Online education : Wandida, this is not a MOOC

WandidaLaunched by two Moroccans from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), Wandida is an Open Educational Resources platform.

OKFN Morocco : How was the Wandida project born?

El Mahdi : Initially from an amateurish draft in 2010 which never went public, at the time I was a student and worked part-time as a tutor for other University students. Since then, I went through of the experience of launching the  Mamfakinch website, and the lessons I learned there made me aware of the disseminative power of multimedia content. I also learned from the success of earlier experiences such as the MIT Opencouseware and the Khan Academy, and finally from a fruitful meeting with professor Guerraoui at EPFL after which the project took its actual form.

OKFN Morocco : In which languages is the website published?

El Mahdi : Up to now, in French, Standard Arabic, Maghrebi Darija and English.

Note that the multilingual aspect does not consist of translating from a reference language, but for eahh of them, the content is natively created, this is crutial for the pedagogy and the intuition of the learner. Other languages would be added in the project as other contributors are joining.

OKFN Morocco : What are you aiming for this project ?

El Mahdi : First of all, to create a really open platform, in the O of Open, being free of charge is not the only criteria, but most important is the possibility for the user to access the content without registration.

We are aiming to be a hosting platform for self-contained and modular lessons: up until now, MOOCs platforms are a good opportunity for continuous-learning,  with the typical user being the degree holder doing lifelong learning, but only few students still in school take part in MOOC.  For example, as of March 2014, Coursera’s average student is 37 years old. For young resident students, a MOOC is not well-suited as a complementary material for their courses. However, young students are our target: students facing difficulties and looking for quick answers which are in meantime academically useful, not having the time to crawl a MOOC chapter by chapter just for a fast explanation requiring 5 minutes with no need for contextualisation.

Furthermore, in an online course platform, it will be hard for me (or will require a large amount of time), in same course, to do the following circuit: notion A with professor 1, notion B with professor 2, then notion C with professor 3 or back with professor 1 or 2: I have to follow all the path designed in a MOOC with its structural constraints. We are aiming to facilitate modular circuits for the learner.

Additionally, we want to give back to teaching the prestige it should have in Academia. With this platform, we want to promote the teaching efforts done by the speakers.

And finally, within the same framework, Wandida Research Summaries, where researchers can put summaries of their publications, those summaries do not replace the reading of a publication itself, but can, for example, help other researchers quickly assess whether or not the publication should be part of their bibliography , or simply enable researchers to promote their work with this type of summary.

Above all, we want to experiment: we are in the stone age of online teaching, no one should fail to (certitudes) and one should always question its work and iterates.

OKFN Morocco : Under which licence your content is published and why?

El Mahdi : Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-SA, unless a speaker asks for an explicit mention.

CC because we don’t mind people reusing our lessons, as long as they are respecting the NC: any re-use should be non-commercial, to cite the source (BY) et finally SA, to share with the same licence respecting the author’s decision.

Creative Commons licences are in my opinion today’s best solution for knowledge spread in the internet, offering both the freedom of sharing information while at the same time respecting the author’s work.

OKFN Morocco : How much time do you spend to make a video ?

El Mahdi : It takes less and less time with practice, for the speaker, one should count less than an hour of script preparation, and around a half hour of recording for a lesson; for the editor, a bit more, sometimes an hour, sometimes much more, but we are actively working to improve the editing process which is becoming less random than in the beginning.

What we should remember is that our ambition is to break down university-level content in small self-contained lessons. The difficulty is to find a way to explain concisely and rigorously; lessons should not be short to be short, the learner should be able find an answer to what he is looking for.

OKFN Morocco : How is the site funded ?

El Mahdi : In the beginning, there was seed funding from Google and EPFL, now we are supported by EPFL and are looking actively for partnerships to sustain the project.

OKFN Morocco : How do want the platform to develop ?

El Mahdi : By becoming a kind of one stop shop for lessons of its kind, today we are easily lost in the jungle of educational videos in the absence of a standards consensus (even if I don’t like the term ). To achieve this, we are working on partnerships with other academics, actually mainly our colleagues at EPFL, recently, some researchers from INRIA in France joined the project as speakers and we are happy with the platform’s progress.

OKFN Morocco : What do you need to succeed further?

El Mahdi : That students know about the project so that they can take it in the right direction and refine it in keeping with their needs; and that teachers contribute, we should not be wrong about a fact: online teaching is much more a content quality matter that a question of platform. We started very slowly less than a year ago, today we are in a phase where more and more professors are coming to us to create lessons and the content creation process is becoming more streamlined, which is illustrated by the number of recordings done this month.

OKFN Morocco : Why did you name the website Wandida ?

El Mahdi : Wandida was the name given by high school interns in Azrou in the moroccan Atlas to the paper used to cover butter and meat, they were using it as a cheap solution for their homework. The use of this rarely known term today dating from my father’s generation is a reference to the ease of production of Wandida lessons.

Also, as a student, I had a very bad oppinion on using powerpoint slides to teach science, I found slides very inappropriate to teach mathematics or physics, especially where it is important to transmit the beauty of a proof, thus the reference to paper that come out of the use of doodling: in all the lessons, the speaker is writting in a dynamic way as he is explaining, in the end we end up proving horrific theorems in the imagination of students like the the Bolzano-Weierstrass theorem for example, imaginning in a ludic but not less rigourous way the  Sun comming from the horizon in the screen, this is impossible to do in six minutes on the paper, but is enabled by the video format.

OKFN Morocco : Any final comments for the end?

El Mahdi : Recording videos in Darija (North African spoken dialect) is full of stories, it is a language society refuses to take seriously, and sometimes even us, as speakers, fall into the same trap. It is more humorous than anything else during the recordings, after a few jokes we calm down after laughing at ourselves a bit; for example, we didn’t hesitate to speak about “Gnouss” during a recording on evolution (“Gnouss” means “species” but can also be an insult), or in using the expression “Rabâa Sghira” (“a little fourth”, typically used in vegetable markets) when explaining how to solve an equation.. Since then, we take our language as seriously as we do with French, Standard Arabic of English.

Online learning, even if it is in his embryonic phases, will produce many significant changes, one of the most notable would probably be the acceleration of linguistic welfare for countries living amorphous situations like those of the Maghreb. It is tough early to make conclusions, but people take their language more seriously when it helps them understanding science and solving their exercises than when it is only synonymous of doubling TV-shows.

About El Mahdi:

After degrees from the Ecole Polytechnique and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, in parallel he founded and ran the Mamfakinch media platform and now runs Wandida.com

To visit the Wandida Project website, follow this link.

If you know of any other groups whose activites are similar, please feel free to contact us.

Interview by Yassir Kazar.

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