Pages: pp. 327-339
Abstract—This study was conducted to better understand Wikibookian apprenticeship and identity as well as the environment or community they operate in. Our initial study explored the basic demographics, purpose and goals, ownership, collaborative work experiences, successes and failures, and advantages and disadvantages of wikibooks. Those initial results revealed interesting issues related to the Wikibookian community and practices within the Wikibooks website. The survey data of this second of a two-part study suggested that while there is a unique sense of community among Wikibookians, most members work independently and without direct guidance or apprenticeship from other more experienced Wikibookians. We conclude that Wikibooks is not a social-networking site where people share profile pictures and make friends. Nevertheless, many Wikibookians do not have difficulties in communicating with other Wikibookians or in contributing to Wikibooks. In addition, this is an open educational environment where sharing knowledge is the primary goal.
Index Terms—Computers and education, computers and society, internet applications.
As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, technology is increasingly pervasive and ubiquitous. This pervasiveness is especially true for technology that provides new opportunities for learning. As life spans expand and technology provides a plethora of opportunities to learn, human beings will be required to learn in each decade of existence. Historical accounts of the 21st century might, in fact, refer to it as a time of intense and informal learning and educational adventure. Wikis, mobile devices, social networking tools, blogs, and other technologies surround us with massive information banks that are seemingly present whenever desired. Around the globe, people are clamoring for greater access to technology that will help them learn. Some technology systems and tools find their way into formal learning situations whereas other kinds of technology are more noticeable in informal ones. As this occurs, the boundaries between formal and informal learning become increasingly fuzzy.
There is now a seemingly inexhaustible set of research questions. Among the open issues is how the users of each of these technologies find out about it and are supported to use them and extend such uses. How are online communities of learners formed? Is there some type of apprenticeship process or support structure? Does one get a sense of identity when using Web 2.0 technology? Additional insight and guidance in any of these areas would be significant.
Some questions relate to the type of learning situations or events that the technology supports. For instance, are there tool functions or features that might be needed in educational environments that are not as vital in business, government, or personal settings? What is necessary for repeat use of the technology? Are there levels of technology use within educational environments that, if better understood, would foster greater adaption and more successful student learning? As should be clear, there are scores of other questions that need to be asked.
Adding to the open issues is the continued growth of personal and professional use of the Internet. Home broadband adoption for adult Americans was 63 percent as of April 2009; an increase from 55 percent a year before. Most noticeable in this data was that the most significant growth took place among adults ages 65 or older, people with low incomes, and high school graduates [ 1]. Fifty-four percent of American Internet users have a wireless connection to the Internet via a laptop, cell phone, game console, or other mobile device [ 2]. The most dominant activity among American teens owning a cell phone is sending text messages [ 3]. In addition to text messaging, 19 percent of Americans utilized Twitter or some other status-update service [ 4].
The advancement, spread, and adoption of technology has altered how teaching and learning are viewed. As contemporary learning design has changed, instructors across all educational sectors are experimenting with new forms of teaching with less time devoted to lecture-based instruction and more learner interaction, problem- and product-based learning, and person-to-person collaboration. At the same time, the standard curriculum has migrated from books and teacher-centered instruction to an increasingly personalized and learner-centered curriculum that changes with student input of knowledge generation. In such an environment, digital resources such as open access journals, podcasts, wikibooks, and e-books are playing an increasing role in learning. With this open access to learning technology and associated curriculum resources, the location of where learning takes place has been dramatically transformed from schoolhouse to anywhere a learner happens to be located. Interactions among the learning participants have splintered into many formats. Not long ago, the predominant interactions were in the form of questions from students and answers from the instructor or vice versa. Today, there is greater reliance on self-directed exploration, teamwork, and expert or practitioner feedback.
With this change in educational culture, the aim for learning has transformed from learning survival to acquiring lifelong learning skills. And the learning goals or outcomes deemed important have also changed from memorization skills and factual knowledge to the adaption and growth of the individual [ 5]. Problem finding, decision making, critical judgment, and knowledge synthesis and integration are among the key skills sought.
Clearly there are categorical differences between what is labeled the Web 1.0 and the Web 2.0. For instance, first-generation websites were mainly for presenting information. They were also controlled by a few who knew how to program in HTML. Conceptually, Web 1.0 technology represented a classic perspective of authenticated content and a knowledge transmission model in use for millennia [ 6]. In effect, someone else would program or design educational resources for others. The Web 2.0, on the contrary, is often regarded as the participatory, contributory, or social Web where we transform user identity from pure consumer to knowledge producer. With the Web 2.0, collaboration, knowledge generation, content and resource sharing, and information abundance are the norms.
According to a national school board association report [ 7], students' social networking activities actually involved school-related works. For example, 60 percent reported using social network sites to discuss education topics and about half reported discussing specific homework. With such emphasis on learning with technology, there is much excitement and passion in schools as well as a simultaneously heightened degree of frustration, challenges, and complaints from those lacking the tools, training, and experiences to adequately integrate it all. Simply put, the world of education is currently in a state of extreme flux. As with other such situations, immense opportunities for change exist during these times of initial wiki use and continued improvement and change.
As users gain more control over technology, their learning environment, and their learning, it is not too surprising that they also want to have more control over the tools and materials that guide their learning [ 8]. A prime example is the rise of the digital textbook which holds the promise to provide timely, up-to-date information in digital format that is expressed in text, graphics, videos, and many other delivery formats. In addition to significant cost savings and enhanced portability, digital textbooks offer users the ability to make instant searches of content, highlight text, and make real-time annotations, along with providing built-in dictionaries, thesauruses, and other reading and writing support tools. Many major publishers now offer titles in electronic form, often at half the price of their paper counterparts [ 9]. With such e-book enhancements, students can bring dozens of books and other digital documents to every class. However, these books purchased through publishers usually cannot be resold and may not be available across the various current e-book readers. In addition, most e-book readers at the present time lack multimedia capabilities such as the audio or video book enhancements that include integrated video, animations, and simulations—highly desirable features for an e-book reader.
