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Wormholes or Wikis?

 “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.  That’s what we’re doing”. 
Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder (Wales, 2004 in Richardson, 2007).

The word wiki is short form of the Hawaiian wiki-wiki which means “quick” or “fast” (named from an airport shuttle bus) and became an Oxford English Dictionary recognized word in 2007.  Chad Boeninger (2007) says “In its simplest terms, a wiki is basically a website in which the content can be created and edited by a community of users.” (p. 25) A wiki enables groups (“communities”) to write documents collaboratively, either a single “wiki page” or an entire collection of pages, connected by hyperlinks, “the wiki”.

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My experience with the planets in the wiki system:

I LOVE reading Wikis and using them for information. The content is often much more timely than textbooks, and it is kept up to date on a regular basis.  My favourite wiki is Wikipedia – I check in for various reasons at least three times a week, but I have never edited any pages.  Embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t think I could!  I thought you had to “have permission”, be one of the “editors”. 

One of the crew’s favourite shows, “The Big Bang Theory”, aired an episode where two characters were spending an evening “Trolling” – deliberately adding incorrect / inflammatory content to Wikipedia pages.  This type of behaviour has led some to nickname the wiki “Whackypedia”.  But do such destructors win?  Alex Halavais purposely created errors which were fixed within hours (Halavais, 2007 in Richardson, 2007), which leads to the conclusion that the “owners” of the wiki (the general public) will not allow defacing to happen to their work.  Richardson (2007) says that “Each entry is the group’s best effort, not any one person’s.” 

For a group project during my last voyage, we used a wiki.  A request from Admiral Branch on Ship EDES540 led us into the wiki sector – a first time for me.  (http://newteacherlibrarians.pbworks.com/w/page/FrontPage).  It was not an experience that made me want to try “wiki-ing” again any time soon.  At first, we were so polite to each other and tried unsuccessfully to collaborate via Skype (we were all piloting our own vehicles, several parsecs apart).  Then we slowly began adding things – links, info, etc, onto the wiki landing site.  The work moved so slowly and the due date crept up.  We suddenly had to dump as much information as possible onto the wiki, and all thoughts of collaboration flew out the airlock.  One of us (ahem) was very concerned with the overall look, making sure it was tidy, links actually did link etc.  But the time spent on that did not reflect the mark allocated, so that particular pilot did not feel that she contributed as much as others.  That is one of the biggest challenges of group projects, allocation of work.

In fact, what that wiki project did do was to make me evaluate my practices as an educator.  No longer do I require “group work” on certain pieces.  All my former “group” projects now allow recruits to do the work solo if they prefer.  Some recruits do prefer to work alone, or their schedules do not allow for collaboration.

But (and this is a BIG “BUT”), I must confess that the work of solo students does not have the same impact as the work done by more than one.  This makes me reflect on the project assigned in the last sector by Admiral Branch.  There is absolutely no way that I would have been able to tackle the work alone.  I enjoyed the benefits of having more experienced pilots in my group, ones who had recently completed manoeuvres (I had not flown for almost 20 years) and knew how to find the information necessary to complete the assignment.  If I had attempted the project solo, it would have been like my son’s favourite breakfast cereal – a very pretty box and no nutritional value inside.  The ability to collaborate through a wiki was like having the complete nutritionally sound breakfast.  Could my recruits benefit as well?  Could it be that the assignment that the Admiral gave us had a purpose in mind to make us realize that a wiki is indeed, the best effort of the group, and that best effort will trump any individual efforts?  This realization is enough to make me travel further into the wiki system and study the planets in greater detail.

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Planet Peanut Butter and Moon Jelly:

Just found out that the “PB” of PBWikis is Peanut Butter!! Why?  Because they claim that making a wiki is as easy as making a peanut butter sandwich.  Of course, my previous experience has led me to believe I have a peanut allergy, but perhaps it is more just a sensitivity that I can overcome.

