Wiki Thoughts: Taking the Next Steps

Wiki Thoughts: Taking the Next Steps

At the risk of looking like someone who bounces from thing to thing I thought I’d share just a few thoughts on what a wiki service might be all about at a University … I think one of the fundamental issues around wiki spaces is that people want to feel ownership. In other words, they want to “own” their space. In most higher education models, we (the IT people) bring a wiki online and say to people, “it is there, go ahead and add pages.” That is met with less enthusiasm as one would expect at first blush. I think the overall ownership piece plays a part, don’t you?

If you think about the model, it is a lot like simply installing a version of WordPress and telling people to start blogging. Sure they can blog, but their content is mixed in with the rest of the people blogging on that one space. In my opinion, the answer is to create a service that allows people a very easy way to create a wiki space that is their own.

With the Blogs at Penn State project we are letting people start with a centrally hosted blog publishing platform that they visit … but when it is time to publish their content shows up in their personal webspace. That gives people a little more ownership in the whole process. If you look at what a service like PB WIki provides you can see the right model. I think others agree given I just read that PBWiki Raised $2m to grow its service.

So I am right back to square one with the whole build/buy/partner question that seems to be around every turn these days. Here’s a question for those of who have implemented a wiki service at your Universities … do you have one big wiki that people just add to, or do you provide a true wiki service where any user can create a separate instance that is their own?

12 thoughts on “Wiki Thoughts: Taking the Next Steps

  1. Cole, this doesn’t directly address the ownership issue, though it does pertain: As someone who works with a number of open-source technologies, I find that I must rely increasingly on wikis and blogs to get critical technical and support information. This arises both formally (for example the WordPress and FCKEditor wikis, both of which have terrible content by the way) and informally (whatever I can find doing a search, which typically leads to a blog or a wiki). Two obstacles that I frequently encounter are 1., Wikis are only as useful as the content posted to them, and many of the open-source-support ilk are bogged down with half-baked, incomplete, and ultimately misleading content. They end up wasting a lot of my time. 2., While the search-don’t-browse model has its charms, I still think that wikis and blogging software can and should do better from a navigability standpoint. I don’t have an answer to how the latter should be addressed. But I do the former: While by nature, wiki content self-regulates for the better over time, wikis with critical content need a good amount of hands-on editorial control. At the same time, all content contained within a wiki should periodically be evaluated from the standpoint of organization. Allowing Web content to expand organically always seems to lead to one big content square dance.

  2. While I agree with much of what you say, Rose the thing that I am seeing is that the audiences I am thinking of serving require a different kind of experience. I feel like we (IT) come at it with the more traditional view of wiki as a place where all the knowledge within a given context is managed and created by a community of practice. Take for example the WordPress Wiki (content aside), it is designed to offer members of that very specific community a one stop shopping location to find and create content related to WP. It makes sense to have one big wiki for that. But, if you think of the various academic departments on campus and think about the way faculty would want to create a wiki to support even just a single section of single course for a single semester the IT vision of the wiki gets destroyed. Does that make sense?

    I am of the mind that faculty in particular will want spaces for their courses — a place where only they and the members of their particular community of practice (the course in this case) can create, edit, and manage content. That to me requires a different model. Other thoughts?

  3. Cole, I agree. Vastly different wiki models. Vastly different needs. The audience to which you refer have requrements and expectations far flung from one that relies on highly specific wiki content used for reference. The flexibility of wikis is their greatest strength, and I see no faculty member’s wiki being like another’s. Which is exactly as it should be.

  4. I’m not so sure it is an either/or situation, and as your conversation with Rose goers, there is a spectrum of possible uses and users to be considered. Your post and Rose’s comments head mroe towards a wiki as a publication system, an easy to do way of creating web content.

    Wikis do that, but do not forget the other valuable use as a blank sketchpad for brainstorming, collaboration. I cannot help but repeatedly point to the excellently lucid “Wiki and the Perfect Camping Trip” – http://www.commoncraft.com/archives/000648.html

    But there is also wikis as personal web pages, wikis as online textbooks, wikis as presentation tools. And thus I see value in the PBwiki approach of granting a personalized space for individuals, give ’em a bit of templating and self-branding. At the same time, there are good reasons for larger projects/scopes for a broader user based approach, a department, college, university scale wiki, one where you suggest some thought needs to go into seeding and poplulating it with meaningful content at the outset. Here maybe there is a reason for the review Rose seeks.

