Adding power to educational and research wikis with Semantic MediaWiki

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Daniel Schneider & Julien DaCosta

TECFA, University of Geneva


We will describe some uses of wikis in education and research and then discusses how Semantic Mediawiki (SMW) extensions could enhance the user experience in educational and research wikis. We will draw on our own experience with EduTechwiki and related sister sites and on a short literature review. We shall focus on education, but include enhancements to informal research wikis, since sometimes the two are combined. We finally raise a few practical issues with respect to learning SMW technology.

This article is an enhanced copy of an informal paper uploaded to There are also some slides If you want to cite the original version, use something like:

Daniel K. Schneider & Julien Da Costa (2013). Adding power to educational and research wikis with Semantic MediaWiki, Paper presented at the 8th conference on Semantic MediaWiki (SWMCon 2013), retrieved [date] from

Introduction and objectives

Mediawikis are used for various purposes in both education and research. This short position paper and summary of a talk submitted to SMWCon Fall 2013 attempts to catalog some use cases and then discusses how Semantic Mediawiki (SMW) extensions could enhance the user experience in educational and research wikis. We will draw on our own experience with EduTechwiki and related sister sites and on a short literature review. We shall focus on education, but include enhancements to informal research wikis, since sometimes the two are combined. We finally raise a few practical issues with respect to learning SMW technology.

Wikis in education

Educational use of wikis is widespread, probably in the hundreds of thousands, e.g. Wikispaces alone claims to support over 10 million teachers and students in over 100'000 wikis. MediaWikis are much less popular. However, in higher education, this technology is popular since it supports the creation of large and sophisticated sites for a large variety of purposes. There is an extensive literature on the educational use of wikis, addressing for example technology acceptance issues, various forms collaborative and project-oriented learning, professional development, sharing of course notes, creation and use of open textbooks, etc. Few publications seem to document educational use of MediaWikis (e.g. Höller & Reisinger), some document using Wikimedia sites like Wikipedia (e.g. Carver et al. 2010; Chiang et al. 2012) or Wikibooks (e.g. Baltersen, 2010, LOOP) and even less describe the use of Semantic Mediawiki (e.g. Dimitrova, 2011, Bratsas, 2009)

Below we present a short taxonomy of different educational uses that is based on our own experience, and Parker and Chao, 2007

Educational uses of wikis
Purpose Learner activities
Writing-to-learn activities Students write a paper about a topic to learn, either individually, individually with some peer critique, or in groups.
Documenting cases Learners produce structured description of cases, for example a field observation (e.g. an animal or a building), an artifact like a software, or long definitions.
Wiki textbooks and resources Wikis can be used to produce textbooks. In variants, students can/must contribute. In yet another variants, classes will use Wikipedia or other open online resources.
Wikis for course management Teachers can define all course-related pages (syllabus, modules, assignments) etc. in the Wiki. He/she also could use the wiki as textbook as described above. In variants, learners use the discussion pages as forums , upload products, create wiki pages and portfolios of their work.
Project-oriented learning Learners, individual or in groups use the wiki for project work in its various stages. There are many variants. Each may include, for example, definig project goals and plans, collecting information such as links and definitions, track progress, writing/answering questions, writing a report, writing a paper, etc.
Inquiry learning Inquiry learning is an important variant of project-oriented learning that may even put more emphasis on writing and re-writing. Student work starts with a vague question, that progressively must be refined and answered through an ask - investigate - create - discuss - reflect cycle.
Student written text books Instead of consuming a textbook, students contribute to writing a textbook. An alternative would be student-led initiatives to create lecture notes in higher education.
Note taking, knowledge integration and linking A wiki can help learners to prepare dissertations and/or keep track of good ideas, definitions, links, references, etc.

Wikis for supporting research

Wikis can be used for various research purposes, including (a) note taking in individual, collaborative, or collective settings, (b) managing documentation of cases and other field study information, (c) managing data and bibliographies, (d) analyzing data, (e) managing the whole process and (f) (pre)publishing findings.