What I love about the Trailfires that Dr. B puts together for this mission is that they get you WANTING to try out the tool.  How could I use a wiki?  I have three ideas: 

Home planet Wiki – Back on Chardonnay, we hold a gathering every warm season of several families.  After the festivities (and they are VERY festive, this is Chardonnay, after all), we send each other photographs and written documentation of the event.  Between the 21 participants, that leads to many variations of the same photos and recollections.  I would like to establish a wiki that we can all access and contribute to in order to house all of the memories.  We can add video too.  Since we all live in different parts of Chardonnay, the ability to add and edit content from anywhere is a benefit.
Explaining this to my young crew, they decided that it would be like a “group Facebook”.  Yes, something similar, I decided.

Classroom Wiki – recruits benefit from collaboration.  Many studies have highlighted the fact that “two heads are better than one” (unless you are from Sliyohng, where they favour the tri-headed slithorwort…).  Those two heads can even become a few more in a classroom wiki.  It would be fun to see what the recruits come up with as responses to questions like:  “What does every 6th level recruit need to know about entering The Middle School Ship?” Or, the ever popular debate “Should we have ship uniforms?”  We are currently enjoying the “At what age should a recruit stop Trick-or-Treating?” discussion.  Wikis might be a good opportunity for small groups to reach consensus, while teaching the all-important concept of “You can’t always get your way”.   No doubt we will encounter “editing wars”, but valuable life lessons can result and we all know that the Non-Dark Side of the Force wins every time anyway.*

Bridget McRae (2010) does have a warning:

One challenge Davis has run into when using wikis involves simultaneous editing and the fact that the tools aren’t made to accommodate multiple users all at once. “This isn’t the technology you want to be using if you have 20 students trying to edit one page,” said Davis, who suggested Google Docs for that type of work (but not for building individual Web sites quickly, which is exactly what wikis work well for). “There are pros and cons to each option. Teachers really have to weigh out the selections before making a choice.”

Okay, there goes the idea of an entire class wiki.  Perhaps that can be one wiki for a small group of recruits, especially since some cannot meet outside of school hours…but the set up to get to that point?

When working with wikis in the educational setting, Burton (in McRae, 2010) said, “The initial setup is the hardest part.”  When the layout and templates are well thought-out in advance, she added, the wiki is that much easier to use and manage. ..wikis [are] a viable option for high school teachers looking to add more Web 2.0 technology into the classroom. “The time put in on the front end is definitely worth it.”

As with any other web 2.0 tool I have explored so far, they all require “front end” time commitment.  The key is to establish which ones are really worth my “front end” time, as it is limited.  Are wikis worth it for a classroom full of 7th level recruits or is it more for the upper level junior pilots?  

Mothership Wiki – Wikis can be excellent spaces for professional collaboration, such as teacher lessons on a particular subject area.  Boeninger (2007) says that while many staff have “intranet” resource pages, the pages are often put together by a single web administrator and may not be using timely information.  “A wiki can help alleviate this problem since anyone can add and edit content, thereby ensuring timely, relevant communication among the users.” (p. 26). 

Boeninger’s description of Ohio University’s “Ref Wiki” (p. 26) leads me to think about having a wiki for our Mothership.  He also poses questions as to whether a wiki is truly needed or not (p.31):

  • Will the wiki help communication in the organization?
  • Will the wiki help to fill some void or solve some problem?
  • Is there a need for virtual collaborative spaces?
  • Does the [organization] need to disseminate dynamic content to [its] users (HUH?) Translation from Klingon: Does the commander of the Mothership think that the pilots on the Mothership need to know the information?

This pilot has answered “YES” to each of those questions and has concluded that the Mothership needs a wiki.  Why? A wiki can be accessed from anywhere, as long as there is internet connection.  Currently, all the information that helps our Mothership run smoothly is on our hard drive of the ship itself, or is sent via email.  If changes are added, every crew member must be notified, and then we each must save a new copy of the original.  Using a wiki, one must simply access the wiki via the web and the content is all in one spot, and is kept up to date.  All pilots could access necessary info from our own personal ships while having the ability to add our own observations and knowledge.  It becomes the best effort of the entire crew, rather than just one or two members.

