Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lessons Learned from our Wikis

Journal Wiki
I'm learning a great deal from the two student wikis we have in use. The first one is the journal wiki that I've written about before except its lack of change notification. I received a good suggestion from Diane P; she is making great use of Nicenet and suggested that it might meet my needs. I'll check it out if I can remember my old Nicenet user name and password.

Important Poems Wiki
Since my wonderful communications class has mastered every bit of technology that I've thrown at them, I decided to give wikis a try as well so that they would have the exposure and I could get a handle on how they worked so I could plan for their use next year.

Unlike our journal wikis which are private, our entire class can edit the poem wiki. At this point, that has proved to be more of a weakness than a strength...

We spent a few brief periods in the lab working on it last week. The index page of the wiki was to be a list of their names. Their names would be links to their pages where the poems would be. I had thought of creating the list of names myself, but I wanted them to have some experience with the CamelCase necessary to create links in the Moodle wiki (or at least, necessary when you are running such an old OS that you don't get the toolbar in edit mode).

The first problem arose on the second day when kids would click the edit button on the index page and make their changes. When they tried to save the changes, they were told the page was in use because other children were editing it at the same time. As I realized what was happening, I told them to all leave and I'd type the list. After I typed in all the names, I realized that one child had NOT logged out and so I hunted him down and had to type all the names again. Finally, all was working well.

This afternoon we were in the lab. Some children were commenting on each other's Important Poems in our Poem Wiki in Moodle. Other students were still trying to get their poems into the wiki. Unfortunately, this became impossible for a brief period. It all centered around one student. This poor kid had his computer crash last week when he was drafting the poems. As a result of the crash, his own computer didn't have the poems, but even after a restart all other computers claimed the couldn't access the file because it was in use. Fortunately, we used the Apple OS trick of opening a recent document and that pulled it up.

Today when we were back in the lab he was eager to get the poems onto the wiki where they would be safer. Unfortunately, he's not real big on reading or listening to directions and he managed to delete the index page of our wiki by pasting his poem over it. I tried using the wiki's revert to previous draft feature, but I couldn't get it working. I'll need to read up on it.

In any case, I asked everyone to once again get out of the index page. I retyped all the names. To my relief, the new list of names was linked to the children's poem pages. If that hadn't worked, I didn't know how to relink them.

A few minutes after all the links were restored, the poor kid's friend helped him to do the exact same thing AGAIN. His friend pasted the poem over the index page. It was a teachable moment as I showed them how to tell what page they were editing, and then I typed all the names again. Actually, a few of the names survived this second assault so I only had to retype half of them.

So, up to this point, the highly editible nature of wikis has been a hindrance to progress. However, I think that as we move ahead, they will master wikis and be able to respond to each other's writing even from the old computer lab where the forum module won't work correctly. In the future, I'd use one of the online wiki platforms that allow comments and provide a real-world audience. Until then, I'll probably get really quick at retyping.