A number of papers report successful use of MediaWikis with Semantic Mediawiki extensions for research purposes (e.g. Jiang et al. 2010; Alquier, 2010; Kumar, 2012, Schindler, 2013)

Our own experience is twofold. Firstly, we have been using EduTechWiki for years to write down ideas and prepare for literature reviews, e.g. it has become a resource kit or in other words, some kind of external memory. Since contents are shared, many others can and do profit. Second, we started using Semantic Forms to document cases and artifacts in a EU project on citizen cyberscience.


The aim of this contribution is to help creating a small informal community that will push reflections and practice a bit further, for example by:

  • documenting other use cases (including identification of useful SMW technology and use patterns)
  • identifying a place to share SMW vocabularies, templates, forms, etc. for education and research;
  • getting some advice from experienced SMW developers;
  • suggesting new features for existing extensions of general interest;
  • identifying some stumbling blocks for new users of SMW technology and how they might be overcome.
  • brainstorming about new developments, including new SMW extensions and/or using the Wiki API with external applications.

We also aim participating in the creation of an educational track at WikiSym 2014.


While wikis are popular in education and research, a number of hurdles exist that must be overcome in order to achieve sufficient return on investment. We shall describe a few of these.


Judd, Kennedy and Cropper (2010), in a study, found little evidence of collaboration despite adopting a learning design that was intended to support it. These findings matches both our own 15-year old experience across various settings and findings reported in other literature, e.g. Cole (2009). The large "Wikipedia science" literature provides similar evidence for the population at large. Finally, the literature on collaborative learning points argues for strong scaffolding of learner activities.

Technical difficulties

New wiki users (learners, teachers, researchers) encounter many difficulties. The new generation (often called "digital natives" or "generations Y and Z") are supposed to have high ICT skills, however there is little empirical evidence that supports these claims. Today's learners do indeed have good skills for networking and trading digital artifacts, but seem to possess lower ICT skills than the generation 20 years ago. A majority lacks information processing skills and in addition may be afraid of the computer (Cole, 2009; Wecker, 2007; Selwyn, 2009; Margaryan, 2011).

In our own experience, Wiki skills are almost non existent. Very few users seem to understand the "flat" nature of the wiki and the need for respecting some organizational guidelines, e.g. using meaningful titles for wiki pages or tagging pages with categories. Even learning about 10 different wiki syntax commands seems to be a challenge. In addition, users get lost and tend to ignore various navigation aids, such as categories.

Integration in a wiki space

Most users seem to perceive a wiki as a simple collection of pages as opposed to an organized hypertext. Wikis maintained by the authors include many student productions. For example in the french version of EduTechWiki only our own students contribute, whereas in the English version we had contributions from different other institutions. Unless students are forced, they do not link to other pages, do not tag with categories and do not improve other existing articles. This behavior reduces their chances to confront and compare ideas, i.e. situations that would help them creating more complex cognitive constructs such as principles. In our wikis, teachers other than the main author do not seem to be overly concerned by the problem, since like students, they focus on individual student productions and not the wiki as a whole.

Writing apprehension and public writing

Few students seem to have a writing apprehension problem. However, intervening in text sections written by others is a problem. Some also fear public writing. That being said, writing in a public wiki does present advantages that private spaces like Google Docs can't provide (Guth, 2007; Baltzersen, 2010).

Additional problems arise when teachers engage students in contributing to Wikipedia since it also requires learning about Wikipedia guidelines and culture (Every et al.(2010)).

Management and coordination

Both project-oriented teaching and doing research requires substantial management and coordination efforts. In open environments such as a wiki, participants have difficulty keeping an overview of what is going on and therefore teachers in particular should actively orchestrate and coordinate activities. While using a wiki provides opportunities with respect to other environments, it also augments coordination costs.

Potential of Semantic MediaWiki

Below we present a few cases where SMW technology could help both educators and researchers and this list should if possible be expanded with existing publicly inspectable wikis.

Improving the usability

Improving the navigation experience through semantic infoboxes represents a simple, yet powerful application of Semantic Forms. Within a page, a Semantic Form can provide information about the context, prerequisite reading and next steps, related information, various ratings, keywords and so forth. This information then can be pulled together in overview pages, using tables and graphic visualizations. Users can easily add information to a page, due to its auto-completion features. We shall discuss a pilot widget in case study 2 below.

