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December 9, 2017

Exploring IT Resources – Wikispaces

Filed under: EDDL 5101,Technology @ 1:50 am

Exploring IT Resources – Wikispaces

 

Introduction

Wikipedia is one of the most successful examples of collaborative knowledge in recent history. In just a few years, it has supplanted encyclopedias as the “go to” source for information, and several studies have suggested it is as reliable and accurate as the encyclopedia’s it replaced. While most people are aware of its existence, many do not realize the collaborative nature of the knowledge gathering process. Wikipedia defines a wiki as “website on which users collaboratively modify content and structure directly from the web browser”. The key word to me is collaboratively, and that spirit is what I will try to harness with this resource.

The host for this resource is Wikispaces, http://www.wikispaces.com/, an established company founded in 2005. Originally offering free wikis for everyone for any use, it has recently transitioned to a pay for premium access model, but still offers free use to K-12 or post-secondary educators.

Ease of Use

The Wikispaces format is easy to use for both learners and educators. The interface is reasonably intuitive, with an easy to see menu bar running down the right hand side of the page for content and navigation. Free use comes with 5 gigs of storage space, plenty for text and pdf files but limiting the ability to store videos on the site.  It does allow linking to external sites from content pages to video storing services like Youtube.

Content is easily uploaded, and WebDAV servicing is available. Discussion pages can be enabled or disabled, and can be formatted either as a single topic per page, or all topics on a single page to emulate a threaded discussion board. A choice of themes and stylesheets are available, and both themes and stylesheets can be edited and customized. Changes are tracked by the site and can be viewed by the wiki organizers.

Three different formats ae available:

  1. Classic wiki format, with standard content and discussion placing and features.
  2. Basic website, which looks like a website but allows editing like a wiki
  3. Classroom mode, which allows news feeds and enhanced engagement tracking

Organizers can switch between formats without loss of content.

Custom domain names are permitted, allowing DNS redirects from a domain the organizer already has set up.

Confidentiality

There is a range of security options available. .  With the permissions set to public, non-members are allowed to post in the discussion area and can request to join. I don’t envision this level of security being used in an educational setting.  At the strictest level of settings, the wiki is only visible to members. Members must be invited by e-mail and are sent a code that they can use to join. This ensures no outside access to the discussion boards and content.

You can also choose whether to allow the wiki to be indexed by search engines, and have the option of forcing all communications, not just logins and passwords, into SSL.

While no platform can be considered 100% secure, the site appears to provide adequate security for both learners and instructors.

Transferability/Scrubbability

Content can be easily exported and backed up. Export formats include text, PDF and HTM, so offline access to material or transfer to another platform shouldn’t be an issue.

There is an option for individual discussions to be deleted, and the entire wiki can be deleted by the organizer.

Academic Use

I envision using this resource in the classroom in two different, but similar, ways. Initially I would set up a wiki that involves the entire class. Course content can be stored on the site eliminating the need for handouts or e-mailed content. The discussion topics would cover introductions and icebreakers, and as the course progresses new topics could be discussed. The security features ensure the safety of the learners, and the organizer control over the discussions should prevent any issues from getting out of hand. The immediate use of the discussions with the introductions and icebreakers will hopefully help with the development of the learning community.

As the course progresses I would have the students utilize small group wikis for a form of team based learning. Both the security level and the fact that there is no cost make this ideal for students. After breaking the class into groups, I would assign a “real world” problem scenario to the class. Each group will open a wiki that initially will be only for their team members and the instructor. The site would be used to gather resources and collaborate to come up with a solution to the problem. After a set time each group would invite the rest of the class to be members of their wiki, a type of simultaneous reveal. All the groups would see each others solution, the research they did, and the discussions that occurred as they worked collaboratively on the solution. They would be able to comment on the work and join in the discussion.

 

 

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