A Fedwiki Happening on Teaching Machines Featuring Audrey Watters

So I’m super excited to announce we’ll be doing a Fedwiki Happening on Teaching Machines with Audrey Watters helping to facilitate.

If you don’t know what federated wiki is yet, the short answer is its a form of wiki where everyone has  personal wiki that magically links to other wikis to form a federation. People find the experience of using it difficult to explain, but I personally thought that Alan Levine’s description of it as communal index cards was a good pass at explaining it.

We ran a Happening in December that was structured around “collaborative journaling” but as people in the Happening pointed out, the exciting stuff was cooperative, not collaborative, and journaling didn’t really capture the weird hypertext mind meld that happens when you get deep into federated wiki. While the first Happening was a great success, we’re interested in exploring the form. So we’re offering this Course that’s not a Course with Audrey’s help in March.

A cMOOC Not Based On Stream

Here’s how it will work. You’ll notice a lot of parallels with Wiley’s proto-MOOCs here as well as with Siemens/Downes/Kop cMOOCs and Cormier Rhizo-experiences. The approach is far from revolutionary, but trying it on federated wiki will add some interesting dimensions.

First, we’ll get all of you set up on federated wiki through two waves on onboarding which demonstrate how to use the tool. The first will start Feb 1. and the second will start March 1. I really recommend getting in the February cohort so you can play around with the tool a bit before the Audrey part of the Happening starts.

The way we think the topical part of The Happening is going to work is this. On Day One, Audrey will publish a concept sheet. It’ll look like this (although this is not from the course, it was just made up as an example).


Each one of those links to nothing initially. As participants come through, they pick topics, click the link and write summaries of these subjects. Or (and this is important) they write something else maybe only tangentially related. Maybe something not related. Or they go to other people’s articles and extend them by linking to new articles of their own creation.

Pushing out from the center, creating through association.

Pushing out from the center, creating through association.

Slowly, however, material gets covered. Over the course of three days as you click these links you’ll see articles that others have written. If you like those articles, you can fork them to your site. If you like them, but would like to extend them, you can do that too. You’re also encouraged to link out from the articles and explore other areas of interest not captured in the list. You’re slowly building a personal wiki site on this subject that represents what you believe to be the best possible view of the subject.

At the end of three days we’ll have a Google Hangout on Air, and we’lll use the articles as prompts for a conversation with Audrey. We’ll look at the articles people have written on her suggested subjects (“Audrey, this article says ‘Augmenting Human Intellect’ is sometimes seen as oppositional to AI — can you talk about that?”). But we’ll also talk about the ones that people have contributed on their own (“Is anyone involved with the article on ‘A/B Testing’ in the Hangout or chatroom? Do they want to say a bit about it?”).

Finally, we’ll look for places where there’s some variation in the versions people have written and forked. Is there an interesting disagreement here, or are things just out of sync?

Then it’s another list of articles for Day 4, and we go through this whole cycle again. We do it seven times for a total of 21 days.

What’s New About It

It sounds a lot like David Wiley’s wiki-based Open Education course, obviously. Or any of a number of open wiki courses. Again, it *is* a lot like that.

Where it gets different however, is that it is a cooperative, not a collaborative class. So each participant will be creating their own wiki out of the works of others, a wiki that captures their view of the subject, their connections, their set of interests. (In this way it’s the fusion of the blog-based approach people have been using with wiki culture).

It’s also meant to be highly associative. One thing I’ve learned with federated wiki is that the distributed ownership of the wiki space frees people up to make the sort of connections and extensions of ideas they would be timid about in a shared space. In a normal wiki, you ask forgiveness, not permission. In a federated wiki you ask for neither, and ultimately this benefits everybody, as people edit and supplement material at levels you just don’t see in a standard wiki based class.

Which bring us to this point — outside of learning about teaching machines, you’ll also get to use federated wiki, which is a bit of a mindbender. It’s sort of what the web might have been if it had been built by the people who produced KMS and the creators of GitHub.