Both in project-oriented learning and within research projects, participants are required to provide structured data, e.g. glossaries, bibliographies, case descriptions and so forth. Such activities can be easily enhanced with Semantic Forms and one also could imagine more special purpose extensions such as Semantic Glossary.

Improving task collaboration

Contributors to a task, e.g. writing an article, do want to "know what is going on". Teachers and other coordinators need that information too. Some of that information can be extracted automatically, i.e through Yuri Katkov's (no longer maintained) Collaboration Diagram, Semantic Watchlist, or through external analytics programs like the unfinished StatMediaWiki Python script (Rodríguez-Posada, 2011).

Another approach is to ask users that they create self-reports, for example, by asking users what they think of an article, how far they progressed with writing or performing an external task, and how they progress with respect to a list of competencies. Such a feature can be implemented with external widgets (e.g. Notari et al. 2013). Semantic forms, although not designed for that type work, also could be used. Data for each user input could be written to many small user sub pages and then be pulled together for visualizations using inline queries in user pages, wiki pages, and wiki overview pages. So far, we do have a working demonstrator that we also will describe in case study 2.

Improving wiki collaboration

Since typical wiki contributors do not seem to perceive the wiki as a whole, the systematic addition of infoboxes to pages and aggregated summaries of these in various overview pages (like course pages or portals) could help nudging the user towards seeing the wiki as a whole and then compare, confront and link ideas. Semantic Result Formats may provide tools to create interesting visualizations of various relationships. Moreover, extensions like Semantic Social Profile (Katkov & Pokotsev, 2012) with its social networking features, could improve social presence, i.e. the "feeling of being there" and "beeing a part of community".

Improving data management and analysis

As documented in the literature about SMW for research, both semantic markup and the possibility to pull in external data, e.g. with the External Data extension create big opportunities for data management. Data analysis is supported through extensions like Semantic Drilldown (which may be of particular interest to qualitative research) and Semantic Result Formats that allows for a variety of interesting visualizations, as we also discuss in our case studies. And finally, data also can be accessed by external applications for more sophisticated treatment.

A nice challenge would be the integration of data rich contents in an educational wiki or conversely adding an educational layer to research wikis.

Management and coordination

Both project-oriented teaching and doing research requires substantial management and coordination efforts, known as "learning design", "scenarization" or "story boarding" in instructional design. While many other tools exist and while "ordinary" wikis can also do the job, extensions like the (no longer maintained) Semantic Tasks bundle could do a great job of integrating wiki reading, wiki writing with managing, coordinating and supervising. Semantic Forms, again, does provide the technology for creating some simple workflow engines.

Case studies

We shall present two case studies that rely on Semantic Forms and Semantic Result Formats. Both are in production, but need further work. The first, a kind of crowd sourcing application, allows us to discuss some practical problems and it doesn't introduce new challenges to the SMW community. The second one attempts to bring Semantic Mediawiki (SMW) technology to education and it raises both technical and conceptual questions with respect to the implementation of annotation, voting and workflow systems.

The citizen science portal

Citizen science is scientific research with the participation of amateurs. Participants can provide computing power (and other resources), collect data, classify data, analyze data or sometimes participate more actively in the research. This SMW application is part of the EU FP 7 Citizen CyberLab project and we call it CS4CS, which stands for "Citizen Science for Citizen Science". The overall Citizen Cyberlab project will research and evaluate on-line collaborative environments and software tools that stimulate creative learning in the context of Citizen Cyberscience. The purpose of the CS4CS project is to contribute to the "general picture", i.e. understand certain aspects of citizen science by looking at a larger set of documented projects. The CS4CS sub-project aims in particular:

  • To create an inventory of citizen science projects, infrastructure and software
  • To identify properties of interest to learning, creativity, motivation and community researchers
  • To provide a searchable database and some summary statistics and visualizations

At the time of writing the entry page was designed to induce participation and to display some key information for various projects. Since we need feedback from early users, we also included links to appropriate discussion pages.

