Monday, June 15, 2009

Considering Wikispaces Private Label


Image Source: http://planeta.wikispaces.com/


Ok, I surrender. Whew, that feels better! Over the last few years, I've been flogging myself and my team to discover a free, open source wiki solution that has a nice GUI. Nothing--no, not DekaWiki, either--has worked easily for us. After wandering in the wilderness, I don't think a wiki with a GUI exists in FOSS world that is easy to administer and implement.

Why the GUI? While some wiki purists appear to delight in using wiki syntax--and I enjoyed using it in my PMWiki for awhile--the brutal truth is that who the heck wants to type in exclamation marks, asterisks, spaces, etc. all the time? Some days, I just want to copy-n-paste my content in and let the formatting "chips" fall where they may.

To that end, I've decided to start encouraging the embrace of Wikispaces (I found PBWorks to be a bit expensive!). Will it happen? I'm not sure, since it has to be considered by stakeholders. As I considered the possibility, I was fortunate enough to be able to connect with Adam from Wikispaces.com via Skype and he responded to all my questions...of course, I can only hope I'm asking all the right questions!

Below is my first email on the subject and a particularly cogent response from a team member. I share them here to stimulate discussion and invite corrective feedback so we can elevate our conversation.

Before I take this forward for further review, I'd like to get your feedback. As you know, we've been struggling to find an easy to use, powerful web page editing solution for 2 years now. After some soul-searching and deliberation, I'm considering switching from our existing in-house approach with Teacher Classroom Pages running off of Apple Blog/Wiki server to a Wikispaces.com--an external solution--site.

As you know, wikis are an easy to edit web page solution that have multiple levels of access. That is, they can be open so anyone can edit them or closed so a select group of users can.

A "private label" Wikispaces.com site offers a variety of benefits, including the following:

$1000 per year gets the following:
* Unlimited users
* Unlimited storage
* Unlimited wikis
* Easy to use interface
* It's very easy to use and add content to.
* Custom domain name for SAISD
* Single sign-on
* Bulk upload of usernames/passwords
* Graphical User Interface (GUI) for editing that includes easy to embed images, tables, and more
* Easy to backup
* Multiple approval levels for posting, if we choose to implement
* Easy to theme using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
* All support is handled by Wikispaces.com not in-house
* Anytime/anywhere passworded access and administration of wikis

$3000
* All the benefits of the $1000 option but also Active Directory/LDAP Authentication if our District supports it
* Additional support

This wikispace would completely replace the following services:

* Apple blogs as phase 4 (e.g. Teacher Web sites) of Campus Web sites
* Apple wikis for group projects
* Replace alternative wiki solutions once and for all, including Moodle Wiki, GoogleSites, PMWiki, currently in use.


One of the responses my team sent me included the following; I include it here because it was well considered and I'd love to get YOUR feedback on this idea, especially if you've implemented it already:
I am in favor of wikispaces.com as a private label with AD sign-in syncing.

From the teacher's perspective, there are many advantages. WS gives teachers muchly desired control over design and content in a WYSIWYG environment. This means practically no learning curve for the moderately techlit and a gentle introduction for those slow on the ball. This delivery tool will also score higher with teachers if there is "one less password scheme" due to the AD users/password syncing. Finally, the unlimited storage space is one less headache for the general user to encounter.

From our perspective, the discussion forums and file upload/downloads is right in line with intereactive, online learning. I'm all for Web 2.0ing in a safe environment. I am also in favor of WS's highly rated customer service and "no buzz" on the Web for WS being down or unavailable. I think a teacher webpage, even just as a resource for students and parents, is a necessity these days. And, let's face it, anytime we can "hook" a teacher into instructional technology, we're helping the students in a major way.

A note of caution: when my former district teachers released to webpage access without requiring online refresher/assessment/exposure to exemplars resulted in a dismaying mishmash of problems with copyright violations and a dismaying lack of focus that was difficult to correct after the fact.
Thoughts?

In the meantime...










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3 comments:

Daniel Rezac said...

While I use wikispaces a lot, I personally find that the discussion section is not used much at all because we have like 2 other tools we use to send messages and the like. Why not use Google Sites for this solution? You already use Google Docs.

I have a lot of teachers who are impatient with tech and hate updating their teacherweb.com pages.

Google Sites seems tailor made for teacher web pages. Personally I think that they are simpler than Wikispaces to create, and they can look pretty good. I'm just piecing mine together right now.

https://sites.google.com/a/fremont79.org/fremont-middle-school/

Hey- if your school has the $$, and you're happy with it, go for it, but maybe there's a simpler Cloud solution already in your hand.

c.lindsay said...

Hi Miguel - Just wondering why you're thinking of a change from Apple Wiki/Blog server. I haven't used it yet but saw a demo and it seems like a pretty neat tool that I would love to try out with teachers and students. The podcast tool seems very user-friendly as well. Have you found things that you can't do and can do in Wikispaces Private Label? Thanks for any experiences you can pass along!

Chris L.

Doug Holton said...

We ended up hosting our own free drupal site (drupal.org) that uses drupal modules like these: wikitools, book, fckeditor (for wysiwyg editing), IMCE (for easy image upload). Also there is og (organic groups) if you want to allow for groups with separate wiki spaces.

Last time I tried wikispaces you couldn't do things like change the text color. I'm sure they've added that feature by now, but another issue is being able to export/move my pages in case I want to move my site, or in case wikispaces or pbworks go out of business. I'm not sure they have an export feature or use a standard syntax for the pages like html or mediawiki syntax.

-Doug

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Disclaimer

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure