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Micro Blog

Who is this geezer?

I work as a Maths teacher in a Further Education college in the UK - that is a Community College in American.

If you google my name, I am not the professor of theoretical physics, and I am not a wildlife photographer :-) Adding 'maths resources' to the search narrows the range. You will get a good idea of the company I keep on the Web from such a search.

I'm interested in wiki like systems for encouraging students to write collectively - and to focus on documents rather than who said what. A lot of students use the wikipedia and are very surprised when they realise that the pages can be changed by anyone. I will probably be using wikis in protected systems like Moodle, but I have put up a public usemod wiki for students to try out for a preliminary activity.

Teaching is a concrete activity with short term time bound goals, so here is what I'm trying: Each Student is given a topic to research and post a page on. There will then be a general finding of links between topics and the adding of TopicSearch pages a la Leuf and Cunningham. Finally, some collective error checking, possible refactoring and tweaking will be encouraged before the issue of the final assignment concludes the 'research' phase. We will see how it goes.

I made a trivial modification of the UseModWiki perl code to apply a No Index metatag to each page in the public wiki I'm using for this trial activity - see WikiSpamWorkshop for the various techniques.

MeatBall pages of interest...

WikiAsFloor - students can have a public space to store links, words, explanations and so on

FormsOfCollaboration - What forms would suit an educational outcome? Given assessment processes here in the UK, the wiki would probably be for research findings and rough notes.

Introductory Activity

Experience has suggested that I have to introduce any use of Web applications to students in a face to face session - these students are just getting used to using computer applications together to produce complex documents. I walk through a task using a projector, and then students work at individual computers. The task below took about 45 minutes of a 3 hour session and introduced some useful aspects of wikis. Opinion:Those who came across wikis on the Web and grokked them straight away must remember that 'mainstreaming' wikis will need deliberate class based activities like this.

Review: some useful summaries - these level 3 students are still getting used to writing and prefer to write in Word at home. The 'topic search' (see The Wiki Way) went down well as some students grokked the self linking nature of the wiki. No surprise to find that conventions such as setting a preference name and adding an edit summary not always adhered to (My own experience here reflects that!)

Next step: Encourage addition to pages over the next few weeks. Holiday period is a non-starter.

Welcome rituals

Welcome to MB, Keith! Good to hear a bit about you. Looking forward to hearing how your experiment goes. -- ChrisPurcell

Welcome, Keith.

I'm intrigued that you are both a photographer and are interested in wikis because one of my assumptions is that "A picture is worth (more than) a thousand words." Now, I've watched the explosion of images due to digital photography at sites like FlickR and I know that this statement is not always true. But there are some instances in which it is dramatically evident. Personally, I am experimenting with the inclusion of images within wikis. Ideally, I hope to be able to have the ability to use the best of both, in combination. Has your past wotk with either of these art forms allowed you to form any opinions you might be prepared to share? -- HansWobbe

To HansWobbe - I am not a photographer although I take pictures. My interest in Wikis is recent, so I'm no expert there either.

A colleague at the college where I work would like a wiki-blog-quiz generator rolled into one, with drag and drop file upload. In teaching we need tools that can be used quickly and easily by people who are very busy. A teacher normally teaches for 24 hours per week. This leaves about 12 hours per week for all preparation, assesment and development activities within the contracted time. Obviously, most do plenty of work outside that time. I think a wiki - being so immediate - might help teachers provide useful homework activities quickly.

Today, I ran a training session for newer teachers in Information Learning Technology, the UK buzz word for using e-learning to support classroom work. The activity that got the group going most was setting up a simple blog on blogger. I'll wean them onto wikis sooner or later...


PS I like your idea of microBlogs so much, I shall steal it.

Thanks for the clarification regarding 'photography. My erroroneous assumption came from scanning too quickly since I was a bit rushed. (Know the feeling, in fact my biggest worry about using wikis with students is the thundering amounts of text they accumulate -KeithBurnett) Enjoy the microBlog idea, but there's no need for thanks (at least not to me) since its something that I also 'absorbed' while passing through cyberspace. Besides, I believe its nice to help others as a partial repayment to the many folks that have helped me. -- HansWobbe.

Sorry to come across as a complete nag, but you might want to have a quick read of DigestedSummary: we're not like most other wikis in the way we use our summary field. This is an interesting page to summarize, as it's had a lot of variety recently, but I've had a crack at it. What d'you think? -- ChrisPurcell

I have now read the DigestedSummary page, and thanks for your patience in explaining the way Meatball works. I'm learning about wiki community systems here by experience - and hope not to take too much more time along the way. -KeithBurnett

Meatball editing conventions learned to date (or at least the ones I have managed to break :-)

My version for student use of a usemod based wiki might look like this (we are talking 30 members or so)

Reading the wiki

Editing the wiki

You may be interested to know that our UseMod script is currently undergoing modifications. DigestedSummary and EditCategories were recent updates, as was the addition of AsynchronousAutorefresh. The next step is a UserFreeServer, with preferences next to where they are used rather than clustered on a Preferences page. I would welcome opinions on any of these, whether based on your personal preferences or on your future experiences of introducing students to a wiki.

Re: reading the wiki. It's important to add other systems for finding information as a wiki grows: RecentChanges is a community mechanism, not a point of entry for the wiki. You could take a look at the IndexingSchemes we've gathered for more about this. -- ChrisPurcell

Thanks for these observations. I shall consider the wording over the holiday - but please remember this wiki trial is with about 30 students in two groups - a huge community superstructure might not be needed. The 'recent changes' hint was designed to appeal to the pragmatist-activist students ('what is happening now - what do I need to do?'). The search/browse hint was aimed at the 'theorist/reflector' constituency ('I want some notes and some background'). How much 'structure' do people find needed with small wiki communities? -KeithBurnett

Hi Keith,

The reason my personal wiki hollenback.net is locked down is spam. My site starting attracting so much spam a year ago that I had no choice but to lock it down. The other problem is that the wiki software I use (phpwiki) has really become decrepit. There isn't anyone really developing it any more.

The problem of spam could be addressed by forcing users to reigster, going through CATCHAs, etc. Unfortunately all of this is pretty broken in phpwiki as it stands. I do have some hope of moving to pmwiki at some point instead. The problem is I then have to translate some 700 pages in the current wiki.

A major problem with wikis today is that each uses a different markup language. if some standard could be agreed upon I believe wikis would be much more powerful and useful - for example you could migrate your content between wikis at will


Thanks for reply - and I will bear in mind need for protection when converting my web site to wiki later this year... -KeithBurnett

Keith, I'm doing a fair amount of research on the use of wikis in the classroom. I'm writing a report about one (bad) experience right now. See my recent diary entries about ActivityGraph?ing. In the new year, I'll summarize what happened and maybe we can share experiences? -- SunirShah

Sure - but remember I'm working with small numbers of students well below University level, some of whom have limited experience with online tools of any kind. The ActivityGraph? system looks well neat. -KeithBurnett



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