Wednesday, June 21, 2006

WYSIWYG Wiki

I've been checking out wikis lately. Wikis are collaborative webpages that anyone can add to/edit. This can be both good and bad. It's good because everyone gets to collaborate and collaboration is the way education is going these days. The bad is that everyone gets to change the pages. This can lead to vandalism.

The most famous wiki is Wikipedia a free online encyclopedia. It's huge and really useful, but students tend to treat it as 100% accurate, which it isn't. That said, it is a really good starting point for a lot of research.

There are a few ways of getting into wikis. One is to download wiki software and have it installed on the school's server. I know nothing about this and so I'm not going to address it. The other main way is through web services. I do not know all that are available, I'm still just learning. Here are the two I've played with:

pbwiki.com - Free or paid. Easy to use. You can code in html or a simple wiki mark-up code. It can be free to everyone or password protected. In the free version you only get one password which means everyone who's working with it uses the same password making it impossible to track who's responsible for each change. I've only really scratched the surface of this one.

wetpaint.com - This one is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) wiki. There is no code to learn, just click the format buttons as you go. The downside is you are constrained. You can not code in html which means you don't have as many options. This can be good if you don't want to teach any mark-up code and it makes it less threatening to users with weaker skills.

I really like WetPaint. I've only been playing with it for a couple of days and I have to say I'm impressed. I believe most students (and teachers) could be off and running with this after only a few minutes of instructions.

WetPaint
allows for three levels of management. You must pick one when you create the wiki and you can not change it later. The first is totally open, anyone can make changes anonymously. The second level requires a WetPaint login. The third level is by invitation only. No matter what level is chosen the Moderator (that's you) can lock down pages and ban users.

The invitation level really opens this to use with students. I haven't tried this yet, but it should make it possible to track changes to individual users and hold them accountable. For some educators this has been the main roadblock to being able to use wikis in class.

I've been creating a Wiki on WetPaint to go along with a COATT Workshop I'm leading in July. After the workshop I'll post a followup to let you know how well the Workshop Wiki was received.

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2 comments:

Ben said...

Interesting thoughts Steve. While I've seen how nice Wetpaint sites look compared to PBWiki, and other free wiki tools, I haven't actually dove into it yet. What I'd really like from a wiki tool is the ability to "capture" a certain version of the site and then export it onto another server in it's entirety, so whatever you create could be saved, and then erased to start a new creation without having to start up a new account. Sort of like a Word document.

Steve Dickie said...

I don't think you will get this out of any of the free web based solutions. You best bet is to implement your own wiki on your own server.

This goes beyond my abilities (or at least my time available and resources). MediaWiki is what Wikipedia uses and is free afaik.