Screenshot of the CS4CS project - portal page - V 0.1


The overall architecture of this SMW project is simple. Participants can either document citizen science projects, citizen science infrastructures or citizen science software. Projects can be part of an infrastructure. Both projects and infrastructures can be developed with citizen science science software. For example:

CS4CS dependencies between SF "classes" (left column = citizen science project names)

This project (so far) uses the following templates and forms. Templates are designed to look "good", but also allow for PDF printing.

Citizen science projects
Template:Citizen science project
Form:Citizen science project
Citizen science infrastructure
Template:Citizen science infrastructure
Form:Citizen science infrastructure
Citizen science software
Template:Citizen science software
Form:Citizen science software
Helper templates
Query forms (at the time of writing, not really implemented)
RunQuery - Citizen science project query
Form:Citizen science project query

Issues and further work

In this first real project we were and are confronted with several issues.

Since the target users are mostly citizen science researchers and activists, we had to make an effort to create a somewhat good looking interface. The current result is a good first attempt, but since it was created incrementally, the CSS code will have to be refactored in order to be reusable. In other words, we probably should design a series of documented display templates. Cybercitizen science portals usually are well designed in terms of looks, usability and usefulness since attracting participants is mission critical. In other words, we did have to blend somewhat into this culture and the cost was fairly high compared to the design of the initial form and template.

Our experience tells us that researchers hardly ever participate in wikis. Their standard tools of trade are word processing tools, communication software and data analysis tools, but not information management tools which leads us to the next point. We released the Beta version on October 16 and invited members of the research community to test and participate. So far, they did not. There could be several explanations: Systematic work overload in academia or the difficult account creation procedure that we had to set up in order to fight spammers. However, we also believe that there is a strong bias in research against any other form of writing than word and equivalents. Although, our partners will a some point have to contribute, we do expect the possibility that participation will be low.

We used a mostly bottom-up approach to design the Semantic Form (SF) "classes". A group of researches from our group and two other project partners created an initial specification with a collaborative word processor, which we used to create a first SF class. We then added or removed properties and tweaked values while adding new projects. The application includes over 100 undocumented properties, which were created without following clear naming and name giving policies. We will have to come up with some kind of documentation strategy that is not too costly since we have limited resources for this project.

Since the application is supposed to help end-users query the system and conduct some analyses we will have to create query interfaces and add data visualization functionality. Both are missing so far and will be implemented in a next step. Our first trials taught us that it is difficult to create query forms that are both powerful and simple to use.

Learning process analytics for a self-study course

Navigation and learning process analytics widgets

We define learning process analytics as a collection of methods that allow teachers and learners to understand what is going on in a learning scenario, i.e. what participants work(ed) on, how they interact(ed), what they produced(ed), what tools they use(ed), in which physical and virtual location, etc. From a technical point of view, “learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs” (1st International conference on learning analytics, 2011). The purpose of learning process analytics is to provide feedback to learners, groups of learners and teachers during a teaching/learning situation. This information can be presented in various dashboards that should engage participants in reflection with respect to their different goals, roles, tasks, productions, and so forth.

Data for learning process analytics could be partially retrieved from the system, e.g. with advanced text mining technology. However, it is far easier to ask the user. If we are also interested in dispositional analytics as defined by Simon Buckingham Shum we even must ask the user. A good implementation of this "asking" strategy is the enquiry blogger (Ferguson et al., 2011) from which we got some inspiration.

In our pilot course, called Bases psychopédagogiques des technologies éducatives, we use SMW technology for two purposes: (a) learning process analytics and (b) improving the navigation between content pages. Student's in our Master degree on educational technology do have various backgrounds and some were never exposed to either psychological or educational theory. The purpose of this course is to convey some basic theory that should help students perform better in other more specialized core classes.