Ward Cunningham calls it “A new kind of browser embedded in an old kind of browser.” And that’s what you’ll see if you have the patience to deal with the weirdness of it — not a new kind of website, but a different kind of web, one that looks far more like what Engelbart, Kay, and Nelson might have built.

I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy software to master, and it is more “developer release” than polished product. But any Happening participant who stuck with it more than a few days will tell you that it was well worth the effort to figure out. (In fact, a few of them told me the course and software changed their lives forever, but we’re being modest here).

Audrey Fucking Watters

Oh, and did I mention Audrey Watters will faciliate it?

Audrey and I talked about the structure of the event earlier this week, and what sort of skeleton she was going to build for it. And it ended up sounding even cooler than I thought it was going to.

Here’s the premise. There’s these teaching machines, and then there’s this idea of augmenting human intellect. There’s Artificial Intelligence. There’s machines that work on you, and then there’s machines that work *with* you. There’s Illich’s hammer, convivial tools, Memex, Pressey’s Machine, PLATO, Logo, Scantron sheets, Speak-and-Spell, and the weird question of how a construction company became the world’s largest educational publisher.

There’s this whole mess of things where you start by talking about Thorndike’s desire for adaptive release textbooks and end up talking about the nature of the Google Car. If you’ve seen Audrey talk recently, you realize how fascinating these paths are, like a James-Burke-in-Connections path from Lascaux Caves to the invention of refrigeration.

You could do this learning event as a standard read-reflect-make sort of thing. But I’m interested to see how it develops in the more associative soil of federated wiki. Maybe you just put up the article on Programmed Learning. But slowly that piece of yours is woven into a larger narratives — or actually woven into many competing narratives, with each person bringing their knowledge into the web.

I had you at Audrey Fucking Watters, right? I’ll just stop here.

Signing Up

So it starts March 1. It ends March 21. There’s maybe seven hours of minimum commitment, up to however much time you want to spend.

I have a sign up form. People who sign up will get an orientation to Federated Wiki in early February and be plugged into the event (via a hub-like thing called “Conversation Clubs”) for March.

It’s here.

We are providing servers for your fedwiki for this event, so please sign up soon so we can estimate server needs.

See you in the Happening!

A Note to Previous Happeners

I know the Happening over Christmas was a very special event for many people, and one or two people had reservations about using the Happening name for something like this that is a bit more structured. The Happening was a neat enough moment that we all feel we own it, and we don’t want to dilute it.

I completely get that. So I just want to say that 1) this is an experiment, we can go back at any time to the more self-directed version at any time, and 2) I think that while this sounds structured that federated wiki has a way of blowing a great big hole in anything hierarchical. So I think we’ll all find in the end that this is just as unpredictable, and just as special as the December event.

And if it isn’t, we’ll blow a hole in it ourselves.😉

23 thoughts on “A Fedwiki Happening on Teaching Machines Featuring Audrey Watters

  1. OK, I’ll be able to make this one. I’ve got a fed wiki running on a CuBox on my desk. I’ve got some plugin issues though that I’ll have to sort out. It is here: http://wiki.sielibre.com/view/welcome-visitors

    What I really need though is literally a one page cheat sheet for fed wiki. Like, ideally one I could print on a sheet of paper. But just so ever time I get a different colored halo I don’t end up trying to google what that means again. It seems to me that there is a pretty small number of fed wiki quirks that while ideally would be eliminated by fantastic design innovation, would be helped quite a bit by a cheat sheet.

  2. I’ll be there, and I’ve signed up. For servers: I’ve contributed to the HHOL at mcmorgan.hhol.hapgood.net:3000/ but I’m happy to be served up anywhere.

    I’ll second Tom’s request for a cheat sheet. I’ll join in creating one.

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  6. I’m late this I realize … but wondering if there is still room to sneak in? (The form says there is not but just checking). … Curious about this for work we are doing at CLMOOC and NWP (although I think @dogtrax and @tellio are signed up so that’s good too if there is no more space).

    Sounds lovely btw! Cheers.

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