What could be on a Mothership wiki:

  • Basic manoeuvres for all crew, particularly new pilots, including fire drills, assembly seating plans, etc
  • Crew / pilot meeting minutes
  • links to Individual Education Plans (for our recruits who have them)
  • Hints for working with recruits whose first language is not “Grapevine”
  • Unit / Lesson Plans for each particular sector of the universe we expect our recruits to explore, such as the Science Nebula and the Math Conundrum
  • Links to online textbooks, resources
  • Committee work and planning
  • Upcoming events

Also, if the wiki is “hosted” by the TL, then the TL is the centre of the knowledge base, which makes an easy spot for face to face communications or as a facilitator to those pilots who are not completely ready to fly solo yet.  There are two options for “hosting” the wiki – self hosting, and hosting “farms”.

A self-hosted wiki such as MediaWiki and Wikipedia means that all data and files are stored locally, not dependent on a wiki-hosting service.  This allows for easier customization.  But the maintenance and technical support needed may prove to be too much for the average web wandering TL, so a hosted site may be the answer.

A wiki “host” (“farm”) is a company that provides space on a server that they own or lease for use by their clients as well as providing Internet connectivity, typically in a data center. Wikipedia lists the currently most notable wiki “farms” as Wikia, PBWorks, Wikispaces, Wetpaint, Wikidot, Referata and ShoutWiki.  The pilots at http://lists.econsultant.com/top-10-hosted-wiki-services.html, list PBWiki, StikiPad, Jotspot, WikiSpaces and Wikicities as their Top 5 Free wikihosts.

The one thing that would hold the crew of the Mothership back from using a wiki would be concerns over privacy.  This is a necessary feature of a wiki for the Mothership – that only the crew of the ship be able to view the contents, as some of the information would be very sensitive.  This aspect will be explored in the next section.

Let’s circle some of those planets to see if we can find a suitable landing space…

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Wormhole or Wiki?  Exploration of the WikiWonderland

Boeninger warns against turning the wiki over to the users too soon: “It is strongly advised that the wiki creator should begin adding content and structure.  Wikis are very new to many people, and if they are presented with a blank wiki with little structure, they may not be inclined to add to it.  In many cases, [they] will be afraid to add new content…” (p. 32)

So there goes my plan of creating a wiki and having it up and running with content added by several people in the next 72 hours.

BUT, I can create one, and perhaps experiment a bit…

Planet PBWorks: The first place I went to was the security page (http://pbworks.com/content/security), which makes me think that the Mothership may be comfortable using this technology.  I know my little personal spacecraft would be fine!  PBWorks also has a persuasive “For Educators” section, including links to their “educator community” to “see what real teachers are doing with PBWorks in their classrooms.”  Well, I always choose the real teachers over the replica (that scary business in Sector 9 on the way through the wormhole…)  Hmmm, this site is tempting.

Have decided to make stopover.  Signed up for a user space and have begun to add and edit.  Planet is familiar as I did make a brief visit here earlier in the year.  It is also related to Planet WordPress – many similar features, although adding images seems to be a break in communications in that area, as PBWorks does not show images, but rather a little icon that the viewer must click on.  Or, I haven’t figured it out yet, as is often the case with this pilot.

http://thewebwandererstestwiki.pbworks.com/w/page/Welcome

This “test” wiki accomplished several things.  First, I became an administrator and added four “pilots” (testing for a classroom wiki).  I used another account on my ship and logged in as each pilot and navigated around, adding some text.  It was simple enough to do so.   I now know I can create a wiki and “invite” a specific group to be contributors. 

What was not as easily accomplished was adding an image.  Figuring out how to embed the code was simple enough, but once the image was in the wiki, it was unmovable.  The image is firmly entrenched in a spot where I do not want it to be.  I left it there as a reminder that images are not easily manipulated in PBWorks (similar to WordPress in that way).  Gadgets (penguins, in this case) and video (gotta love Gerry Dee! http://thewebwandererstestwiki.pbworks.com/w/page/Gerry-Dee-Fan-Club) seem a tad easier. 

As administrator, I can also “check for plagiarism” and “Control access to this page” from the sidebar, as well as see the history of the editing.  All in all, PBWorks is a strong contender for personal / classroom use.  The Mothership may also consider it as well, depending on the image capability, as including photos of the recruits may be a valuable part of its use.

It seems that my earlier experience on this planet was in fact beneficial.  It was much easier to navigate the second time around and I now feel I judged PBWorks, in fact the whole system of wikis rather too harshly.  <Grumble Grumble…hate admitting I was wrong> 

Briefly landed on Planet Wikia… (http://thewwtest.wikia.com/wiki/TheWebWandererTest_Wiki).  While I liked the “look” of the landing platform I designed, there were no provisions made available to limit the users as Planet PBWorks has, most likely because this is less of a “hosted” site and requires more technical knowledge that this pilot has.

