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More wired than a Roman Internet café

I am setting up a wiki (user-editable website where anyone can add/update content) using the pbwiki toolkit in support of Ronnie Ancona's Writing Passion: A Catullus Reader. I would be interested in learning if other teachers are using wikis for their individual classes to facilitate collaboration, class projects, homework management, and research. If you are not, is it because the technology is new to you? If you are using wikis, for what purpose(s) are you using them, and have they improved your teaching experience and your students' learning experiences.

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hi Andrew, I am excited that you are using PBwiki - I will be curious to see how you use their system!

I don't use wikis for my online courses, but I am part of a long-standing Greek reading group that met for years (seven years?) in Norman, Oklahoma. when I moved to North Carolina, we had a kind of crisis - how would I still participate? even though none of the other folks in the group were at all technology-inclined, they fell in love with PBwiki immediately - I was actually amazed at how much they liked it!

so, it's been awesome - they still meet in person, but their in-person meetings have become much more productive as a result of sharing ideas and thoughts via the wiki beforehand - plus, it allows me to participate even though I cannot be there for the face-to-face meetings.

we are using it to comment on Greek reading passages, and for this purpose it is ideal: I stole the model used by the LatinStudy listserve, where there are chunks to translate, and each person puts their translation side by side, with room for questions, comments, and discussion at the bottom of the page. not everybody contributes a translation every time, but I've actually enjoyed the translating part more than I thought I would - normally I am very anti-translation, but as soon as you see the variety of translations side by side like that, it makes you realize how arbitrary the whole translation process is!

here's a screenshot of a typical page (it's password protected because, as I said, the other people in the group were very nervous about going online - it is totally new to all of them): click here for screenshot

setting up the page by page place for this to happen is a bit tedious, but it's definitely worth it - plus there are some features that have been really great:

PBwiki is fully Unicode-compliant so we have had no problems cutting and pasting Greek in there (we use http://typegreek.com - the tool a GENIUS student built for me a couple years ago for typing Greek easily on the web).

search: since the PBwiki search mode defaults to substring search, that is great for searching for variant forms of a word, just by typing in a substring

anyway, I could go on ... the main point is that this was an unexpected big success for us technologically - we've been using the wiki for several months now, and everyone in our reading group is delighted.

I think the key question, from my perspective, is always, 'what does this technology add or enable?' And, subsequent to that, 'How will it be used?', and 'Will it be used?'. I'm cautious of setting up and trying to use technological media for whatever purpose, without thinking through what it will actually add/enable/enhance, and likewise whether it will be functional in a way that encourages usability.

So, while I'm pleased (and thinking of imitating) to read of Laura Gibb's use of a wiki for Greek-reading/collaboration, I propose a socially-oriented question, What will motivate people to colloborate and use a wiki? Will it be a desire to share, or the structure of a set course (eg., if a teacher makes wiki-contribution assessable/mandatory as part of the syllabus), a critical-mass of interaction.

All questions, no answers today...
hi Seumas, you are exactly right about the use of wikis being very tricky indeed! the reason why I have NOT used it with any of my classes is that I don't think classes, at least the ones I teach, really function as a 'community' in a way that would be required for an open wiki. too many of my students are simply doing what the university system itself encourages them to do: do the minimum to get the grade and graduate. because I have a significant contingent of people in my classes who are inevitably (for many different reasons) going to do the minimum, while other students are really going to push far beyond the minimum, I use webpages and blogging instead of wikis in my classes, and then create the sense of community by having people read and comment on their individual writing efforts.

so this reading group was a great chance to do a wiki experiment I would be reluctant to try otherwise: exactly because we hda such a great sense of community and collaboration already in place, the transition to the wiki was effortless - although, as I said, I was as surprised as anyone - no one in the group besides me has much interest in technology; we just wanted to be able to share ideas together... and the wiki let us do that.

also, I do run wikis for my own purpose, without other users, because it is an awesome way to put content online quickly, edit it quickly, and so on - much faster than a traditional website. here's an Aesop wiki I've been running to accumulate raw materials that, presto change-o, will morph into a book for Bolchazy-Carducci very soon... and then this wiki will get a HUGE makeover so that it can house all the materials that don't fit in the book - of the 110 fables, only 80 will be in the book, and of those only 40 will have illustrations - but the wiki will be a space to keep the other texts, additional images, etc. available, with very little upkeep on my part. the wiki is not the most beautiful thing, but for sheer speed of putting up a text-intensive website, wow, it is GREAT: it's kind of like my own personal notebook online, but available for others to browse through if that might be useful to them!
For more how-tos in using wikis (and blogs) in education, visit this site called, er, Wikis and Blogs in Education. Video tutorials and lots of examples.




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