Wikimedia Conference Netherlands 2007 held on wikis and education

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

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Wikimedians and educators came together at the Wikimedia Netherlands 2007 convention.

Yesterday, a chilly Amsterdam hosted the Wikimedia Conference Netherlands 2007. Held at the Aristo centre in a suburb of the city and run by Wikimedia Netherlands, the conference was a short train ride from Amsterdam Centraal railway station. The topic, Wikis and Education (Wiki's en Educatie in Dutch). This was an opportunity for Wikimedians and people in education to come together and see how collaboration could help both.

Wikinews freelance reporter Brian McNeil caught a train from Brussels in Belgium and attended, making an impression on the Wikimedia Foundation chair, Florence Devouard, by spilling her coffee over the first two speakers approximately three minutes before they were supposed to officially open the conference.

Morning sessions

Kicking off at 10:00 a.m., the opening speaker was Elly Waterman, chair of Wikimedia Netherlands. The introduction was a mixture of Dutch and English, with Elly commenting on how Wikimedia, or more specifically Wikipedia, is gaining increasing coverage in mainstream press. Not all this coverage is positive, one anecdotal case was a town mayor being described as "boring" in the Dutch Wikipedia. Unfortunately, this made headline news in one of the country's papers.

Florence Devouard, chair of the Wikimedia Foundation, speaking at the conference.
Working on his laptop during Mrs Devouard's speech.

Following Elly was the Wikimedia Foundation's chair, Florence Devouard. Her speech was on "The Wiki Potential for Education". One of her slides referred to "Living in exponential times", a sound bite that encapsulates the explosive growth of available information as well as the computing power to sift through and process it. This was a new presentation with a video used a number of times in the past, but as Florence admitted she deviates from the script and rewrites parts a day or two before giving her presentation. At an early stage in her presentation, she pulled up a photo from Wikimania 2007, highlighting a couple of people huddled over laptops and unwilling to leave the virtual world long enough to look into the camera. Following this those with laptops were requested to close them and stand up, the attendees then were told to introduce themselves to each other. Later on, a prolonged period speaking caused Florence's laptop to start up its screensaver, revealing the more human side with pictures of her children, and some of her favourites from Wikimedia Commons.

After a brief recess for coffee, and trips outside for those with a nicotine addiction, the conference split into a number of talks. Cormac Lawler, from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, introduced the Wikimedia Foundation's youngest project, Wikiversity. Cormac, who is writing his PhD thesis on Wikiversity discovered the Wikipedia project about three years ago and was fascinated. He described how Wikiversity was initially incubated within the Wikibooks project and properly launched in August 2006, like Wikinews there is scope for original research, but as was admitted this is not yet clearly defined. Lengthy discussion has taken place within the Wikiversity project, a distillation of that can be found here, in the Research guidelines. In delving further into how Wikiversity may end up working, Cormac highlighted one aspect of online resources which differs from hardcopy. An axiom of all projects is "wiki is not paper", so despite the "versity" suffix that most people will assume means tertiary level material, an online resource can cover everything - right down to how to paint your house.

In parallel with Cormac's talk, the first lightning ten minute talks session was given, speakers included Walter Vermeir who spoke on the topic of Wikimedia Stewards, and Harm Dillen who discussed the competition for MediaWiki, the software used for Wikipedia and its sister projects. Another room held Erwin Kroekenstoel's presentation about the Toolserver, a special server which is used to write software to automate wiki editing and analysis tasks. Erwin's session was shared with Bryan Tong Minh speaking about MediaWiki. An extended session kicked off in room D, a workshop on MediaWiki.

After another coffee break for all but those in the workshop, a set of Dutch-only presentations were given; Creative Commons while in school by Martijn Arnoldus and practical applications of a school wiki by Dries Declercq. Room B saw Inge Habex giving a presentation on Wikibooks, with Walter Vermeir giving a presentation entitled A Wikimedia Community? Conquering Babel, about the difficulties of communication between Wikimedia-communities. There have been some initiatives, like the Wikimedia Embassy and the Wikizine, the success of which, however, has been limited.

Afternoon

Attendees during a coffee break.

Lunch was followed by three sessions running in tandem. A shorter MediaWiki workshop was held again in room D, Merlijn van Deen spoke on pywikipediabot, and the main room held Eliane Metini's talk, "The Global educators' Open course". Eliane is the director of the International Education association, a Lebanese NGO. She is also chair of iEARN (International Education And Resource Network). She discussed at length the challenges of preparing both students and tomorrow's teachers for the 21st century. Bob Hoffman from the Netherlands also spoke briefly, one of Eliane's colleagues on the project. iEARN has been running for 20 years, and is active in 115 countries.

After the last keynote speech by Eliane, the three-track program continued with sessions going more into the education. Presentors from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Radboud University of Nijmegen explained how they used the Wiki in their education as a tool in room A, and in room B the focus was on how Kennisnet, a Dutch NGO focusing on internet in education, is using Wiki's in it's projects, why Kennisnet is so involved with Wiki's and the Wikimedia projects, and WikiKids, a Dutch website where kids write together on an encyclopedia for kids. At the same time, in room C the second session of the Lightning Talks started, including a presentation about Wikinews, Jurispedia, Wikipedia in study books and Wikimedia Commons.

One of the latest sessions was about using the wiki-module in Moodle, presented by Hans de Zwart. Moodle is an open source program to structure learning. It can also use wikis in such a way that students can work on reports or assignments on one or more wikis specially created during and for this course (even per student). OpenUniversity have adopted Moodle for their courses and will add a more suiting wiki (non MediaWiki) as of the 1.9 versions of Moodle. At the same time, in room B, Delphine Ménard was explaining the true meaning of 'free' and Cormac Lawler explained more thoroughly what Wikiversity actually is. In room C Finne Boonen and Kim Bruning explained more about the technical infrastructure behind Wikimedia, and Gerard Meijssen explained what Wikidata is all about in a more technical session.

Finally the conference was ended by a grand discussion, involving all attendees and led by former board member Oscar van Dillen. The discussion was a wrap-up of the whole conference, which was very well visited with roughly 110 visitors from the Wikimedia Communities, the Dutch educational sector and other interested people. This has been a major increase compared with the 2006 conference, which drew 45 attendees. An evaluation will follow soon.


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