The Democratic Leadership Council was one of the reform groups pushing for e-textbooks in schools [ 10]. At first glance, it seems reasonable that e-textbooks can save schools money. However, after the council made careful calculations that included the costs of e-textbook reader hardware and software updates, the replacement cost of a lost reader, and the current lack of multimedia capabilities and interactive functions such as quizzes, this reform effort stalled. To make matters worse, not all titles are available in digital form, even though millions of books are. Despite such impressive amounts of e-books at one's fingertips, concerns about accessibility issues have continued to surface. Young [ 9], in fact, argued that digital textbooks probably will be just another option rather than a complete replacement of the printed textbook. Coincidentally, Student Public Research Group found that 75 percent of students still prefer a printed textbook over an e-book [ 10].
In spite of potential problems, California initiated the nation's first open-source digital textbook program in fall 2009, calling it a cost-savings measure [ 11]. This announcement was not surprising, given that California started an open-source textbook project back in 2002 that aimed to produce a history textbook on a wiki platform. Unfortunately, at the present time, the textbook remains unfinished. It is likely, however, that California's new initiative gave this concept a boost, as several for profit and nonprofit organizations have responded. In early fall 2009, California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) released a review of the books submitted. Books were reviewed for their alignment to California's curriculum standards. Impressively, many books were closely aligned with California curriculum standards. Unfortunately, however, most books in this project were authored by a single author or very few collaborators, a reality far from the spirit of open source or the practices seen in other wiki initiatives such as the highly popular Wikipedia. Ironically, Curriki, a nonprofit organization established to create wiki-based textbooks for schools, and the closest project to Wikibooks or open source in terms of how the content would be created, was among the lowest scoring based on the CLRN review. Adding to the mix of quality concerns is the lack of funding to purchase laptops for teachers and students, which would be necessary to access these digital textbooks [ 12].
There are many free textbook projects going on, ranging from the Connexions project which was started in 1999 by Dr. Richard Baraniuk and others at Rice University in Houston, Texas to the more recent wikibook initiatives from Flat World Knowledge. Calling it the Napster for education, the creator of the Connexions project, Dr. Baraniuk, envisioned a system where educators can create, remix, and reproduce materials without the worry of violating copyrights. With a click of a button, you can even get a custom print version of materials of your choice. Connexions feedback gathered from faculty and students revealed that users like the ability to access content anywhere. However, students wanted more interactivity, citing features such as problem sets, simulations, and practice quizzes as desirable [ 13]. More recently, Flat World Knowledge began recruiting leading world experts on different academic subject areas to write online textbooks, which they claim will be thoroughly reviewed, edited, and made available freely online. This is not a totally free model. Users only get free access to the online text material; they must pay for PDF versions of the book as well as physical copies. In addition, they can optionally purchase supplemental materials such as problem exercises and study guides for a fee.
The use of wikis is exploding in education. One type of wiki application is the creation of online books. Such Web 2.0 tools and resources are part of an emerging culture of sharing knowledge and allowing learners to participate in their own learning as well as to influence the learning of others. Wikibooks circumvent the expensive textbooks of the publishing industry. On the one hand, projects such as Connexions and Flat World Knowledge are mostly created by educators who envision a world where knowledge is freely shared online. On the other hand, Wikibooks offer a different, grassroots approach to writing free textbooks. Several categories are available on the Wikibooks website in which Wikibookians can put their books up on the shelves, such as natural sciences (e.g., biology, health sciences, physical sciences), social sciences (e.g., anthropology, education, geography, law, linguistics), computing (e.g., hardware, networking, computer programming, open source), humanities (e.g., fine arts, history, languages, religion), and special groups (e.g., cookbooks, parenting, genealogy, miscellaneous). Specifically, while Connexions and Flat World Knowledge are offering expert-created or educator-created online textbooks, Wikibooks propose a different genre of textbooks written by volunteers. In the era of user-generated content, Wikibooks seem to be a perfect space for presenting purely open and free online textbooks.
As of July 2010, there were more than 2,400 online books at the Wikibooks website. These books were in various stages of completion. Exploring the site, one can find books on such topics as “History of Computers/Pursuit of Computation,” which is pictorially interesting but still highly incomplete. A book in the Humanities section entitled “ A Survey of Modern European History” is much more rich and certainly seems potentially useable for history classes that address topics such as Europe in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment, World War I, World War II, etc. In fact, this book is featured on the Wikibooks “book shelf” as an example of a high quality e-book. Other featured works in the Humanities section include ones on the guitar, rhetoric and composition, a Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter, and New Zealand history. The Social Science section has featured books with titles such as “ Blended Learning in K-12 Education,” “ Learning Theories,” “ Communication Theory,” and “ Stuttering.” In terms of the latter book, one can access this book to help understand the neurology, genetics, and physiology of stuttering, learn about famous people who stutter, and many other aspects of the field of stuttering. There are also miscellaneous books that have been started but are far from complete on body piercing, Star Trek Starships, hemp products, parenting, and how to be a good camp counselor. Clearly, there is a wide assortment of books at the Wikibooks website. Unfortunately, the vast majority remain incomplete at best.
Indexing what is there is also a problem. Some books are found in more than one category and often where they are placed does not make logical sense. And many books remain unindexed. The authors of this paper, in fact, have been involved in the creation of two books with their students using the Wikibooks sites, “ The Practice of Learning Theories” and “ Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies.” Neither of these books are indexed at the time of this writing despite being created nearly three years ago. As will be discussed in this paper, our research points to many challenges as well as successes related to the development and use of wikibooks in education.
The use of the wiki as a teaching tool provides a collaborative and constructive learning environment, even though its use goes beyond just traditional class writing assignments. For example, project management, collaborative progress reports, and the development of client documents all could use a wiki [ 14]. However, wikis are increasingly popular in formal educational settings. Part of the reason for their popularity is that wikis enable learners to collaboratively create, edit, negotiate, communicate, and synthesize subject knowledge in a shared and open space. With such characteristics, they align well with learner-centered and constructivist views of education. West and West [ 15] charted the necessary skills and behaviors of a typical participant in a wiki collaboration project. A collaborator should be open and self-organized, as well as displaying a high level of personal integrity. In working in such a quick online writing environment, a wiki user should also possess the skills of writing, editing, group interaction, and assorted Web-related skills. These are the higher order and critical thinking skills necessary for students to acquire and thrive in the 21st century.
