Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wiki as a platform element

This month I co-presented with Eric Sauve from Tomoye at the CPSquare Wikis all around the world and all the way conference. Our topic was the use of wikis as a platform element in online communities.

Prior to the one-hour teleconference/text chat we were asked to post cases in the asynchronous forum. John Smith provided some helpful guidelines about what to include in the case. The cases were posted into the discussion forum thread, one topic for each post. The reason for using that format over, say, a wiki (!) was to encourage discussion about the cases. Nancy White commented that I should blog my case out "in the wild", so here it is. I don't know why I'm such a pathetic blogger that I don't think to do these things on my own, but that's another topic. (Hey Sylvia, here's a pencil. Maybe you should use the sharp side. Hey! Good idea!)

The basic questions I attempted to answer were:
  • How is the wiki tool integrated into the Moodle platform?
  • How are they used by the SCoPE community?
  • What are some advantages and limitations?
Brief overview of SCoPE
SCoPE is an online community for individuals interested in educational research and practice. Members are primarily from higher ed but there are also many from other sectors -- K-12, corporate, software developers, researchers, and consultants. The core activity in SCoPE is scheduled monthly seminar discussions facilitated by volunteers. We also host special interest groups, online conferences and other events, and research projects.

How is the wiki integrated? The SCoPE is built on Moodle. The wiki tool is one among many in a suite. You can add wikis to "blocks" in Moodle (blocks are like containers you can move around a page), and also move them around within the blocks.

Wiki viewing and editing access can be controlled by groups, which provides an opportunity for a variety of uses such as:
- private planning for an upcoming event in the same space the event will be held.
- documentation prepared by an individual or group (without having to give higher level access within the community)
- open topic-based summaries of scheduled discussions

This tool is not terribly robust (in Moodle version 1.9), but has the convenience of being accessible in the same venue as other community activities. We have found that this convenience removes a barrier for our members.

This screen shot shows part of an archive of SCoPE's scheduled seminar discussions. The wikis are nested under the forums, making it easy to zone in on content by topic/dates, rather than by tool.
Creating a new wiki
This screen shot shows the form for creating a new wiki in Moodle. Having the tool associated with member accounts is especially useful when you need to control editing access. It eliminates the (sometimes tedious) invitation/access request process.

Navigation, context

Aside from account management, an advantage of remaining in the same venue for discussions and wiki editing is easy navigation. This screen shot shows the list of wikis created in the SCoPE Seminar Discussions area. It's a nice at-a-glance view of just wikis and last date they were modified.

Likewise for navigation

members can jump back and forth between a wiki and forum.

And integration allows for search across forums and wikis

This screenshot shows results using Google syndicated search available on the SCoPE site. It's useful to not have to think "ummm where was that posted, what tool did I use..." to find content.

Perhaps the wiki tool doesn't need to be integrated to achieve this? But it helps!

Editing the wiki

- Resembles the forum WYSIWIG editor, so members understand what to do
- A notice that wiki has been edited appears on group page

- Squishy window (there is a full-screen editor with tools like tables, but not an obvious feature + there have been reports that users forget to SAVE!)
- No email notification when page changes are made (especially an issue for long-life wikis)
- People get lost when creating and finding multiple pages in a single wiki
- Formatting can get wonky

Example of a wiki for a scheduled seminar discussion

The most common use of wikis in SCoPE is to gather highlights, resources, themes, questions, etc that emerge during a seminar discussion or event.

In this example it was also used for planning or providing a basic overview of the event. Sometimes the wiki is created both at the end of a seminar to capture main points. Or occasionally a wiki is used just to share something that might get buried in a forum, like survey results.

The use of wikis tends to be scheduled, then archived along with accompanying discussions. It seems to work best when there is a focused purpose.

Often the facilitator does most of the editing (surprise!) Maintaining wikis can be a bigger job than people think. There seems to be a trend of starting out with good intentions then energy fizzles out. We have ended up with several wikis that are of little value, and might even be a nuisance because you have to take the time to open it to find that out!

Scaffolding helps a great deal. We find that participants rarely create headings themselves.

Serves a good purpose typical SCoPE participants

From the beginning we have tried to design SCoPE so that is is appealing to busy professionals. We recognize that people may pop in and out of discussions and want them to know that is OKAY. The practice of using a wiki alongside a seminar discussion has been useful for participants who need to catch up quickly or make sense of main themes that have emerged in a discussion. It's also useful for picking out the resources that were generated.

We need to improve our wiki habits though, and perhaps assign specific roles at the beginning of each event, like Summarizers, Wiki Attendants, etc.

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