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A Case for an Online Wiki for Children --Barry Desborough 18:27, 19 February 2006 (UTC)

I am fully supportive of the Wikibooks for children project, but I want to set out my reasons for placing more emphasis on content designed to be used by children online. I don't think the current policies and content are making the most of the opportunities afforded by the medium and by the Wiki system.

There is no reason, of course, why content cannot be designed for use in both book form and on-screen, but I feel that the ideal format should be a somewhat different between the two types of media. I am not advocating complex 'gee-whiz' dynamic techniques for the sake of it, but some quite simple design standards and techniques for increased interaction that are not difficult to apply. On to the advantages of producing content for online use.


It is a basic finding, coming from behaviouralism that learning is most effective when reinforcement immediately follows an act. Here, we are talking about rewarding curiosity. If curiosity can be satisfied as easily and quickly as possible, that curiosity is reinforced.

Children are fickle. An unsatisfied interest, which may just be a passing fancy, is soon abandoned for something else. An opportunity to engage the child and lead her more deeply into a topic has been lost. Children are also impatient. They are not as capable as adults when it comes to planning or deferring an act in order to satisfy a need. Waiting for a visit to the library, or even waiting for a PDF to be printed stretches many children's patience.

Access and Inclusiveness[edit]

Even in educationally supportive homes, there will be limits to the range of books and software available to an inquisitive child. Many households possess very few books, and achievement in school is correlated with the availability of books in the home. See for example, [Independent Reading and School Achievement] from the American Library Association. There are many households that possess a computer, but have very little in the way of children's books or educational software.

In the poorer parts of the world, communications technology is set to leapfrog the first world, and schemes such as the [100 Dollar Laptop] and the [Hole in the Wall] are making online learning more practicable than traditional media. Given the problems of transportation in many parts of the world, online learning can be a more economical method of providing education, one with a much greater reach. I cannot stress how important I think this issue is. Children from impoverished backgrounds are often incredibly hungry to learn and they apply themselves with great dedication. Good, accessible online material can make a tremendous difference here.

Quality of Education[edit]

In schools, in home schooling and in poorer economies there is a huge shortfall in both quality materials and in the expertise of educators.

With the success of Wikipedia, there is a tremendous opportunity to become the readily identified focus for quality, free, online educational material.

Besides children benefiting directly from the site, There is the opportunity to help improve the effectiveness of educators, be they teachers or home schoolers. I envisage notes for adults accompanying the childen's pages suggesting activities away from the computer, and explaining the educational aims of the material. Lesson plans and references could be pooled, giving a standard resource for educators.


This is where I think online use comes into its own. Young children learn best by doing, not by being passive recipients. The best educational experiences come from directed and structured schemes that use physical materials - schemes designed for specific educational aims. Interactive web pages can be integrated with such schemes, or they can at least provide the next best thing where such schemes are not practicable. Interactive material can respond to the individual child's actions. A problem at one point can direct the child to remedial material. A child who sails through a section can be directed to more challenging material at an accelerated pace.

Besides all of the above, interaction is fun. It keeps the level of interest and engagement up. Shy or under-confident children do particularly well with programmed learning material, preferring it to the stress of interacting with a teacher (sometimes an impatient teacher). I am not advocating teacher-less education, but I do have some experience with children with developmental disorders. Children who show the symptoms of autistic spectrum disorders when interacting, or rather not interacting with people can suddenly come to life when presented with suitable computer-delivered material. Their joy in their success can then become a bridge to a more social world.

Contributions and Security[edit]

The main advantage I see to a more 'Wiki' like approach is the likelihood of recruiting many more contributors than does the current book-oriented approach. We need greater number and a wider variety of experts. If we can attract a good proportion of educators, they can take contributions from others and help with formatting them and placing them into schemes.

I have seen a couple of suggestions about security. Quarantining material until approved by a group of trusted educators is one. Requiring confirmation of identity before granting editing access is another. One thing is sure, the safety that has come from relative obscurity is not worthwhile. If we cannot reach enough children and we cannot engage enough contributors, then the project is not fulfilling its aims.

Odd Suggestions[edit]

It is better to present material to children in small chunks. The ideal size limit is one screen-full. This means that ideally, the default navigation methods should be reviewed.

For children who are not fluent readers,
it is better to line-break sentences and major phrases,
and use frequent line breaks.

They find it easier to read,
even though is not recommended HTML usage
in adult contexts.

There is a lot of good material for children on the net, but sometimes it is difficult to locate. We should be prepared to promote links to good external sites such as the [BBC] and [Starfall]

I find the 'talk' method of discussing topics rather cumbersome. It seems a bit anarchic, having several pages on a site where different groups of people are discussing the same topic. I think using a decent bulletin board system for discussions would provide much better communication between contributors. Many of them even have voting facilities.

Please feel free to add your comments below.--Barry Desborough 18:27, 19 February 2006 (UTC)

I Agree[edit]

Barry- I agree wholeheartedly with your statements. In my family's own homeschooling endeavors integration of technology is very important. While I am quite active in promoting the type of learning tools you are suggesting in my homeschool community, the truth is they do no exist in a form available to the masses. Teachers, home or classroom, must develop their own plans and search out their own resources, often at a burdensome expense of time and money. I have been working on making affordable options for my own family, but I can picture a community developed wiki type source that would be much more extensive. With the wealth of knowledge wiki contributors could bring, a free wiki "schoolhouse" (not proposing a name, just using a term that would indicate both the child and teacher usability) could bring to k-12 education the kind of high-quality information clearinghouse other Wikimedia projects have brought to adults.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss this more.


Starchildmom 21:18, 29 March 2006 (UTC)

I also agree that Wikijunior should work to produce online version of its books. I think that there are additional key components to making these documents child-friendly. There should be limited substantially limited choices of what to do on each page. On a blank Wikijunior (Wikibooks) page there are 47 links. This is far too many to be a friendly environment for a child. The font used in Wikibooks is simply too small to be easily read by kids. Bright colors are attractive to kids, and serve as a visual code to let kids know that they are in a "kid place". Being able to identify the page as being kid-oriented without reading any content is important. Likewise the use of large pictures and graphics with informative captions are critical to capturing kid's interest.

Wikijunior currently has worthwhile content, but there's also some dreadful writing and egregious errors of fact. It is clear to me that we somehow need to increase the number of interested contributors in order to improve the quality of the content.

The potential for defacement is also of concern with writing for kids and having a two step publishing process would be benficial.

--Xixtas 01:03, 23 September 2006 (UTC)

Sorry to have been unfaithful, but due to the feeling of inertia I get from Wikibooks, I've been trying to work out some ideas at Wikispaces. See Wikids. I'm an 'operational thinker'. I like to work out my ideas in a concrete fashion. I'd love to see Wikimedia take up some of these ideas, so much so that I'd consider putting up as much as the Beck foundation did for their initial grant to Wikibooks. Take a look at what I've done, including my soapbox and see what you think. --Barry Desborough 19:20, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

Well, that's disappointing. I'm sorry you feel that you couldn't work with the community of contributors already in place at Wikijunior. --Xixtas 18:51, 11 February 2007 (UTC)