Current educational attention on wikibooks mainly focuses on in-class, collaborative writing of wikibooks. For instance, Richardson's [ 16] popular book on podcasts, wikis, blogs, and other learning technologies provides a few examples of K-12 classroom wiki projects with subjects ranging from reading to math to economics. Teachers of elementary children use wikis to communicate with both parents and students, as well as to allow students to construct knowledge and engage in international collaboration projects [ 17]. The motivations for using wikis in an elementary classroom were diverse, including sharing resources and ideas with other people, providing a space for students to display their work, communicating with parents, and promoting learning communities. In this study, wikis were seen as a way to promote collaborative, customized, and learner-centered instruction.
Most peer-reviewed published research focuses on wiki use in higher education. For example, from the spring of 2006 to the fall of 2008, our research team conducted a series of research studies on cross-institutional, multinational collaborations involving student critiquing, modifying, and writing of wikibooks [ 18]. While students seemed appreciative of their new learning experiences within wikibooks, and instructional strategies were modified to support and hopefully enhance the wiki-writing process, experiences of the members of this research team also indicated that implementing wiki-based collaboration within a classroom setting during an academic semester presented many challenges to both the students and their instructors. For example, coordinating schedules, interactive events, and assessment techniques across all parties proved extremely difficult. In addition, language issues surfaced as a barrier to participation. Equally problematic, though not unexpected, a sense of a collaborative community did not emerge within a semester. Concerns about owing credits for their contributions, lacking adequate wiki skills, someone else editing or changing one's work, and the seemingly simple task of picking a topic were among many other tensions discovered in this series of studies.
Many of these findings were consistent with those of Wheeler and colleagues in their studies that evaluate classroom-based wiki projects [ 19], [ 20]. They have pointed out some of the same challenges in trying to implement wikis in a formal educational setting, such as the stress some learners feel at the beginning of such a task about their lack of required technical skills, students' desire to protect their own ideas despite the open and sharing nature of a wiki, and students ignoring and not reading others' contributions while overly focusing on or monitoring their own pages. Similarly, Cole's [ 21] action research, also based on classroom implementation, revealed students' reluctance to publish Web-based writing for peer review. The anxiety about publishing work in progress was echoed in the current study as well. On top of that, Cole found that altruism, usually regarded as a typical motivation for the Wikibooks community, did not arise within an academic class. Nevertheless, at least one classroom-based Wikibooks project has found that using Wikibooks could create an empowering environment while promoting collaboration, decision making, and self-reflection [ 22].
A review of recent literature provided many commonly reported challenges and advantages of classroom-based uses of wikis. For example, in various studies, students gained heightened awareness of the perceived larger audience of their work. That heightened awareness fostered student motivation to participate and produce higher quality work [ 19], [ 20], [ 23]. Many researchers reported the need for technology training at the beginning to properly scaffold student work for later project success [ 20], [ 24], [ 25].
Some studies have revealed that students preferred an integrated learning environment and found it difficult to monitor the various sites needed to complete their wiki assignments [ 26]. Similarly, when class size increases, students find it difficult to keep an up-to-date view of all the edits their peers have made [ 25]. At the same time, a wiki can foster group collaboration, sharing, and project monitoring. Chou and Chen [ 27], for instance, reported a collaborative programming project where students used wiki as a project management repository. The ability for each group to see the updated features of their peer group's program created a competitive learning environment. Consequently, each team attempted to add features seen on other teams' programs and constantly improved its own program to include new features. In this case, the competitive spirit facilitated higher quality programming.
Above all, however, the most critical elements of a successful classroom-based wiki project lie in careful and intentional curriculum design. O'Shea et al. [ 28] provided the most comprehensive and interesting example of a great wiki project. Students in their classes wrote their own textbook in the first four weeks of the semester. Then each week, students read one of several versions of a particular chapter written by their peers in the class and voted for the version that they felt had the highest quality according to criteria established by their instructors. In other words, O'Shea et al. intentionally designed a process where the creation, edition, and reviewing were integral parts of the class. As they pointed out, if the goal is for students to learn from one another through collaborative writing and editing, then there is a need to design such ideas into the wiki activity or project.
Although there is an abundance of research related to wiki use in academic settings, as demonstrated above, there is scant research on the actual Wikibooks community (i.e., Wikibookians). What seems clear is that there is a marked distinction between using wikis in schools and university settings and the participation in a more open or general community wiki project [ 29]. More information is needed on how Wikibookians work and how they collaborate, if and how they face different or similar challenges, and what and how they experience in the process of creating a book in the open learning community. Therefore, the current study attempts to expand existing knowledge on the inner workings of this grassroots community.
In the late 1990s, Wenger [ 30] popularized learning theory related to communities of practice (CoP). From this view of learning, it is the social dimension of human existence that is vital in acknowledging, disseminating, indexing, and debating ideas. Participants in a CoP create unique forms of interaction and innovative ideas. According to Wenger [ 31], a high functioning CoP results from the formation of groups of people with like interests, experiences, and expectations. These individuals often share a passion or concern about a topic area or issue. Through the CoP, they are able to deepen their knowledge, expand their expertise in an area, and form new human bonds with others engaged in the same process.
At its core, a CoP is a self-organized informal learning system with three distinct characteristics: 1) mutual engagement, 2) a joint enterprise, and 3) a shared repertoire [ 30]. First, mutual engagement indicates that what constitutes a community involves people and interactions engaged in a common endeavor or experience. Second, a joint enterprise refers to the fact that CoP members participate in joint activities in achieving community goals. The third characteristic of a CoP, a shared repertoire, relates to the practice, the domain, and the knowledge that the members bring into and practice within the community. A feature of a CoP that is of particular interest to the current study is “legitimate peripheral participation” [ 32]. The term was used in Lave and Wenger's work as a process for newcomers to become included in a CoP. In accordance with recent learning theories emphasizing the importance of collaboration, interaction, and discussion in learning, Wenger's CoP seems appropriate as a lens through which to explore the community of Wikibookians.
