Monday, June 22, 2009

Wikis, Revisited

More than a year ago, I put the final touch on a report called Wikis in Higher Education, an assignment I worked on for some time from when I started working for the University of Delaware and May 2008. Since the release of the report, there has been some success stories using the wiki tool in Sakai at UD. The latest success story comes from Persephone Braham, an Assistant Professor in the Foreign Languages and Literatures Department.

Collaborative Wiki Project for Latin American Cultures - Persephone Braham from Mathieu Plourde on Vimeo.

But at the pace that the web technologies are evolving nowadays, the Sakai Wiki tool is becoming weaker every day, as wiki-like behaviors are becoming a part of other web 2.0 technologies. Not that it's a bad thing, but having access to a protected, institutionally-supported wiki space has undeniable value in higher education.

Below are some of the missing features that would need to be included in Sakai in order to make its wiki tool competitive again. Some of these features will become available in Sakai in the near future, but I found relevant to list them here anyway.

1. Rich Text Editor

This feature has been asked for years, yet it is not implemented. Attempts have been made to integrate the FCK Editor with the wiki tool, but results have been dissapointing. The biggest issue is related to the fact that there are too many features in the FCK Editor that are not supported in the wiki markup language, like resizing a picture or formatting a table. Other Web 2.0 wiki products like Wikispaces have been using a rich text environment from the get-go, and even rarely show the wiki markup language to the user.

2. Embedding

Users create content outside of Sakai, and they would like to be able to embed objects (videos, sounds, pictures, etc.) inside the page as they create content. Again, this feature is available on all blog engines and on most wiki engines as well.

3. Table Formating

The default "first line is a header with a yellow background" doesn't cut it anymore. Sometimes, the content needs to be presented differently, and users have been complaining about this lack of flexibility. Most wiki engines support a way to turn a cell into a table header. Confluence does it with a double pipe ( || ), Wikidot with a tilde after a pipe ( |~ ).

4. Page and Comment Deletion

It is a little ridiculous to not be able to delete a page or a comment. The workaround is definitely weird. The fact that a page cannot be deleted does not promote tidyness, a basic wiki behavior that should be engrained in user's minds.

5. Group Awareness

I have been asked over and over again if wiki spaces could be created for specific groups in Sakai. Faculty want to assign spaces and change permissions to only allow certain subsets of users access to sections or pages to read or edit.

6. Listing of User Edits

Although highly inefective and time consuming (and personally discouraged as often as possible by yours truly), tracking user edits is a feature that faculty members are requesting. The idea would be to be able to seach for a user and see a list of all the edits that user has done in a specific site. Some faculty members believe that exposing that data can help them assign a participation grade.

7. Editing In Place

This one is a little far-fetched, but it is a behavior we see more and more often online. The idea that whenever a users hovers an editable part of the text and clicks it to start editing is definitely a part of the user experience expectations.

An Emerging Dilemma in the Sakai Community

Now that I have exposed some of the feature requests I'd like to see in the Sakai wiki, the problem comes back to this: How much effort is the community willing to demonstrate in fixing Sakai 2.x vs. developing Sakai 3? Sakai 2.x. is going to be around for at least another year before a stable release of Sakai 3 is available. Are we willing to put our current LMS on ice for a whole year, or are we going to make it work better right now?

I am not sure what the answer to this question is, but I would sure like to hear your opinion on this issue.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Update on Sakai 3: Everything is Content

There has been a lot of speculation on what Sakai 3 will be and how it will dramatically change user experience. There is most definitely a paradigm shift between Sakai 2 and 3. Will this new way to interact with an LMS suit the needs of educators worldwide? You be the judge.

I made a short presentation (12 minutes) to the members of our LMS Committee on June 16, 2009. My slides are available on Slideshare. (Disclaimer: I based parts of my material on Michael Korcuska's Sakai 3 presentation)

If you are looking for a more detailed tour, below is a screencast recorded in early June 2009. Michael Korcuska explains the big concepts that are guiding the development process of Sakai 3.

Since Sakai 3 is still in its early development, please consider getting involved with the community! Use cases and feedback are as important as the code itself, so whatever talent or time you have to devote is greatly needed and appreciated. You can try an alpha version at

Do you think that everything should be content and workflows? Do you believe this is something educators will embrace?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Googles, Tweets, and Pods: Social Media and the Millennial Learning

I finally completed the 4th part of the presentation Chris Penna, Dawn Fallik, and I gave at the Lilly-East conference back in April 2009. Our topic revolved around using web 2.0 tools in the classroom. We used the Student Multimedia Design Center at the University of Delaware to make the presentation more of a workshop.

We created a Google Doc with links to all of our presentation material.

Lilly-East 2009

Part 1 is the introduction and a quick review of the use of Twitter in the classroom.

Lilly-East 2009 - Googles, Tweets, and Pods: Social Media and the Millennial Learning - Part 1 - Mathieu Plourde from Mathieu Plourde on Vimeo.

In part 2, Dawn Fallik explains how she gets her students to create podcasts through their cellphones.

Lilly-East 2009 - Googles, Tweets, and Pods: Social Media and the Millennial Learning - Part 2 - Dawn Fallik from Mathieu Plourde on Vimeo.

Chris Penna explains his use of Google Docs to stimulate collaborative writing in his class in part 3.

Lilly-East 2009 - Googles, Tweets, and Pods: Social Media and the Millennial Learning - Part 3 - Chris Penna from Mathieu Plourde on Vimeo.

I created the part 4 after the event since we ran short on time (we spent too much time getting people started using the tools). As the Sakai Project Leader, I had to shamelessly plug my LMS in there, of course ;-)

I think Dawn and Chris did an excellent job at explaining the value of using web 2.0 tools in for their courses. If you have encountered faculty practices that are worth replicating (the new term for "best practices"), please add URLs to the comments below!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Social Media: What's In It For Me?

I have just completed something I should have done a long time ago... I have created a slidecast of a presentation I gave to the CHEP teaching with technology community of practice back in March 2009.

It's a little long (30 minutes), but it explain the process I have been through and the benefits of constructing a personal learning network (PLN). I hope my story will convince other people to give it a try.

One of the reason why I publish this now is because of Alec Couros' keynote address we had last week at the Summer Faculty Institute. He did a splendid job at exposing what a connected teacher should now be. The video of his presentation is embedded below.

Please share your personal learning network stories in the comments, because the more you share, the more you get back!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Challenging the LMS Model

I had the chance to catch a glimpse of Jim Groom's session at CUNY a couple of weeks ago on UStream, but then I saw this video on the Chronicle's site about Jim's view of the future of learning. I thought that his point of view, though extreme, has to be considered when thinking about Sakai, and the struggle between internal support and outsourcing (especially when it come to data ownership and FERPA).

Do you agree with Jim's point of view? Which functions should be supported by institutions, and which ones can be outsourced or left to users to decide?

UPDATE: You can also watch Jim's whole presentation at CUNY WordCamp on UStream.

Disclaimer and Copyright

The ideas and opinions expressed on this blog are mine, and do not necessarely reflect my employer's point of view.

Creative Commons License
This work by Mathieu Plourde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.