Since we lack teaching resources, we decided that this class should be entirely "self-study", i.e. we ruled out using our typical project-oriented learning designs that require tutoring. Instead, we created an on-line wiki textbook (that so far is about 40% completed). Since reading doesn't automatically lead to learning, we added features that engage students in active reading plus "producing" that is useful to the student, to co-learners and the project as whole. The course requirements are very simple:

  1. Each participant must create three concept maps that address three central questions. In addition these must be delivered with screencasts.
  2. Provisional productions are to be inserted in discussion pages of related content pages.
  3. Each participant must provide comments and help for at least six other productions, also using the discussion pages.
  4. Maximum two students are allowed to address the same global topic.
  5. Both productions (75%) and co-tutoring (25%) will be evaluated.

In addition we added the following design goals: (1) Learners should feel to be part of a collective reading experience. (2) Learners should be aware of what others will produce and how far they progressed. In other words, we provide support for creating some kind of learning community. (3) The navigation experience should be improved.

The screenshot to the right shows both a navigation (top) and an analytics widget (bottom). Information that is included in the navigation widget allows to create some graphs that show dependencies between wiki pages. The analytics widget includes a button that will allow the learner to enter data at any time he likes. For debugging reasons, this forms contains some (pre-filled) information that could be hidden. The same is true for the "submit" buttons.

Semantic learning progress analytics input form

Both the navigation and the analytics widget will be adjusted during the class (Nov 2013 - Jan 2013), taking into account student feedback and emerging ideas. Student also are expected to vote and comment on the quality of contents.

Architecture of learning process analytics

Although Semantic Forms was not designed to create annotation systems, we found it fairly easy to implement a prototype that we put in production on october 26 2013. The difficult question was to figure out how to store the data. We finally decided to use a custom REPORTING namespace and a subpage hierarchy, i.e. one subpage for each annotation. The rationale was that we later could use subpages to implement some browsing application, i.e. also include some canned aggregations and visualizations in that namespace.

This application uses the following base template and model to capture process analytics from learners
Template:Progress reporting
Form:Progress reporting

However, the learner will not use the above form directly. Instead we created a template that is inserted in each course page and that will (a) display some analytics and (b) insert a button that will allow the current user to inform us with respect to his "dealing" with its contents and that also asks if he plans to create a production or help other learners with their productions:

As you can see in the following source code snippet, the strategy relies on {{PAGENAME}} and {{CURRENTUSER}} magic words. The latter requires the MyVariables extension. These will allow to create and edit unique annotations. In addition, in order to allow the models to be reused in other contexts, we prefill the form with course and year information that will allow query filtering.

<includeonly><div class="....">
{{#ask:[[Reporting:+]] [[agent::+]] [[page wiki::{{PAGENAME}}]] [[a intention de produire::true]]
|mainlabel =-
|?a intention de produire = produit
|?a taux_d'achèvement = %
|intro = Cartes + vidéographie:
{{#ask:[[Reporting:+]] [[agent::+]] [[page wiki::{{PAGENAME}}]] [[est discutant::true]]
|mainlabel =-
|?est discutant = aide
|?a aidé = %
Avancement lecture N={{#ask:[[Reporting:+]] [[page wiki::{{PAGENAME}}]]|format=count}}
{{#ask:[[Reporting:+]] [[page wiki::{{PAGENAME}}]]
|?A pourcentage lu

|link text=Ma participation / mon progrès !
|link type=button
|query string=Progress_reporting[page_wiki]={{PAGENAME}}&Progress_reporting[agent]=user:{{CURRENTUSER}}&Progress_reporting[promotion]=tetris&Progress_reporting[catégorie_principale]=catégorie:Bases psychopédagogiques des technologies éducatives
|target=REPORTING:Progress reporting/{{CURRENTUSER}}/{{PAGENAME}}
|tooltip=Report wiki reading and writing activitiy !

The current implementation represent a "proof of concept", but it is "in production" and will be improved during its use.

Feedback to both learners and teachers is not fully implement yet, but basic functionality is working. In order to track his own progress, a learner can insert the following template in his user page:

A global analytics cockpit will be available in the main course page and we probably also will add cockpits at the bottom of some other pages.

Architecture of the navigation box

The navigation box uses a simple form and one template.

Since we use parser extensions like #if to filter out display of empty properties in the template, we found it easier to separate display code from property setting, i.e. we used the #set function.