Since the publication of Wenger's seminal work, there has been extensive scholarly research devoted to undercovering the principles and components of effective online communities. For example, Barab et al. [ 33] edited book “ Designing for virtual communities in the service of learning” focuses on design issues in various teacher professional development communities. Palloff and Pratt's [ 34] book “ Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom, ” centers on providing guidelines for online instructors. In addition, Reisman at al. [ 35] book “ Electronic learning communities: Issues and practices” speaks from an institutional as well as a course developer's perspective. As Web technologies continue to explode, especially those related to online collaboration and social networking, so, too, have the issues, questions, and concerns related to the development and functioning of CoPs.
An interesting part of this trend concerns learner participation with others around the globe in the Web 2.0. One such Web tool for learner participation and collaboration is the wikibook. A testament to the popularity of wikibooks is the popular website created by the Wikimedia Foundation called “Wikibooks.” The Wikibooks website is an independent institution-free online community where much is still unknown. In fact, the sudden emergence of wikibooks, while having the potential to showcase how an academic CoP is created and maintained, is severely lacking in research.
As indicated, since Wenger's landmark book, there have myriad studies related to various aspects of communities of practice. For example, some have explored how students learn through a case-study method [ 36], whereas others want to uncover how teachers practice critical reflection [ 37]. Still others focus on how an academic department faculty improved teaching quality in a collaborative project [ 38], how a apprenticeship-styled workshop can provide legitimate practice for science teachers [ 39], and the importance of a community for high school students' self-making and music making [ 40]. A few wiki-related articles also have adapted the CoP framework, such as Sheehy's [ 41] work on how a wiki can be applied in a community of practicing teachers for K-12 education and Kilham's [ 42] work on teachers' collaboration on a wiki to create and share autism constructs. For informal communities, Lee et al.'s work [ 43], based on the theory of CoP, provides a special account of a global volunteer community to translate open educational contents.
Far too much educational research is a single study to explore some variable of interest. While much of it leads to new insights and suggestions for future research, many researchers curtail their research in an area after just an initial study. This is highly problematic for policy makers, educators, and researchers who desire solid conclusions about the topic of interest. In response, the research described here is a direct follow-up to a previous study. This present study is a purposeful investigation deeper into issues related to wikibooks and Wikibookians that were not addressed in our earlier work.
In the previous study [ 44], the statuses, successes, satisfactions, and sociocultural experiences of Wikibookians were explored. The results revealed that the Wikibooks environment is dominated by fairly young males with various educational backgrounds. Therefore, in this study, additional members of the Wikibooks community were surveyed in part to verify the research findings from the earlier research about the basic demographic information of Wikibookians.
In the previous study, it was also discovered that many Wikibookians were satisfied with their work and perceived their work as successful. At the same time, some of them admitted having been frustrated with the Wikibooks environment. In addition, data from that initial study revealed that Wikibookians had to assume multiple roles to help with wikibook completion, while multiple participants were involved in the process of wikibook development. Based on these findings, an attempt was made to further explicate the characteristics of the Wikibooks environment and a general sense of the Wikibookian community. The goal was to explore the Wikibooks community in terms of how Wikibookians view themselves as well as how they learned and started working in this community. Part of our interests concerned whether they received any support or apprenticeship when in the Wikibooks environment, what and how they contributed to this community, and how and if language played a role in their communication and interaction with others. The research lens, therefore, targeted issues of community, identity, apprenticeship, communication, interaction, and the contributory nature of wikibooks. As demonstrated in this document, the numbering for sections upper case Arabic numerals, then upper case Arabic numerals, separated by periods. Initial paragraphs after the section title are not indented. Only the initial, introductory paragraph has a drop cap.
As with our previous research, the respondents in the present study were those who had already developed, edited, or contributed to a wikibook (i.e., Wikibookians). We created a closed-ended survey using a Web-based survey tool called SurveyShare, as well as a set of open-ended e-mail interview questions for follow up (the open-ended e-mail interview responses are not reported in this paper). In the previous study, there were 80 survey respondents. To increase the scope of this follow-up study, the research team requested and received survey sponsorship from the Wikimedia Foundation. The Wikimedia Foundation drafted a letter introducing the present study. This letter was posted at the beginning of the Web-based survey to encourage participation. That approach paid dividends as there were more than twice as many survey respondents in the second study.
Moreover, in this study, the focus was placed on respondents who had actually participated or contributed to a wikibook at least once, rather than those who simply have an active status on the Wikibook website. Therefore, instead of finding respondents from the list of users as we did in our initial research, we acquired survey respondents from a list of all wikibooks on the Wikibooks website. Determining wiki-related activity is relatively straightforward. In each wikibook, there is a history page containing information about contributors as well as the date and time of their contributions. As with any wiki, there is also the capability of accessing all versions of changes. Each contributor's user page was accessed and sent an e-mail through the “e-mail user” function, which is one of the functions provided by the Wikibooks website. In total, around 1,900 e-mails were sent out from that list, from which 167 valid responses were received.
As with any survey study, some items were of more importance than others. One of the more interesting items was Question 10. In this question, we asked the participants “What are three (3) words you would use to describe Wikibooks or the Wikibooks website to someone else?” Among 167 valid responses, most entered three words as requested, while 16 participants supplied only one word and 15 participants provided only two words. In total, there were 454 words (or phrases or even sentences in some cases) to analyze. Categorization of words was performed by the first author independently and then reviewed and modified by another member of the team. Open coding was first performed to label emerging concepts, and axial coding followed to relate concepts to themes [ 45]. Final categorizations were agreed upon by consensus. The goal was intercoder agreement of 85 percent or higher. The actual intercoder agreement in this study was higher than 90 percent.
Table 1 shows the breakdown of the axial codes, and each of its open codes and counts. There were 16 instances where it was not possible to positively identify the intended meaning of the participants. For example, words such as “experience,” “project,” “specific,” or “full” were put into a special category called “unknown.” Similarly, there were 29 and 148 cases of what were labeled the “negative” and “positive” categories, respectively. In these cases, the words did not belong to any axial codes, yet we were able to minimally identify them as a positive or negative word. For example, “disorganized,” “fragmented,” and “unfocused” were in the negative category while “creative,” “fun,” necessary,” and “amazing” were put into the positive category. Of the 148 words in the positive category, some of them were further grouped into clear subcodes, as displayed in Table 1.