Further exploration in the Wiki System may provide the Web Wanderer with an ideal landing platform that combines both the aesthetically pleasing look of Wikia with the ultimate control of PBWorks.  Will have to confer with other pilots back on the Chardonnay system to see if they had better success.

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“Au revior” Wiki System (Until we meet again…)

Richardson (2007) “Just like blogs, wikis are coming of age.”  Is this true?  I began this exploration with the mindset that blogs were the way to go, but have been persuaded to see that both wikis and blogs can be beneficial, depending on what the goal is.  http://wiki.wetpaint.com/page/Wiki+vs+Blog

Although my first experience with wikis was not a positive experience, I have come to the conclusion that I will experiment with wikis in my classroom, personal life and will make the suggestion the Commanding Officer of the Mothership that we think about using a wiki to hold our ship’s information.  I have been persuaded.  Why?  As Richardson (2007) says: 

As we continue to move toward a world where everyone has access to ideas and where collaboration is the expectation rather than the exception, wikis can go a long way to teaching our students some very useful skills for their future.

And that is what my job is: To prepare my recruits for the future.

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Blogs vs Wikis, one last thought:

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Have to add just one more…doing a workshop tomorrow with several others from my staff and decided to build a wiki so we have something to show for our “day off”!  Obviously, I am convinced that this is a beneficial tool to use!
http://vmsbalancedassessment.pbworks.com/w/page/FrontPage

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Special thanks to the collaborative efforts of all who create Wikipedia.  I would send you all special treats from Chardonnay, if I could.

* As opposed to the “Dark Side of the Force”, no mention is made in any Star Wars movies (to my recollection) of the name of the “other” of the Force…I should confer with Pilot Kirsten…is it “Light Side”?  “Non-Dark Side”?  “Unburnt Side”?  “SPF 100 Side”?

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Image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/42/HNL_Wiki_Wiki_Bus.jpg

Boeninger, Chad, F. (2007) The wonderful world of wikis: Applications for libraries.  In Nancy Courtney (Ed), Library 2.0 and beyond: Innovative Technologies and tomorrow’s user (pp. 35-48). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

McCrea, Bridget (2010) http://thejournal.com/articles/2010/09/15/wiki-centric-learning.aspx, 09/15/10.

Richardson, W. (2006). Wikis: Easy collaboration for all in Blogs, wikis and podcasts. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press. (As a Kindle download from Amazon – note: no page numbers available to use for direct quotes)

Websites visited:

http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6590061.html

http://www.geekgirls.com/net_wikis.htm

http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2010/09/dispelling-8-common-myths-of-schools.html

http://lists.econsultant.com/top-10-hosted-wiki-services.html

http://wiki.wetpaint.com/page/Wiki+vs+Blog

2 comments

  1. “The content is often much more timely than textbooks, and it is kept up to date on a regular basis.”

    – Hey, this is great promotional point!

    “we were all piloting our own vehicles, several parsecs apart”

    – this continued blog “voice” bit is awesome.

    “No longer do I require “group work” on certain pieces. All my former “group” projects now allow recruits to do the work solo if they prefer. “

    – Nice insight!

    “then the TL is the centre of the knowledge base” and thus the centre of the known universe…

    I don’t know about PB wikis, but the educator version of wikispaces does allow you to create student accounts without e-mail addresses, which is great, along with pseudonyms, for reassuring parents who don’t want ANY personal information about their child online on random data servers.

    As for your question about the opposite of the Dark Side in Star Wars, Wookieepedia had this to say
    “The light side of the Force, also commonly known as the Ashla or simply the Force, was the side of the Force aligned with honesty, compassion, mercy, self-sacrifice, and other positive emotions. For the most part, the Jedi simply referred to this as the Force.”
    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Light_side_of_the_Force

    I rather like your “Unburnt Side”, however…


    • Thanks Kirsten! I really wanted you to have a look at my post so you could see I needed your help. =) Ashla…would be a pretty girl’s name.

      The WW



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