Jay Cross
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Hop in the Wiki
Sunday, September 25, 2005
I'm trying to build a conference agenda collaboratively with a dozen people in eight countries. It's a natural application for a wiki. The problem is that most of the people in the group have never seen a wiki, much less posted entries to one, though all are quite computer-literate. I'm having a tough time recruiting people to dive in.

Has anyone found a compelling pitch for getting people to participate in a wiki?

Here are the words I'm emailing the group today.

Wikis going mainstream
New to wikis? You are not alone. This is the first time for most of us. Until this year, wikis were a tool for geeks and early adopters. Now wikis are becoming mainstream. At four of the last five successful conferences I've attended, wikis have proven useful for planning, coordination, keeping people up to date, and capturing feedback from participants. "Why a wiki?" has become "Where's the wiki?"

Problems in the past
I used to hate wikis because they seemed so intentionally bare bones. Formatting text involved learning arcane commands. Wikis did not accommodate graphics. It was very easy to get lost.

Simple as peanut butter
We're using PB Wiki. *PB* is short for peanut butter. The concept is that creating a wiki should be as easy as making a peanut butter sandwich. Formatting is simple, putting brackets around its URL inserts a graphic, and a sidebar clarifies navigation. Click AllPages and you'll see there's even a SandBox page to practice on.

Great for collaboration
Just as a word processor is designed to serve one person at a time, wikis were made for working with others. Everyone has access to every page. The content of the wiki is our shared responsibility to create and improve. It's a more direct way of collaborating than the old method of trading documents back and forth.

Our world becomes more interconnected day by day. Doing things out in the open makes it easier to forge new links. "All of us are smarter than any of us" but we can't take advantage of that unless we show more of ourselves and the wiki is a vehicle for doing just that.

Out of your comfort zone
Bottom-up tools like wikis can play a vital role in educational reform. You can't offer the best advice to others if you have no experience with it yourself. If you're a bit uncomfortable with the process, that's means you have an opportunity to try something new. Please participate in planning our agenda on the wiki.

More about wikis


Blogger Ben Watson said...

I always tell people that a wiki is like a Word document that you, or anyone, can edit through a web browser.

Simply click "edit" and make your changes and click "update".

If you want to create a new page (i.e. a new link) just edit the page you want the link to appear on and type the the name of the link using a combination of upper and lowercase letters with no spaces (i.e. ConferenceAgenda). Click "update" and the link will appear on that page. Click on the new link and a blank page will appear. Click "edit" and add your text.

I normally put on the FrontPage (home page) of a wiki instructions like:
Introduce yourself! Click "edit" (in the upper left hand corner) and edit this page to add your name under the Members section and click on "update". (for bonus points add your name in the format FirstnameLastname (i.e. BenWatson) and a new web page will be created for your to add a profile of yourself).

Just for fun if anyone wants to try this out I have created a wiki at:

Go there and simply add your name. You will need to know that the password is 8wMKTz66fF
It's that easy!

12:13 PM  
Blogger Fouad Ahmad said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Fouad Ahmad said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As with many new "collaborative" technologies, there's still a lot of hand holding to do. What about appointed a concierge (could be a rotated position) to help people out.

Bob L.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Fouad Ahmad said...

The open source LCMS ATutor recently announced an implementation of ErFurtWiki add on module.



I have loaded this add on to my ATutor server and it looks like it has great potentials. As the ATutor site states this add on "provides a wide range of wiki tools to allow students to create pages, upload and download files, keep a calendar, store images, and generally build knowledge on course topics."


2:02 PM  
Blogger Harold Jarche said...

You might want to try a non-wiki variant. I've been using Writely for about a week, and it's easier than any wikis I've used. It even tells you if someone else is editing at the same time. It's good for small groups of collaborators and it's still in beta so you might be the first one on your block to use it ;-)

3:55 PM  
Blogger Ben Watson said...

RE Harold Jarche ...
What I don't like about Writely is that the beta is free and they won't tell you what it will cost in the future.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Dave Ferguson said...

If your collaborators don't seem familiar with a wiki, they may lack a context that makes sense to them for how to apply the wiki to the planning task.

While it's accurate to say "it's a document anybody can edit," the past experience your colleagues have in preparing conference agendas may not make that description useful to them. Their model till now may have been "Hugo will write up X, send it to Moira, and she'll add comments and send them back."

To the extent that's true, the colleagues may be accustomed to finishing products -- even if the products are drafts -- and may not be accustomed to the no-one-owner, no-unspoken-norm-of-checking-before-changing mode of a wiki.

They may not see how the process works in practice. They may not be able to articulate a question like "what happens if I change something I shouldn't have?" (I'm leaving aside the implications of 'shouldn't' and am simply talking about the practical issues.) They may not see how the thing ever gets 'finished' (and 'finished' often seems to be a critical-to-quality element of conference agendas).

In rereading the original post, I notice six paragraphs (beginning with "wikis going mainstream") that to me are about wikis, and zero paragraphs that are about building conference agendas with them (except in the most general sense).

I realize I don't know the background of the other collaborators. On the other hand, even with some experience of working with a wiki, if I put myself in the position of working on a conference agenda, I'm not sure how I'd make the leap.

One solution, then, might be to start where the 'learners' are, to highlight the outcome (an agreed agenda), and to show how applying this tool gets them there.

Just how did a wiki prove useful for planning? How did it help coordinate? What does a before-and-after look like? How do we resolve strong opinions about two alternative approaches?

None of this is meant to criticize the idea of using the wiki; I'm just thinking out loud about how I might react as a member of the planning group. When someone tells me to get out of my comfort zone, I can't help thinking he sounds fairly comfortable himself.

-- Dave

6:30 AM  
Blogger Harold Jarche said...

Ben - you're right in that we don't know their business model, but when you check the fine print you see that they are looking at context-senstive ads, like Google's Adsense. I think that Writely will have a free version with ads and a paid version without ads and some individualized branding options. That's my bet anyway.

Another option would be to use a Drupal install (like my website) and use the "Book" function which allows for multiple authors and maintains a book history so you can revert to any previous version. Drupal can be a bit of a challenge to administer though.

Jay - I could set one up for you on my site, but it wouldn't be password protected unless I can figure out how to do that ;-)

10:08 AM  
Blogger Corrie said...

"Easy as making a peanut butter sandwich" - LOL!

The first exercise I give beginning students (in both computer programming and instructional design) is to write the directions for making a PBJ. Then we have someone try to follow them, but act really clueless, for example, trying to spread peanut butter without first picking up the knife. This surfaces the writer's assumptions about what the audience knows and can do without being explictily told.

For some people, "save these files in a new directory" is a simple task. For others, it's an intimidating multi-step procedure. Context is everything.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Ulrike said...

clear instructions (step 1, step2, step 3 type instructions) and an example made me post to a wiki in an online course. It worked fine, but not everybody is happy to try new things, some may fear that they loose control and all of a sudden there is some jibberish out there with their name on :-)
Good luck with the encouragemenet,

2:25 AM  
Blogger jay said...

Thanks for all the suggestions. Perhaps I should have shared more about the group I'm working with.

All have experience developing conference agendas and making presentations. Almost everyone involved has top-notch credentials in eLearning and/or social network analysis.

I sense that the reluctance to join in is discomfort with the open process. Making entries to a wiki is more like talking with your fingers than writing a memo.

For all the enthusiasm over wikis, they remain far from general acceptance.

9:46 PM  

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