Aside from the “unknown,” (16 or 4 percent), “negative,” (29 or 6 percent) and “positive,” (148 or 33 percent), the remaining words were put into five emerging themes:
What is clear from this data is that a wikibook is a tool that users view as having the possibility for collaboration and community. It can be a textbook rich in free and open information. And that information is useful, editable, and comprehensive.
The generalizability of the findings presented below should be treated with caution given the 9 percent response rate in this study as well as the use of self-reported data.
Our last survey research showed that 58 percent of the participants were younger than 26 years old [ 44]. In the current research, our participants remained young. However, the age distributions were more varied in the current research, with 43 percent under 26 years old, 20 percent between 26 and 35, 25 percent between 36 and 50, and 13 percent above 50 years old. People age 18 to 25 were the largest group in this study and people under 18 were the smallest group with only 8 percent. It is interesting to note there were a fair number of participants in the above fifty age group with 13 percent or 21 participants in that category. While there was a fair representation of all age groups, our participants were mostly males (89 percent), which is a trend that was discovered in our previous research. This male domination of user-generated content sites such as Wikipedia and Wikibooks continued in the present research project.
Educationally, many of this study's participants lacked a college education (27 percent). While the previous study found that over half of respondents lacked a four year college degree, the percentage without a degree in this study was only 37 percent, which is not too surprising given the relatively young average age of Wikibookians. The findings also revealed that 21 percent of respondents had a master's and 15 percent of them had a doctoral degree.
In terms of the educational backgrounds of Wikibookians, when comparing our two studies, two findings in the current study indicated that the Wikibooks website is attracting people who have more extensive educational backgrounds. First, there was smaller percentage of respondents in the present study with less than a two year college degree. At the same time, there was higher percentage of respondents with more than a college degree. Table 2 details the comparison. It is possible that there were more respondents in the current study, which led us to more accurate information and a clearer picture of the actual Wikibooks community. However, the people who had contributed to at least one wikibook were specifically targeted in this study, compared to the previous study where the survey was sent to everyone with an active status.
Combining gender, age, and educational information, the current study also was of a Wikibooks community that was male dominated and fairly young, though the range of ages was much more spread out than in the initial study.
Geographically, North America still dominated with 60 percent represented, followed by Europe (25 percent), Asia (7 percent), and the Pacific Rim (4 percent). It is not surprising, therefore, that 73 percent of the participants were native English-language speakers. In fact, only 35 percent of Wikibookians had read or contributed to Wikibooks in a language other than English. At the same time, however, 93 percent believed that they did not encounter language-related difficulties while working with others in a Wikibooks project.
Of 167 participants, only 3.6 percent considered themselves as experts in working in the Wikibooks environment. Also, only 4.2 percent of respondents responded that they have been contributing or editing in Wikibooks for more than three years, which is the longest term provided in the survey. These two results might indicate that the consideration of being an expert is related to the number of years that Wikibookians have contributed or edited in Wikibooks. It is also possible that the smallness of the group of long-time participants contributed to the small number of people considering themselves experts in Wikibooks. Nevertheless, when asked how they would know if someone is an expert at Wikibooks, 68 percent checked “other people ask that person for help,” followed by completion of one or more books (58 percent), and “person experiences few problems working with collaborators” (54 percent).
From this data, it appears that being an expert might be closely related to a person's reputation as being helpful or productive. Apparently, such evidence is noticeable among Wikibookians as they can observe the history and communications of all contributors from the wiki history page as well as the discussion page on the Wikibooks website. Regarding the expertise level, 19 percent of respondents rated themselves as advanced users. The remainder was split between 40 percent of novice and 38 percent of intermediate level.
While most of the study participants have contributed to or edited in Wikibooks either from one to two years (29 percent) or from one to six months (28 percent), their access patterns varied. Fig. 1 displays the distribution of how often participants access the Wikibooks website. As the figure shows, there is a wide range of access patterns, from a few times a year (rare) to multiple times each week (frequent).
Figure Fig. 1. How often do you access the Wikibooks website?
Wikibookians access the Wikibooks website for a reason. Not too surprisingly, most (76 percent) cited “edit/contribute to particular books” as their reasons for accessing Wikibooks. For example, one survey respondent indicated that his or her reason to access the Wikibooks site was to “ keep track of links to my site on the subject at wiki. Folks seem to remove them occasionally. I feel this is important to attend, for my web site was one of the first in regards to this particular topic, with much more extensive info on the subject.” When asked how many wikibooks they had edited, the majority had edited just one book (31 percent), followed by those who had edited two books (24 percent).
Wikibookians access the site for several other important reasons. As alluded to above, the primary reason seems to be related to wikibook production or monitoring. The survey data reveal that most Wikibookians log on to edit or contribute to particular books (76 percent) or check on the status of one or more wikibooks (55 percent). Some go to the site to read in general (39 percent) or to read particular books (38 percent). Currently, 42 percent of participants are working on just one wikibook. Even though there is a wide range of books the study participants have worked on, the top three types of wikibook projects are related to computer science (23 percent), computer software (20 percent), and education (15 percent).
Interestingly, only nine respondents, or about one in 20 (5 percent), indicated that they had given up on their Wikibooks efforts. When asked for the problems that they encountered in Wikibooks that contributed to their abandonment of their Wikibooks effort, just two of them provided explanations. One complained that “ the materials were poorly sourced and collated, and would take too long to sort out.” Another person, who gave more detailed information in his or her survey comments, stated, “ I watched it turn into a complete mess, as a single person turned a book about Electronics into a grand unified book about Life...There are just too few people on Wikibooks to fight off such disruptions, so it just goes on uncontrolled.” It is possible that these two participants were enthusiastic about their work and really wanted to finish their books, yet were overwhelmed by difficulties. Those who did not finish but did not provide a reason in the survey might have just left the site for insignificant or personal reasons that they did not wish to share. Nevertheless, from this small sample, it seems that the uncontrolled mess and chaos of the Wikibooks environment might potentially turn a highly enthusiastic volunteer away.