Information from this box can be used to show dependencies with a graph as shown in the main page of the class. However the Graph format relies on the (maybe) no longer maintained Graphviz extension. If this extension combo can be maintained, we suggest adding some extra parameters to the Graph format that would allow to "tweak" the result, e.g. be able to choose the renderer.


This design experiment attempts to meet two goals: One is to create a "decent enough" self-study course that then can be improved over time. A second, more important goal is to generate ideas on how we could put to use SMW technology to improve teaching and learning with wikis. As such, our implementation can seen as a demonstrator that could trigger discussions in the educational SMW community.

Since the preparation activities (learning how draw a concept map and create screen casts) for this course were "launched" on October 26 2013 and since students are not expected to start "serious" work before mid-November we can't report on this design experience. We certainly will ask students to give us informal feedback that will lead to improvements and enhancements during the term. The course- and page-level cockpits are not yet fully designed. We will have to address data aggregation issues. So far all annotations are kept in separate subpages. This data management strategy makes it difficult to create cockpits at the course level with Semantic Result Formats. We will have to learn how to chain queries, how to use more advanced Semantic Result formats and maybe come up with other tricks, e.g. create analytics information at the page level in addition to the current one data page/user/page approach or store data in Records.

We also plan to add other features, e.g. tools for managing collective ideas and learner disposition. Since we use the wiki in other classes as we outlined in the introduction, we also will gradually introduce SMW-based features in other classes that implement different pedagogic strategies.


We first would like to provide some information about our learning process. We started looking at Semantic Forms in summer 2013 and managed to create simple widgets like information boxes very quickly. But at some point we then had dig more systematically into the documentation and that took some time. We then will conclude with a general outlook on our work with Semantic MediaWiki.

Initial challenges

Learning Semantic MediaWiki (SMW)

We starting learning SMW technology sometimes in summer 2013 and could identify a few issues. Some of these could be fairly easily solved while others would require more long term planning.

While documentation is fairly abundant, it is not easy for a beginner to integrate various pieces of the global puzzle in order to get going. For example, in order to understand how to make simple use of Semantic Forms (SF), one must understand: Semantic Web principles, Wiki templates and parser extensions, and Semantic MediaWiki principles. So far, there is only one good book for wiki administrators (Koren, 2012). It requires good technical reading skills and may be too concise for absolute beginners. In addition, there are gaps in the SMW documentation in particular with respect to more advanced coding. We started learning SMW and SF in two ways: Obviously creating low-stake examples is always a good idea to become familiar with a new technology, i.e. we created a simple semantic infobox, i.e. the form Mediawiki_extension and the template Mediawiki_extension. In addition, we wrote some tutorials for beginners by beginners, in particular, Semantic Forms. Writing-to-learn is always a good strategy, but may produce information that is not fully accurate, in particular if it is not updated once the subject is mastered. For example, creating the following diagram helped us understanding how SMW/SF elements fit together, but now it doesn't feel exactly right.

Semantic Form principles as understood by an absolute beginner

The easiest, most obvious use of Semantic Forms is to create infoboxes. Larcher's analysis (2011) of the actual process of Wikipedia infobox creation and storage revealed many flaws and he suggests that templates are not very flexible and not easy to understand. Semantic Forms are easy to use, but more difficult to create. However tools such as CreateClass or CreateForm will assist creation of simple forms. These tools could be enhanced over time (and with funding). However, creating Infoboxes will not help understanding more advanced features and we found, as mentioned before, that documentation for advanced SMW use is rather sparse.

Installation and documentation

Installation and configuration of various MediaWiki extensions is fairly easy, but it can be difficult to figure how to combine the right versions and why some extension does not work, although all the requirements were met. Many extensions do rely on others and only work with specific versions. We found that working with alpha code (pulled from the GIT master) gave best results, but in institutional settings, many system administrators may be reluctant to do so. A wiki also may include older extensions that will break.

Print versions

Integration with the collection extension is an issue that might be addressed by the German community since it invests in both: This very useful extension cannot display semantic properties in an appropriate way. The workaround for Semantic Forms is easy: One has to create templates with a "display" and a "print section". Extra time needed is an issue when the display format is also appropriate for printing, which was not the case in the CS4CS project.

