are entertaining, not academic.

Yet Wikibooks (whether or not it includes the GTA:SA book) was originally set up with an academic purpose, to provide textbooks for topics such as "physics" and "organic chemistry". It might be that some user thought that Wikibooks, with its video game strategy guides, was insufficiently academic, and this made necessary the separate Wikiversity project.

A mission to duplicate Wikibooks[edit]

Consider this quote from Wikiversity#Mission:

The development and cataloging of tests, teaching materials that go beyond the scope of Wikibooks such as slides and videos, complete courses, and more. All this information must be presented from a neutral point of view and represent the current state of scientific research.

Most of these materials are not beyond the scope of Wikibooks. Textbooks can describe complete courses. There should not be a reason for Wikibooks to exclude media like slides or videos; Wikipedia and Wikinews feature media (though mostly audio). If Wikiversity enforces "neutral point of view", then that bans some of the ideas for collaborative projects by students. The remaining projects would probably be textbook modules or encyclopedia articles!

The other part of the "Wikiversity Mission" is:

A framework within which members of the community can actually take courses online.

This page interprets this quote to refer to forums and user profiles, which is actually the only feature that Wikiversity would provide, if it discards "collaborative projects". Wikiversity would not actually provide "lectures" or "homework" as that is already in the jurisdiction of Wikibooks.

If Wikiversity becomes a separate wiki[edit]

Suppose that Wikiversity becomes a separate wiki from Wikibooks. In this process, then, would the "lecture" material currently at Wikibooks:Wikiversity move away from Wikibooks? This would be the competition between Wikiversity and Wikibooks: Wikiversity would be developing lecture material, while Wikibooks developed textbook material, with no actual distinction between lectures and textbooks.

Both projects actually make wiki material. Wikis contain texts. In the context of Wikiversity and Wikibooks, these are texts for teaching and learning. They are textbooks, and calling them "lectures" is only a matter of formatting and vocabulary, not content.

Note: The Wikiversity/Modified project proposal attempts to distinguish lectures from textbooks.

Keeping Wikiversity at Wikibooks[edit]

Recall this page had described the existing content of Wikibooks:Wikiversity as such:

However, lecture material such as the "Logic" module linked here is best described as textbook material.

Wikibooks already includes a "directory of participants" to a limited extent; several of its books have lists of authors, including links to their user pages. Wikibooks could simply in addition maintain lists of readers (who easily become authors by making one minor edit to the book). Wikibooks can certainly include links to Wikimedia and external material; look at Wikibooks:Guide to UNIX/Commands/File System Utilities, which features template-generated boxes of external links, while Wikibooks:Guide to UNIX/Commands links to a Wikipedia article. There are larger external-link projects also, such as Wikibooks:Freeware:Directory and Wikibooks:Internet Server Directory.

Create Wikiversity anyway?[edit]

Aside: non-NPOV?

How to meet goal (2), a place for projects that are non-neutral point of view? This particular goal involves overturning a Wikimedia-wide policy. If this is was implemented, the Wikiversity project wiki would actually become the dump for material violating the Wikimedia-wide policy on other wikis; deleted pages containing non-neutral point of view would transwiki themselves to Wikiversity.

That is a much different concept from the idea of Wikiversity containing "courses". If this was the purpose of Wikiversity, then the proposal for Wikiversity needs revision.

These seem to be the only features that Wikiversity would provide that Wikibooks does not:

  1. a forum for discussion not specifically for improving a textbook module
  2. a place for projects of non-neutral point of view, such as essays

Note that this list of two additional features excludes most of what is currently proposed for Wikiversity, because most of what is currently proposed for Wikiversity would compete with Wikibooks.

Of the two goals, goal (1), a forum for discussion, is more interesting. What if, instead of a community of textbook authors in discussion, we wanted a community of students - textbook readers, in discussion? There are some methods, short of creating a new Wikimedia project, for this:

There is much room on Wikibooks talks pages currently, though they are paired to specific modules, which might inhibit wider discussion (such as collective reading). Obviously neither Usenet nor blogs are located at Wikimedia wikis.

This quote from Robert Scott Horning, in a foundation-l post proposing a separate Wikiversity project, comes to interest:

If approved, a transwiki to en.wikiversity.org from en.wikibooks will begin. This will be a complicated process, and there is going to be some arguing about what parts need to stay on Wikibooks and what parts need to be moved. This may get ugly simply because the distinction really hasn't been in place so far.

Done correctly, this transwiki creates a new "Wikiversity" project, but leaves most of the current Wikibooks:Wikiversity at Wikibooks where it belongs.

Courses duplicate textbooks[edit]

In general, Wikiversity need not contain "courses"; textbooks at Wikibooks can have multiple approaches, can include syllabi and homework. The textbooks at Wikibooks are collaborative projects which one can discuss and improve, thus imparting information to students and facilitating the students' learning.

This seems reasonable, as Wikibooks:Wikiversity is already hosted at Wikibooks, and Wikibooks already contains participants, links, and textbook material (which is similar enough to lecture material).

"Wikiversity" can exist as a second name for Wikibooks, as it was originally intended. "Wikiversity" can provide participants, links, and material to Wikibooks, and to divide Wikibooks material into schools such as "School of Philosophy". (Wikibooks has not much need for a second name, though, which leaves the possibility of transferring the name "Wikiversity" to a new project if that project did not duplicate Wikibooks.) "Wikiversity" participants can read textbooks, discuss them on the talk page, and use the results to improve the textbooks.

If Wikimedia needs a wiki for material that is non-neutral point of view, then one should change the Wikiversity proposal to specify this.

Oppose the creation of a separate Wikimedia project wiki for Wikibooks:Wikiversity.

Problems with the name "Wikiversity"[edit]

Some Wikimedia-project editors, particularly those with an academic background, have expressed concern about the name "Wikiversity" and its similarily to the word "university" (a word that appears frequently on Wikiversity proposals). The word actually has a legal status in the United States (which is where Wikimedia servers are housed. The Office of Degree Authorization for the State of Oregon, which has become the chief authority on unaccredited universities in the US, has this to say about it:

To be authorized to use the term "university," a school must offer bachelor's degrees together with graduate or first professional degrees or be part of an organization that constitutes a formal consortium of schools so authorized. No exceptions are allowed, including religious exemptions.

Non-degree-granting "universities" are generally regarded with a dim view in both academic and government circles. Wikibooks offers much educational material, which is fine and good. But a separate project called "Wikiversity" and using the word "university" in its promotional material might be seen as misleading if not actually illegal.