We were also curious about the identity of Wikibookians and the purpose of wikibooks in general. One survey respondent shared his or her view of why it was important to create a Wikibooks site separate from Wikipedia: “ To me, it's the next logical step beyond Wikipedia. In Wikipedia, you get brief interrelated articles. Wikibooks takes that a step farther by allowing contributors to give structure and order to the information (sections, chapters, etc.) and expand on the information in a more narrative manner (something frowned upon on Wikipedia). Instead of cold, hard facts, you (ideally) have something that's informative AND entertaining (or at least engaging).” In addressing these questions, the survey found that 90 percent of the participants either agreed or strongly agreed that the main goal of Wikibooks is to create virtual learning resources for education. Furthermore, our participants trusted the information provided in most wikibooks (average = 7.2 with 10 as the highest degree of trust). This high level of trust might also reveal that Wikibookians believe in the ability of themselves and their community to create a reliable source of online textbooks for people around the world.
Generally speaking, the study participants see an extensive educational value of Wikibooks. For instance, they regard Wikibooks as a place to put up free textbooks (73 percent), a learning tool (65 percent), an online library (65 percent), a community of writers (58 percent), and a community of learners (52 percent). Similarly, Wikibookians believe the strength of Wikibooks lies in Wikibooks' ability to “offer free and open access to information” (46 percent), be “continually changed and updated” (21 percent), and be “created collaboratively by anyone” (20 percent). Similar themes can also be seen from descriptive words Wikibookians selected to represent this community. As shown earlier in Table 1, it is clear that the desire to create free and open resources (19 percent), as well as serve educational purposes (12 percent), were important to this community. In addition, many Wikibookians also have a high regard for their community, as 33 percent of the descriptive words were positive, such as “useful,” “interesting,” and “helpful,” in comparison to the 6 percent of words that were deemed negative.
The results of our two studies reveal that a variety of competencies and skills are required to organize or contribute to a wikibook. One survey respondent emphasized the importance of editing skill “ since mostly I am involved with cleaning up or relocating existing work to improve the readability and structure of the book.”Fig. 2 shows the range of skills participants felt that they had developed since becoming members of Wikibooks. From the 11 skills provided in the survey question, writing skill received the highest score from the survey participants. The other four skills, namely technology skills, collaborative skills, communication skills, and patience, have nearly the same scores. According to the survey results, three of five key skills for Wikibookians are related to the ability to work with people or as a group. In effect, an effective Wikibookian needs communication, collaboration, technology, and writing skills as well as extensive patience. These skills proposed by survey participants are similar to skills addressed recently by West and West [ 15] in their book about wikis for online collaboration.
Figure Fig. 2. What skills and competencies have you developed since becoming a member of Wikibooks?
On the issue of whether a wikibook written by a large group of people is better than a wikibook written by a small group of people, opinions of the study participants were close to split in the middle with 47 percent strongly disagreeing or disagreeing and 53 percent strongly agreeing or agreeing. It is possible that on one hand, many Wikibookians join forces with others as a highly collaborative group of people who produce reliable open educational materials that are shared with the world. At the same time, many wikibooks are created and maintained by a single person without any formal collaborative partners or support (27 percent). It is plausible that better tools for collaboration are needed or more guidance on how to collaborate or both. Existing research documents that coordinating and collaborating a wiki-centered project can be a challenge when trying to implement it in formal education [ 18]. While wiki technology encourages collaboration, it is plausible that learning how to collaborate remains a barrier in both formal and informal environments.
Another area of interest was the motivation of Wikibookians to make a contribution to education. When we asked about motivators or drivers for creating wikibooks, the survey respondents most often selected that “Learning should be open and free.” This survey option was ranked the highest with 74 percent of the survey respondents agreeing with it. In effect, Wikibookian motivation seems to stem from involvement in an environment where access to educational materials is freely available. At the same time, more than half of the Wikibookians surveyed were also motivated by personal interests (56 percent). These two highest responses seem to reflect a cultural trend related to open access educational materials and open source software. As with those involved in these movements, many Wikibookians have particular interests or expertise in certain topics and they want that knowledge or expertise to be freely shared with others. Again, from Table 1, the same theme emerges from the descriptive words used by Wikibookians to describe the community and their work; they want to contribute something to society that is free and open for the world community to learn from. It is important to note, however, that such altruism is not necessarily shared within a classroom-based academic project [ 21].
With such motivators, it is vital to explore whether Wikibookians typically complete the wikibooks that they start as well as the criteria that they use to signify such completion. In terms of criteria used to determine the completion of the book, most checked “completed as many details as deemed necessary” (46 percent), followed by “completed basic contents for each chapter or module” (42 percent). After all their hard work, it is interesting to find out how Wikibookians intended to use their completed books. Sixty percent (60 percent) indicated that they completed a wikibook for “sharing with others,” whereas another 40 percent revealed that completing a wikibook is “for personal growth and learning.” Yet another 42 percent cited “teaching” as the means of using their wikibooks. Here, data from the current study display consistency with prior research on user-generated contents that altruism plays an important role in voluntary participation in creating shared educational contents.
We believed that Wikibookian motivation and help in completing wikibooks would be more likely if they believed that the Wikibooks website was a community of practice. Membership in the Wikibooks website was a key part of that sense of community. All but one of the survey respondents were registered users of the Wikibooks website. As the website is a collaborative environment, we felt it was vital to ask how many people participants had worked with to create a wikibook. In terms of sheer numbers, Fig. 3 shows the wide range of numbers of collaborators with which the study participants had worked from a low of zero for more than 1 in 4 Wikibookians to more than 20 collaborative writing partners for 1 in 10 of them. As mentioned earlier, when California Learning Resource Network conducted an evaluation on its open-source digital textbooks, they also found that most books were authored by a single or very few collaborators [ 12]. The current study also provided evidence of a very different reality of how Wikibookians might work, which is similar to that of authors of California's open digital textbook projects.
Figure Fig. 3. What was the number of collaborators you had on the wikibook you spent the most time on?
