A while back, I noted with some interest Michael Korcuska's screencast showing off a prototype of some functionality planned for Sakai 3. Some recent related conversation has come up on the Sakai listservs regarding the possibility of including wiki-like capabilities as core functionality of Sakai 3 and how this might overlap with and complement the capabilities in the screencast. I will argue here that, if combined carefully and enhanced with one more idea that has been floating around for Sakai 3, we end up with something quite new and interesting in the world of learning environments. I propose calling this new and interesting something a "Wiki'ed Learning Environment", or WeLE.
If you viewed the screencast (and you should, if you haven't), there were a number of salient features to what is probably mistakenly labeled as "content authoring" in Sakai:
- Every course site (or collaboration site) is a collection of pages.
- Every page is editable.
- Most are editable in a rich text editor, while some special page types are editable in a My Yahoo! or iGoogle drag-and-drop portal sort of way.
- Both text and functionality can be added, and mixed, in either page type.
- Functionality added (as gadgets/widgets) can be either Sakai-internal (e.g., a discussion thread or poll) or external (e.g., a Google map or YouTube video).
- Pages of both portal and free-form types can be created and organized in a hierarchical menu by instructors.
- It is easy to link to content or functionality on any existing page from any new page.
- Only people with the appropriate roles and permissions may edit a course page.
- Hypertext pages may be collaboratively authored and edited.
- It's easy to create a link from one page to another. (This includes finding the page that you're looking to link to with minimal fuss.)
- Pages are versioned and may be rolled back to previous versions.
- Permissions let some people edit and give others read-only access.
What's interesting here is that the first list of capablities has every capability from the second list save one---versioning and rollback. (They may also have to tweak permissions to make it easy to add students as editors.) When these two capability sets are combined, you get a collaboratively authored learning environment. Not only the content but the learning space itself is negotiable by the group.
Let's add one last capability to the mix here and see what happens. One of the Sakai 3 design goals has been more flexible access permissions, including the ability to expose content to the wider world beyond the walled garden of the university login. There are several reasons for this goal, one of which is to foster the development of open education. If we have a learning environment in which the content, functionality, and navigation can all be collectively created and edited by participants, including anonymous participants when appropriate, and which can be collectively managed by the mechanism of versioning with rollback, we have what I believe is a new beast. It's a WeLE. The course experience is owned by the participants. Naturally, if you have flexible permissions, you can create a spectrum of ownership alternatives ranging from the traditional to the radically open and communal, based on the particular needs and goals of the course. This is very much what I had in mind when I wrote about an education-inflected architecture, argued that learning processes should be wiki'ed, and argued that JotSpot was a good example of habitable software that we should emulate in the educational technology world (going all the way back to October 2004).
In other words, I think we're finally getting somewhere.
Let me add one last thought on language. If we end up with such radically tinkerable learning spaces, then I think we have to re-orienting our thinking about what *LE terms refer to. I'm thinking of a WeLE as an individual learning space for a single cohort of students in a single class. Similarly, a PLE (MeLE?) is an environment for one individual. Neither of these terms has to carry the architectural baggage of VLE, which is now interchangeable with the LMS/CMS, a monolithic architecture that implies mostly cookie-cutter learning spaces. There could be many WeLE's (and possibly many MeLE's) running on top of one Learning Management Operating System (LMOS) or, if you prefer Michael Korcuska's term, Academic Work Operating System (AWOS).
Update: It wouldn't be fair of me to post this without tipping my hat to Bodington, that quirky, crazy-clever, and relatively unknown LMS that antipated many elements of the WeLE.