Mastering the vocabulary

In both our projects we create property names "on the fly", i.e. with an approach that could be called "folksonomic". Such a strategy is probably good enough if a wiki includes just one single application that uses a limited number of properties. Wikis that implement complex semantic "classes" or many simple ones will quickly run into a "properties" jungle: It will be difficult to figure out where a property is used. Several properties may describe the same thing. When expanding an application, e.g. with query forms and result visualizations, it becomes tedious to find and lookup property definitions. It would be nice to have a little SMW extension that could generate or help generating "property manuals" like we found in the Guildwars2 wiki. The user could provides either a list of template names or a list of property names or a list of pages.


So far, our experience with Semantic MediaWiki (SMW) and Semantic Forms in particular has been positive. We did manage to implement Beta versions of two interesting applications in good time, despite the fact that we lack the technical skills of a developer or a computer scientist. In addition, both the learning process enhanced formal self-study course and the citizen science portal integrate with two multipurpose education and research wikis, confirming our view that MediaWiki is a technology that offers many affordances. Since we lack data so far, we can't tell which issues that we described above have been successfully addressed.

Both projects are currently in Beta stage and will certainly evolve in many directions. In particular, we intend to create many interesting visualizations using Semantic Result Formats and to design query forms that are appropriate for end users. While the CS4CS project (case study 1) represents an ideal-typical use of Semantic Forms (SF), the learning process analytics project (case study 2) can be described as an annotation application for which SF was not designed for. However, given that this is "all we currently have" its re-purposing may still be considered a good move. Semantic Forms in conjunction with other SMW extensions do allow creating interesting prototypes that could lead to future educational SMW applications.

An early commenter asked the question whether SMW-enhanced wikis could be used in MOOCs. If we refer to the original connectivist MOOCs, the answer is certainly yes, since participants are supposed to bring in their own experience. According to Siemens (2004), "Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.". Wikis platforms do provide good affordances for this approach, in particular when enhanced with semantic MediaWiki features.

If we refer to so-called xMOOCs, i.e. today's widely dominant form that is implemented in platforms like Coursera or EdX, the answer is "no". Mainstream MOOCs can be described as a combination of educational TV + study materials + a bit of social web + pulse (weekly lessons and exercises) + a touch of deschooling. Students intake some information, then hopefully engage in doing something while getting a little bit of help from peer learners. While our second case study comes quite close to this approach, we can't image how a fairly open read/write environment could handle efficiently a large numbers of students that are engaged in a strongly scripted rather transmissive approach. Of course, wikis could be used for collaborative OER production that could be used as assets in MOOCs, but that is another issue. That being said, educational wiki books can be enhanced by learners. In the author's technical classes, helping to improve the tutorials is a requirement, e.g. it works fairly well with the Flash tutorials (in french, there is also an English version without student contributions).

Our technical tutorials will be one of our next targets for "semantic" improvements. E.g. we could imagine improving navigation, but also add some semantic markup with pages in order help learners find information more quickly. Another project under discussion concerns case studies or definitions that learners have to provide at the beginning of a course, e.g. a collection of serious games or a dictionary for a special education class. These two examples show the large potential of SMW for education and that there are many opportunities for improving educational designs using Wikis.

The next target for research, also sponsored by the EU Citizen CyberLab projet, will a systematic inventory of tools and concepts for learning analytics and educational data mining. We will be able to draw from our experience with the CS4CS project. Its implementation will start on November 2013 and a first version should be available by the end of the year. Finally, our various wikis include several "catalogs" that could profit from "structure", e.g. pages on educational strategies, instructional design methods or educational software.


We would like to thank Christophe Carlei, Raphaël Gracia and Rosita Haddad-Zubel (University of Geneva) for préparing the contents for the "Bases" class, and Anna Cox, Charlene Jennet (University College London), Laure Kloetzer (University of Geneva), and Margaret Gold (The Mobile Collective) for contributing to the CS4CS data model. Part of this work is financed under the 7th Framework Programme through the Citizen Cyberlab Grant.


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