The Web-based survey also asked about the amount of work involved in a wikibook. For instance, most wikibook projects involved editing or modification every two months or less (28 percent), followed by once a month (21 percent), once in two weeks (15 percent), and once a week (14 percent). Furthermore, the Web-based survey revealed that 76 percent of respondents do not create milestones or steps when they write wikibooks. Given these findings, it is possible that many Wikibookians create basic contents or necessary details at the beginning of wikibook creation and rarely modify their general book frameworks, outlines, or plans during the creation process.
It is then evident that most people take a laid-back approach to their work on wikibooks. The data collected here show that most people work on a single project by themselves and they do not seem to spend a large amount of time working on it. In addition, the writing process is loose without necessarily having rigorous milestones; in effect, there is no writing schedule, due date, or writing plan for most wikibook projects. Based on this data, it is apparent why on average, the study participants rated their involvement in Wikibooks as a “5” with 10 the highest involvement and 1 the lowest. Such findings are in contrast to the common belief that people who participate in Web 2.0 projects spend hours working on it daily.
Given these data, Wikibooks seems to be a very loosely coupled community. For instance, when asked if they feel they are part of a Wikibooks community, two-thirds of the study respondents agreed that it was a community whereas the remaining one-third disagreed. When asked if it is necessary to provide mentoring for new people in the Wikibooks community, the answers were split almost evenly with 52 percent believing it is necessary and 48 percent indicating otherwise. Nevertheless, overwhelmingly, 77 percent indicated that they had never received any help in their own experience working in the Wikibooks community. At the same time, about two-thirds (67 percent) revealed that they never offered help to others either. Such data are consistent with the lack of collaborators in many wikibook projects as shown above. In effect, it is possible that, as a virtual community, it is difficult to locate and engage with complete strangers as document collaborators over the Internet unless they are already in the same work group in some way, such as by entering a discipline or domain area to work on a project wherein they have the same expertise.
The next logical question relates to how newcomers become a member of the Wikibooks community. Fig. 4 illustrates the various means by which someone could typically be apprenticed into the community. It was not surprising to find that the “use of discussion pages” was rated as the most vital (48 percent) for newcomers given that it is a built-in function of any wiki system. However, it is vital to note that “use of online chats” was nearly the lowest ranked item on this question. Such results seem to indicate that Wikibookians do not see the advantages of synchronous or immediate interactions to communicate with each other, or at least they do not prefer to use them. In contrast, they tend to communicate with each other using asynchronous technology. Also logically, since the Wikibookian community is international, and, thereby, composed of people across different locations and time zones, it might not be practical for Wikibookians to engage in extensive interactions and feedback sequences, especially synchronous ones. It is also noted that 23 percent observed no mentoring in the Wikibooks community.
Figure Fig. 4. How is someone typically apprenticed into the Wikibooks environment (check all that apply)?
How one is mentored or apprenticed into such an environment remains interesting and a bit of a mystery. Still, the Wikibooks community tools seem relatively straightforward. In fact, nearly 80 percent of the study participants thought that it takes just a few hours to a few days for anyone to be familiar with the Wikibooks environment. It seems plausible that many believed that barriers to becoming a member are nonexistent since the tools are easy to use. As a result, extensive mentoring and support are almost not necessary. One open-ended comment seems to confirm such a phenomenon: “ Most Wikibookians are already experienced from a local Wikipedia. Most of the help is learning to adapt to Wikibooks editorial and content style. Most people are pretty friendly and helpful, though a few react as though every edit they don't agree with is vandalism; however, they are the rare ones.”
In a collaborative wiki environment, compromise and negotiation among the participants should occur in different degrees depending on the task, timing, tools available, and familiarity of the members. We, therefore, were curious whether Wikibookians valued the process of creating shared meaning versus creating a finished product. Surprisingly, 72 percent of our survey respondents disagreed that the process of finding compromise and agreement is more important than the product of the Wikibooks. Maybe the resulting product at the Wikibooks website speaks volumes given that many arguments and disagreements have likely been solved or avoided. Production of books or content free to the world seems to take precedence over disagreements.
Wikibookians apparently commence with a project to share their expertise and make available free resources, not to make friends or writing partners. In fact, only 24 percent of Wikibookians made new friends when working in Wikibooks and only 18 percent noted that they knew other members personally. Without a high level of intimacy, nevertheless, most of the study participants found their comfort in working in Wikibooks due to the ease of use of the wiki tools (65 percent), not from extensively extending their social networks or a strong community of friends and colleagues. In addition, the more time they spent using Wikibooks, the more comfortable they felt to share (53 percent). Consistent with the previous findings, the participants of the present study again were split in finding affiliation with other Wikibooks members (55 percent feel affiliated; 45 percent do not feel affiliated). The data seem to suggest a loosely coupled community where the primary goal is to share rather than to socialize.
As in the first study, most Wikibookians surveyed were males under age 35. While many had a background in using wikis, it is clear that most people who use Wikibooks are not making edits or contributions each day. They are not experts in the sense of logging thousands of hours at a task or skill area. In addition, they seem to rarely support or mentor others who enter the Wikibooks system. At the same time, they find the tools at the Wikibooks website easy to use and they encounter few language problems. They develop books not to make friends or compromise on issues, but to produce a product that can be shared with the world. In effect, they want their ideas to get out in electronic format free to the world where they can be read, used, and taught.
Unlike social networking tools and many other Web 2.0 applications, the driver behind Wikibooks is typically not building friendships and social networks. Instead, it is sharing knowledge and furthering education with a world community. Wikibooks, therefore, help foster, organize, and disseminate knowledge that opens up learning for the world community, rather than offering a resource or tool for community building. Information from Table 1 clearly points out that the Wikibooks website is often thought of or referred to as a communal site where volunteers practice collaboration, participation, and democracy. At the practical level, nevertheless, participating Wikibookians in this study revealed something quite different. In effect, data from the present study indicated that Wikibooks might be considered a loosely coupled community of practice; it is a community with shared values (e.g., sharing open educational resources), shared tools (e.g., discussion, history, editing, saving, etc.), and a set of common practices (e.g., writing a book). At the same time, Wikibookians did not form friendships as seen with social networking software like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or Ning, mentor each other as with many Web collaboration tools, or engage in extensive socializing.