    All in all there are a wonderful mixed bag. With some effort, you can develop a nucleus of an active community to author, and a larger community to use wiki content.

    Bottom line, it is really not about the tol or software at all. All you need is a good idea and an Edit This page button 😉

  5. Just like a pointy-headed person to not answer your questions

    If a research institution was to run an institution wiki service, I’d want to see it understand how to let people from outside the institution contribute to it. It would need to understand federated identities or, at minimum, reasonably vetted guests.

    And by way of example, I recall hearing a podcast where the CIO of Shell Oil talked about putting up a wiki-creation service (let people make their own) and within a little over a year they were supporting over 2K wikis. I wonder if they would have had that kind of take up with one-instance to bind them all. That isn’t to say that all 2K were active or useful, but even if they only batted .100 – that’s a lot of collaboration that wasn’t happening before they launched the service.

  6. At UCalgary, there is One True Wiki (at the moment). It’s not really taking off, because (I think) people aren’t identifying it as “theirs” – there is no access control, no personalization, etc… it’s all just dumped into one wiki. There has been some traction, primarily by cross-campus units (the documentation for the Faculty use of PeopleSoft was put together in the wiki, and the Education Library is documenting a bunch of stuff in it).

    But, if individuals or groups could set up their own wiki (for themselves or for a project or department/faculty/unit/club/whatever) I would be willing to bet that it would be more successful.

    I’ve been talking with our IT department to figure out how we can set up a wiki provisioning service, but unfortunately haven’t gotten very far with it yet.

  7. My take on this is that faculty will want (already are using) wikis for specific sections of courses, for group projects within those courses, and for collaborative projects not directly related to a specific course. Technology that would allow the flexibility to create spaces that can be edited by one community (students in a group, for example) and viewed by a separate community (everyone in the class) or open to an even larger group (all of Penn State or anyone on the web) would be important. Sample tamplates would be helpful, and, if faculty are using the wiki for a course, an easy way to copy any beginning content over from semester to semester is necessary.

  8. Cole et. al.,

    I started working on a comment for here, and once I realized the length was approaching “post” length, I off-loaded it to my blog, with the requisite cross-post back to you.

    I started looking at it not just as an “ownership” question, but rather what would make me, as a faculty member, want to take ownership of a wiki? At the heart of my thoughts resides the notion that it isn’t “all that different” from what we have available to use through other means (Angel, etc)

    I have a rather lengthy discussion about Wikis and their use, but my bottom line is this:
    how does it:
    make the educational content better
    make the educator’s life easier freeing us up to focus on content rather than process, or
    enable students to grasp the information in a better/faster/cheaper way?

  9. I posted this on Steve Brady’s blog, and I will post it here too.

    Wikis don’t just allow for aggregation of information, but synthesis of it.

    I am using the term wiki more broadly here to simply mean a tool to enable collaborative editing of a document or groups of documents. A wiki could be a feature of a course management system along with the usual discussion boards and quiz tools.

    I am thinking of the camping trip example. If a threaded discussion was used to try to determine what was needed for the trip and who was bringing what, the information would be locked in dozens (or more) messages. If you wanted to know what you should bring, you would have to read all the messages. You would have to compare all the notes stating what is needed to all the notes stating what others are bringing.

  10. I think the ability to create ad hoc wikis is important. Consider the following uses of a wiki on campus:

    – a small group of students use a wiki to organize their work on a class project.

    – a student organization uses a wiki to plan an event.

    – a wiki can be used to organize the sessions of a barcamp style conference.

    – a group tasked with choosing which video conferencing software should be adopted on campus can use a wiki to compare features and share feedback.

    I feel I am really just hitting the tip of the iceberg here.

    Doesn’t it make sense that each of the groups above all have their own separate (and in some cases, private) space?

  11. I am thinking more and more about this and I am now convinced there needs to be a way to provision wiki spaces for individuals and groups. I like the “one wiki to rule them all” concept for communities of practice to use, but to not also allow individuals to create their own wiki spaces is selling the opportunity short.

    How to do it is my next question. With the blogs at PSU project we were able to select software that allowed us to publish static files into personal web space … I don’t know of that type of tool in the wiki space.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: