Monday, October 7, 2013

Wikisym & Wikimania I 2013

education
education (image credit: Sean MacEntee)
Thanks to a generous grant by MW.IL and WMF I was able to attend the 2013 Wikisym/Open Sim 2013 which took place at the Cyberport in Hong Kong. 

I will not be going into details about all the conference session as I and others will be covering it in detail in Wikimedia's research newsletter syndicated in English Wikipedia's signpost as well as on meta. 

Goals

I came to wikisym 2013 to demo some new technology aimed at supporting educators and their students during formative assessments.
Specifically I have developed a number of metrics to assess student activity on wiki. 
Cyberport-cinema
Cyberport-cinema (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I had written a draft of a paper covering the subject, but since I am more of a developer  than an educator, I was somewhat at a loss to complete the paper before wikisym. My plan was in essence to:
  1. Reach out and locate other researchers and professors involved in this domain. 
  2. Get feedback on the methodology.
  3. Get feedback on the tool.
  4. Create an ongoing connection with a group of involved individuals.

Outcomes:

I was not disappointed since I would meet at least two other such researchers at wikisym, one of whom presented a paper covering a similar area as well as results from courses in the last year. Other academics I talked to were interested in this type of activity in the coming year.

The paper titled "Empowering formative assessment using embedded Web Widgets in Wikis" by Michele Notari, Sonja Schär, Martin Schellenberg and Samuel Kai Wah Chu was the most interesting session for me at wikisym.

I found a number if like-minded professors at wikisym who provided invaluable advice on further work and which whom I hope to collaborate. I will provide more on this area in the future however I would like to focus a bit more on what the conference was about. 

A number of insights were immediately made apparent. Newbie Students find Mediawiki talk page entirely unsatisfactory when it comes to collaboration on articles. Teachers are very much interested in using metrics to drive self study and it appears that this is a powerful tool for increasing engagement. A third insight was that thit use of metrics is an enabler for using gamification techniques.

Although this year's conference was less focused on CSCW research there were a number of interesting papers delivered. I was able to chat with some researchers about expanding my previous research and I noticed that some application of my game theoretic work on the Gender Gap might be just as well be applied to study behavior in open source communities.

The Education Pre-Conference 

Wikimania had a pre-conference day and I attended a part of this session. At the pre-conference, I met a large number of educators. I learned that the decision makers at the WMF are not inclined to support participation on other software such as LMS. The prevailing view seems to be more about building a LMS on top of MediaWiki. 

This is a disappointment since Moodle currently provides a mature and proven and established framework with a far larger user base than MediaWiki. Mediawiki has some LMS elements but it lacks almost all the features that would make it a success. While this is not an issue with my design it does suggest a change in focus for further work.

Since I was possibly one of two user interested in the Technological aspects of education I did not have an opportunity to discuss my ideas. The version of wikimetrics demoed at the sessions at wikimania were rather inadequate for use by students and by most teachers.

After the education pre-conference, I had the opportunity to attend a social event with a many of the participants. I decided that we should keep in touch and have setup a think tank for Wikipedia based educators on Facebook.

More on the Wikisym Conference

Since the conference took place in Hong Kong there was a significantly different turnout from last year. There were few European researcher and instead there were more researchers and participants from China and Japan. A second change was that the conference included open sum which was dedicated to research on free and open source software. Yet another innovation was  A new track dedicated to GLAM outreach. Which is a relatively new phenomenon and has not been noticed much by the research community.  While wikisym is not a very difficult conference to get accepted to it provides a highly collegial environment to participants who are glad to collaborate and participate on further work.  papers presented at more prestigious conferences may be closer to journal level but at wikisym it is possible to get excellent feedback on work in progress from some of the brightest minds in the world. Finally, it is quite common to see papers newspapers from wikisym citing papers from previous years which indicate that this is a highly collaborative academic environment.

Wikisym is partly sponsored by Mediawiki foundation, and it was no surprise that Dario Terribaldi, the head of Wikimedia's research was present. Open research could be considered as the main theme of to speak about open research. While a bit difficult to characterize it can be roughly described as doing research in a Wikipedia-like environment. However academia and Wikipedia even while operating on the same goals have diametrically diverging ways of expediting them and so it will require some time until the conservative participants of academia will break free from their venerated traditions which are increasingly seen as holding back research.

 A more precise definition of open research is:
  1. publishing in open access publications, 
  2. providing all other scientists access to data sets used in the work and 
  3. releasing software developed by Research Groups  as open source software. 
Each of these presents the breaching of an economical barrier to better research and to further collaboration. The first the breaching of the model of the academic journal run by a for profit company using volunteer academical workforce (peer reviewers and editors). 

The second is about resistance to the pay-walled gardens of academical consortia which limit access to datasets or which act as economical to gatekeepers to worked done by other researchers. These approaches made sense when the labor intensive work of data set creation was labour intensive and there was no access to crowdsourcing and wiki technology, but today the only reason for maintaining these is shortsighted greed. 

Finally, releasing research software projects  has a different economic dimension. Most researchers are less interested in proprietary applications and more interested in standing on the shoulders of giants. It is easy to see that short-term research efforts cannot be expected to create high-quality scientific software but collaborative projects like the R programming language  create an ecology in which even small projects can find a critical mass of collaborators to maintain and improve this type of work.

Therefore, I feel that I will support Dario Taraborelli and the WMF in their quest to champion this new breed of Research which should make research more rigorous, cheaper, faster and more social at no added cost to academia.

I'll be doing so on this blog - by posting more information on how I do research and I hope to be able to publish my result in open access publications. However despite increased openness the current trend is that many of these new publications charge an unduly high fee. This type of economic apartheid reinforces systemic bias which will certainly become issues in this new era of the open.

See also:

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