As pointed out at the beginning of the article, the boundaries between formal and informal learning have become fuzzy on online environments, especially collaborative ones involving wiki technology. However, academic research looking at wiki-related learning environments, as shown in the review of literature, has primarily stayed within formal classroom settings. There is clearly a gap between findings from the review of available literature and the findings our research revealed. For example, within the formal education settings, students are concerned about authorship and getting credit for their contribution (for example, see [ 18]). Wikibookians' altruism in contributing to open educational resources and the sense of a global community was not echoed in previous classroom-based wiki research (for example, see [ 21]). It is obvious that any classroom-based project is confined to the length of the academic semester and may be overshadowed and shortchanged by students wanting to obtain good grades. The prevailing resistance to publish anonymously for public consumption, also found in the research literature on wikis in academic environments, however, was not shared in the Wikibooks community. Similarly, Wikibookians are commonly a self-selected group, though students may register for a required class as part of their degree requirement. Consequently, students in classes found more technical issues [ 20], [ 24], [ 25] than Wikibookians arising from the general community. For classroom implementation, sound design based on pedagogical practices ensured success [ 28]. However, for Wikibookians, the survey findings indicate that less planning and setting of goals or benchmarks is the more common practice.
However, there are common issues that both classroom students and Wikibookians faced. For example, each of these groups desire better tools to help them edit, provide feedback, communicate, and collaborate. The necessary skills required to be a productive contributor in a wiki project are also similar—writing, collaboration, and communication. However, Wikibookians did emphasize patience as an additional desired personal trait. Of course, the potential larger audience for their work than there might be for a more private classroom wikibook project clearly provided motivation and heightened awareness of quality.
As indicated in both this study and the previous one, this loosely coupled community is dominated by males. It is possible that, as compared to females, most males prefer higher levels of independence and trial and error before seeking help. While Wikibookians agreed that mentoring is essential, they do not see any practical ways to conduct face-to-face or synchronous mentoring (see Fig. 4). Therefore, the development of “asynchronous apprenticeship” might be a good option for future Wikibookian practice as well as research. In addition, it is possible that Wikibookians do not consider that it is important to have a formal “collaborator” and work together with others on a wikibook. Instead, it is truly a distributed, loosely connected community of editors, contributors, and proofreaders.
Prior wiki-related research has established a so-called “long tail” participation pattern where most people help edit or modify a few select pages [ 20], [ 46]. Such a participation pattern further creates a loosely connected Wikibooks community. Will such a loosely organized group someday result in a replacement for the textbook industry? Will Wikibookians produce better quality textbooks than the publishers? Compared to e-book readers currently out in the market, a wiki-based textbook holds the potential of providing up-to-date content, with multimedia capacity, and many other tools a Web-based site can offer, such as language translation, instant dictionaries, and asynchronous discussions. Will wikibooks play a major role in the e-book tend? Time will tell.
Reviews of the prevailing research literature indicate that the majority of published wiki-related studies focus on higher education implementation. At the classroom level, wiki use in K-12 schools is lacking. More perplexing, however, is the lack of wiki research related to the informal work and learning communities that they seem to foster such as in Wikibooks and Wikipedia. Furthermore, quality has been a concern since the inception of Wikipedia as well as Wikibooks. One of a wiki's hallmark features is the ability for people to collaborate and coconstruct pages. Nevertheless, research has shown the phenomenon called “first-mover effect” where large amounts of original wiki content, contributed by a sole author, remained unchanged [ 47]. In addition, the present research effort found that about half of our participants did not believe that the fact that a wikibook was written by many people necessarily meant that it would result in a high quality product. Given these findings, the deemed highly collaborative and interactive qualities of wikibooks become quite suspect and warrant additional research.
There are many directions for future Wikibooks research. Studies that look into the relationship between activities on talk pages, history of the page, and the page quality might shed some light on the process, coordination, and negotiated nature of wikibook collaboration. In addition, any study into the formation, characteristics, and process of creating junior wikibooks might provide yet another angle of how people (some of whom might be “juniors” themselves) write for younger populations. Studies should also look into the user side of the story. For example, according to statistics provided by Zachte [ 48], anonymous editings play an important role in the creation of wikibooks and in the Wikibooks site, in particular. Future studies exploring activities created by those anonymous users could also help extend the scope of research regarding Wikibookians' activities. Questions might be asked about how people use a site such as Wikibooks, how they appropriate the content into their teaching or learning, and what are their concerns, suggested modifications, and short- and long-term outlook for the field. Lastly, studies that investigate the affordances as well as the constraints or barriers of the tools available and used in sites such as the Wikibooks website might also shed some light on usability design implications and potential for replacing or at least supplementing aspects of the publishing industry.
Clearly, there are myriad questions and avenues for wikibook-related research. The audiences for it vary widely, from students and politicians hoping for cheaper and more accessible textbook content to researchers and theorists wanting to better understand knowledge generation and sharing processes and to instructors desiring more resources from which to teach. Of course, the gigantic textbook industry will also be intently following this trend. Whatever the results or new directions, it is highly likely that thousands of new Wikibookian volunteers will arise during the coming decade to add to the knowledge base of books that this first generation has brought us. Their statuses, identities, supports, motivations, frustrations, challenges, and successes will be extremely interesting and vital to watch.
In summary, this project advances research and contributes new knowledge in three ways. First, it investigates authorship of wikis in the context of Wikibooks. By providing insights into the motivators behind authoring a wikibook, it breaks new ground into research never before attempted. Second, Web 2.0 tools have been regarded as having the potential to change educational practices. This research provides an example of one tool's usage and effectiveness. From a learning tool perspective, therefore, it contributes new knowledge to this evolving field. Third, while there has been a considerable amount of research on wiki communities and on Wikipedia, scant research exists on other Wikimedia projects such as Wikibooks. The current contribution fills this knowledge gap on the basis of empirical research with regard to a highly specialized online community. It provides a starting point for future research on other Wikimedia projects or initiatives such as Wikisource, Wikimedia Commons, and Wikiquote where similar as well as vastly different questions from those asked in the present study might be posed during the coming decade.