The Guy Fawkes experiment

Most teachers regularly write resources for their classes, but very few make the leap unaided to producing resources that colleagues in other schools will use. The difference is that, with a resource you wrote yourself, you completely understand the original intention and can teach over the gaps where the resource fails to deliver.

Traditionally, this is great news for us educational publishers. Our job is to take your ideas, format them, edit them and stress-test them until they are next to bomb-proof.

I say ‘traditionally’, because since the advent of Wikipedia, there is a new, more democratic model: online collaborative authoring. Anyone is free to write a Wikipedia article, and anyone is free to edit it, too. This anarchistic arrangement has proven hugely successful in building the world’s largest encyclopedia by a factor of ten. What’s more, according to recent research published in Nature, the quality is the same as the very professionally published Encyclopaedia Britannica.

What happens if we try to apply the Wikipedia model to educational content? My first brush with this idea came when my old friend Steve Margetts asked Chalkface to support his new project Wikitextbook. That’s still ongoing and reasonably, but not hugely, successful.

The next step is to apply the model to assessment content, always the hardest to write. This is where Guy Fawkes comes in. I took the opportunity of the upcoming festival to launch a collaborative authoring experiment inside Yacapaca. In fact there are two, the other is for Halloween.

Here is how it works. About a week ago, we created two author groups – online clubs where you can come and create questions, edit and improve existing questions or compile your own tests from them. I wrote to some of our teacher-members, and invited them to join, and to contribute just one question. So far, we have 52 questions from 69 teachers.

Now comes the acid test. I have asked those same teachers to come and edit each others’ questions. The questions certainly need it; many of the authors are novices writing their first Yacapaca questions. The ideas are great, but there is plenty of scope for improvement.

But… will teachers be willing to edit each others’ work, even with the reassurance that we have Wikipedia-style question histories, and can easily roll back inappropriate edits? If so, we shall have demonstrated that real online collaborative editing is possible in education. And if not, then perhaps there is still a role for us publishers after all.

I will update you as the experiment progresses.


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One response to “The Guy Fawkes experiment”

  1. Update: getting teachers to edit each others’ work proved more difficult, and we had to do that bit ourselves in the end. I wonder if collaborative editing will work better once the author group members know each other. The end result was pretty spectacular and hugely popular, so overall the project was a success.

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